Help HoCoPoLitSo Happen

Life, Death, and Social Media: Staying Human in the Digital Age with Author Laurie Frankel

Laurie Frankel’s Goodbye For Now

A Howard County Book Connection Event
Wednesday, November 1, 2017 • 1 p.m.

Rouse Community Foundation Student Services Hall, Room 400
Howard Community College
10901 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, MD 21044

If you could connect with your beloved dead through technology, would you? Laurie Frankel’s novel, Goodbye for Now, is a love story with technology at its heart. Join us to hear Frankel read from her ground-breaking book at HoCoPoLitSo’s series celebrating ground-breaking poet and HoCoPoLitSo artistic advisor Lucille Clifton. Gather with a group of curious minds for this intriguing discussion. The New York Times said Frankel’s book, “extends the reach of technology just beyond our fingertips, where it feels possible.” This program is brought to you by the Howard County Book Connection; a partnership between Howard Community College, the Howard County Public Library System, and the Howard County Poetry & Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo). A book signing will follow. Tickets not required.

Seniors can request transportation by calling 410.715.3087. For other accommodations, call 443.518.4568 by October 16

This event is free. Click here to register and let us know you are coming.

 

Advertisements

favorite banned books, according to educators and librarians

The week of September 25th, we celebrate our RIGHT TO READ!  In celebration of Banned Books Week 2017, we asked several educators and librarians about their favorite banned books.  Here’s what they said.

——————————————-

To Kill a Mockingbird has influenced me as a reader and a teacher. As a young reader it brought me into a world I knew nothing about. As a teacher it has opened the same door for hundreds of students. It is only controversial because it depicts an ugly truth- which is also its value. – (a Howard County high school English teacher)

“It depicts an ugly truth – which is also its value.” Agreed.  For my own part, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has had a similar impact for me, both as a teacher and as a reader.  Our literature is our history.  Regardless of genre, our literature reflects who we were, are, and could be.   I have always found myself drawn to those authors who have been willing to paint in honest brushstrokes, an image of humanity that requires taking stock in the complexities and contradictions, pressing us to face the mirror.  Often lost in the controversy surrounding “Huck” is the wink of hopefulness gained from the novel’s final passage. – (a Howard County middle school English teacher)

My daughter read Al Capone Does My Shirts last year as a 5th grader and it was her first experience of being “hooked” by a book and rushing to read the next book and the next in the series.  It totally changed her from being a reluctant reader to being someone who devours books!  Having taught it in the past I do not see why it would be controversial.  Many books have characters with huge flaws.  But having characters that possess both positive and negative qualities is what makes them multi-dimensional, interesting, and realistic. – (Howard County secondary literacy coach)

As a middle school teacher, I would have to choose The Giver and The Outsiders, two books that really touched kids and elicited deep and honest discussions. I loved teaching those books. – Beth S. (Howard County middle school English teacher)

Favorites to teach and/or read: Hunger Games, To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, In Cold Blood, Leaves of Grass.  Favorites to read to my kids: And Tango Makes Three, The Paper Bag Princess, The Lorax, Where the Wild Things Are. – Amy P. (High School English teacher in Hudson, MA)

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Both novels are stories of the horror and dehumanizing effects of war (WWI, to be precise), and the relentless pursuit of an ill-defined victory at all costs. Reading these books in high school caused me to question a lot of the assumptions I had about politics, war, religion, and conflict more broadly defined than I had before. Or since, for that matter. They literally changed my outlook on life in a span of a few weeks, and I continue to wrestle with these ideas to this day. – Jeffrey M. (English Professor at Howard Community College)

And Tango Makes Three. My two children enjoyed this book when they were just 3-4 years old. It’s a book about penguins! But here’s the thing – now that my older son is 8 year old I am wondering how he might experience and “hear” the book today. That’s the thing about books (good books), right? They challenge us to these questions – and this book forces me to be thoughtful about how I would teach my children about family diversity and help them become accepting, welcoming people in the world. In the Night Kitchen was a gift from our friend and neighbor (Tim!) – of course the children just love that Mickey is naked – butt and penis and all – in the illustration and they giggle and laugh. But they also enjoy Mickey’s adventure. It’s fun. For my kids – who like to tell fart jokes all day long – this book delights them. And I’m really, really good with that. – Laura Y. (English Professor at Howard Community College)

Strega Nona is one of my favorite books of all times.  This book has been challenged and banned due to the magical or witch-like  abilities of a magic pasta pot.  Strega Nona’s objective is not to be a book about witchcraft, rather a book that is full of whimsy, allowing children to engage their imagination.  Challenging or banning books can stifle creativity and imagination.  When a book is challenged or banned because one person feels that it is against their morals, it can lead to an entire community of readers having restricted or no access to a book.  – Christina P. (Librarian at Howard Community College)

The Things They Carried: it challenges ideas of morality, truth, courage, and patriotism. I come from a military family (going back generations), so this really resonates with me. The narratives never stop feeling relevant. O’Brien creates a web of fiction, memoir, history, and memory that always ensnares us us readers, leaving us in the best possible state: uncertainty. That is where all good inquiry comes from. – Ryna M. (English Professor at Howard Community College)

It was much more banned in the past, but definitely The Handmaid’s Tale! Even when I read it in the 8th grade (?), I remember being shocked at the story–not because of content, but because of so many similarities and so much truth. I thought how not so unrealistic this society was, and I still think that now. – Sylvia L. (English Professor at Howard Community College)

For my kids… Hop on Pop!! This is such a great book to start children reading on their own. The simple rhyming text is perfect.
For me one of my favorite books growing up was Are you There God, It’s me Margaret. It’s one of the first books I could relate too.  – Melissa P. (Preschool teacher at the Children’s Learning Center)

 

 #BannedBooksWeek #RightToRead

what to read this Hispanic and Latin Heritage Month (9/15-10/15)

Associate Professor of Spanish at Howard Community College

A guest blog by Claudia Dugan

————————————

Sipping coffee at my desk last week, I tried to gather a list of favorite Latin American or Spanish books and I felt raptured into a labyrinth.

Should I go this way, or that?  Which of the intricate paths should I take first?  Should I do it in chronological order?  But then again, the themes, like the paths in a maze, seem to meet each other, reoccur, and from time to time, give an opportunity to skip to another side… Chale! Is there an actual exit to this? Is it the task or is it me who, in an attempt to reflect about the books I love, often enter an identity labyrinth, similar to the one Octavio Paz describes?

I thought about The Broken Spears which invites the reader to be immersed into those ancient stories on the cosmology of the Aztecs, and to understand how ancient philosophies played an important role in the Spanish occupation of México, and in its current syncretism.  Then, I thought that maybe Malinche by Laura Esquivel could be a better choice since it is written more like a love story, and who doesn’t love love.

But a different title kept knocking at the door of my thoughts.  The one that most of us who have taken a class that requires Latin American Literature had to read: Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien Años de Soledad.

The first time I read it in high school, it almost took me cien años to finish reading it, but the magic was worth it.  You see, my classmates and I had transformed the book into a scavenger hunt. Our whiskers were wet. We looked for clues inside the book that would lead us to the next book to read.  How excited I was to discover Artemio Cruz in Cien Años de Soledad, and I shared it with my friends.  That served as a launching point to the next author, Carlos Fuentes, who believed that history would always provide revolutionary characters like Artemio Cruz.

But if you think such findings sparked enthusiasm and idealism inside us, you have not read much of Latin American literature.  My goodness, just when your hopes get high, it begins to rain – in almost every single darn book. Fuentes, who introduced us to Artemio Cruz, reminded us in “Old Gringo” to be aware of the ugly-self-interest-seeking-human that lurks inside of each one of us, idealistic or not.

Another of my favorite on the subject of revolution is Mariano Azuela’s Los de Abajo written in the early 1900’s and centered in the Mexican Civil War. In English, the title is The Underdogs but it really does not evoke the same images that the Spanish title Los de Abajo does. Los de Abajo refers to “those who are at the bottom of the pyramidal structure of so many human social configurations throughout history.

When reading Latin American literature, you will always find those comedic chapters on the absurd, such as Capitan Pantoja and the Special Service by Mario Vargas Llosa, which provide much needed relief during raining seasons.

And of course in reading Latin American literature, there is the important question of language and translation.  When I read the book Malinche in English, I noted that the culturally-rich word “temazcal” was merely translated as “hot-bath” (jacuzzi).  If you knew what a Temazcal represented for Mezoamerican cultures, and its role in new-births, in healing, in cathartic ceremonies, then you would understand its significance in that chapter in which Malinali and Cortez bathe their fusing souls in it. I am sure you would be able to smell the copal and other aromatic fresh herbs when reading about it.   Or, if you have studied Latin American history, you would notice the weaving of the threads that joined the voice of Oscar to the authors’ footnotes in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, or the universe in the word Quetzalcóatl, in Juan Felipe Herrera’s Half of the World in Light.

So, during this Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, connect with a book by a Latin American writer, maybe one from my list.

But more importantly, connect with a person of Hispanic or Latin heritage.  What you might learn from them about the cultural values and practices, history, and character will enrich your reading experience. And of course that could lead to enriched relationships with your neighbors of Hispanic or Latin heritage as you hear their stories.  After all, as Jonathan Gottschall points out in The Storytelling Animal, it is stories that make us human.

~ Claudia Dugan is an Associate Professor of Spanish at Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland.

 

Did you know that it’s Be Kind To Editors and Writers Month?

A little kindness goes a long way in a writer’s life

We don’t ask much.

Twenty minutes quiet.

Some inspiration.

A red pen.

Writers and editors — and I count myself in both those groups — are fairly undemanding types. Unobtrusive, even. We’d much rather observe than be observed. We just need a little space and time to be alone with our mortal struggle with the writing gods. Though we wouldn’t say no to a cup of tea.

September was named Be Kind to Editors and Writers month by a low-rent Texas publishing house in 1984. Gentleman Vampire is one of their titles, and whew, that bloodsucker sure is handsome on the book cover! How that itty-bitty publisher got to name a month, I don’t know, but I guess they fall into the same category as the group that named February as Sweet Potato Month and May as Good Car Keeping Month. The editor in me wants to lower-case all those words, because they’re really not worthy of a whole month’s worth of honor, not to mention capitalization.

But we’re into marketing here at HoCoPoLitSo, and so we are wholeheartedly behind Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month. In fact, we’re kind to writers all year here at Let There be Lit headquarters; we’re known for our warm treatment of the ink-stained masses. There are clots of Irish authors, apparently, who sit around in pubs, drinking warm beer and raving about HoCoPoLitSo’s welcome. (Make sure you save the date for our fortieth celebration of Irish poetry and literature, the Irish Evening on Feb. 9, 2018.)

And as for editors – we are necessary nitpickers. It’s hard to be nice to someone who slashes away at your precious words. In fact, William Faulkner once wrote: “Only Southerners have taken horsewhips and pistols to editors about the treatment or maltreatment of their manuscript. This–the actual pistols–was in the old days, of course, we no longer succumb to the impulse. But it is still there, within us.” But sometimes, editors make good writing great.

So here’s to a month of kindness to editors and writers. Send us good thoughts of inspiration and hope. Buy your favorite editor a new pen. Watch the kids while we go to the Baltimore Book Festival (starting Sept. 22); they have terrific panel discussions (on the historical novel, and science fiction romance, and finding an agent, for example) and great readings (the Black Ladies Brunch Collective is reading from its new, hilarious and moving Not Without Our Laughter on Sunday, Sept. 24).

And this month – maybe not all year – give the editor or writer in your life a little respect.

Susan Thornton Hobby
Recording secretary, writer, and editor

 

Wilde Readings: A Great Place to Share Your Love of Literature

Wilde Readings, Columbia’s literary reading and open mic series, eagerly launches season two on September 12th at the Columbia Art Center. When poet and author Laura Shovan approached Linda Joy Burke and myself about starting a reading series in Columbia, we offered our full support. Because Wilde Readings is funded through private donations and a generous grant from HoCoPoLitSo and is housed in the Columbia Art Center in Long Reach, any concerns about funding and a venue disappeared. Before the three of us could begin the daunting yet exciting task of selecting authors for our first year’s lineup, we first solicited naming ideas from several of our friends in the writing community. While there were many names we liked, we selected Patricia VanAmburg’s suggestion to use Wilde Readings—a dual homage to Wilde Lake, Columbia’s first village, and Oscar Wilde, a writer known for both his wit and his bravery. His words, which appear as a tagline on our promotional materials, “A writer is a person who has taught his mind to misbehave,” capture the spirit of what we hope good writing encourages.

Mahitha Vijily

It was especially important to all of us that we present a variety of voices and styles, as well as represent the demographics of our area and balance male and female voices. With those parameters in mind, I hope you’ll agree that our 2016-2017 inaugural series fulfilled those goals and provided our audience with ten evenings of engaging, thoughtful, and provocative voices. Fiction was well represented when Jen Grow, Jan Bowman, Austin Camacho, and Susan Muaddi Daraj shared short stories and novel excerpts. Poetry and spoken word performances, both with political undertones, captured our audience’s attention when Michael Rothenberg, Ron Kipling Williams, Ken “Analysis” Brown, Maritza Rivera, and Shelly “Says So” Washington performed. Le Hinton had a most unusual approach to his rendition of poems from his “Cotton” collection—he passed around real cotton bolls for the audiences to feel both the velvet smoothness of the white fiber and the contrasting prickles of the supporting stamen and leaves. The remaining readings featured the impressive and highly regarded poetic voices of Grace Cavalieri, Merrill Leffler, Sally Rosen Kindred, Michael Ratcliffe, Nancy Naomi Carlson, Sue Ellen Thompson, Virginia Crawford, Sam Schmidt, and City Lit’s own Carla Dupree.

Wilde Readings’ lineup of literary artists for the fall of 2017 promises to be as engaging and diverse as our opening season. We kick off the series with Debbi Mack, New York Times best-selling author of the Sam McRae Mystery Series and Pat Valdata, whose most recent work, Where No Man Can Touch, is a book of persona poems in the voices of female aviation pioneers. In October, Michael Salcman, poet, physician, and art historian, will speak about his latest work, A Prague Spring, Before and After, along with his photographer, Lynn Silverman, a professor of photography at MICA. In November, we will feature the work of D.C. poet Henry Crawford reading from his inaugural collection, American Software, and Susan Sonde, author of several books and a two-time Pushcart Nominee and winner of numerous prizes and awards. We close out 2017 with Doritt Carroll, D.C. native and author of a new chapbook entitled Sorry You Are Not an Instant Winner and poet Alan King, Bowie, Maryland, resident and author of Point Blank and Drift.

This year, in addition to lining up an exciting roster of literary guests for Wilde Readings, Laura, Linda Joy, and I plan to reach out to local teens who aspire to become writers. We’d love to put together a roster of interested writers to participate in a dedicated teen night as part of Wilde Readings. Last year, Mahitha Vijily, a teen writer from Marriotts Ridge High School, saw our event in the local papers and decided to bring her family and her book of poetry to the April Wilde Readings event. She blew us away with her provocative voice and skillful use of language and even sold a few copies of her book, Thoughts of a Wildflower. We hope to engage more voices in the coming year.

When we open the fall series on September 12, 2017, at the Columbia Art Center at 7pm, Laura, Linda Joy, and I will be there to welcome everyone, sign up open mic readers, and introduce our featured authors. We hope to see many attendees from last year and anticipate welcoming new folks as well.

 

By Ann Bracken

 

 

mana’s musings: national read a book day 2017

 

Laura Yoo
HoCoPoLitSo Board member and Professor of English at Howard Community College.

Today – September 6th – is National Read a Book Day.  And on this occasion, I’m sharing with you 30 books that changed me.

These are the books that exposed me to new things (like about racial passing in Nella Larsen’s Passing), changed the way I felt about a subject or what I knew about the subject (like about death and dying in Ann Lamott’s Hard Laughter), or seemed to push the conventions of literature (like the way Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy experiments with structure and narrative voice).  These are the books that made me say, “What? A book a can do THAT?!?!”

For most of these works, though, I don’t remember the exact plot or the details that made them so impressive.  For some of these books, I bet the timing was what mattered. When I read Crime and Punishment, for example, it was right after high school. And I read it for fun. I think I was pretty proud of myself for reading a Dostoevsky for leisure. That made me an official adult.

Though I don’t remember the details, I remember the sensation.  I remember the sense of awe inspired by Waiting for Godot and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. These books blew me away with their deep investigations of humans – about who we are, what we want, what we believe, what we lack, and what we could be (both beautiful and hideous).

I remember feeling very grown up after reading books like The Laramie Project and Middlesex. These books introduced me to the things that happen in the world to real people that I might otherwise have been shielded from.

I remember feeling envious when reading works like Playing in the Dark and Between the World and Me. These are the books that showed me what a human mind can think through and what a human mind can then articulate into language. The envy comes from recognizing these writers’ genius as well as the fact that I will never achieve that.

I remember the labor that went into studying Paradise Lost and Macbeth. So much to excavate and discover – again and again – in pouring over works like those.  And the sense of accomplishment that comes from cracking the code in some small way to understand the text.

I also remember specific lines from these books that stay with me.  Like “There is no story that is not true” from Thing Fall Apart. Like “A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe” from The Things They Carried. And these unforgettable words: “Let me imagine … what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say” from A Room of One’s Own – and I never forgot about Judith Shakespeare.

Oh, and of course – I remember the laughing and the crying.  Really laughing out loud while reading Me Talk Pretty One Day.  And really sobbing while reading The Kite Runner.

My literature students are writing this week about why we read and study literature. As for me, I read because I want to be changed. Even in some small way. By the time I read the last page of the book I want to feel a little different and be a little better than when I started the book.

Why do you read?

On Reading: School Supplies — Make Sure to Add Google Street View to Your List

“Wait! What? Frank O’Hara lived in Baltimore?! When? Where?”

That ‘Where?’ wasn’t really the question I had in mind as I had the address in front of me – 2044 Linden Avenue, not that I knew where it was off the top of my head. I did want to know when he had lived there and why and quickly found the answers to those questions from what I was reading – he was born at Maryland General and lived in Baltimore for the first year or so of his life. But where? I wanted visual connection. So I did what has since become reflex for this reader, I turned to google, typed in the address, and took a look. The map showed the location of Linden Avenue just off North Avenue. I’ve driven by there before; I never knew. I hit Street View and there it is, the childhood street of Frank O’Hara. Pretty cool, I thought.

I love it when the literary world and the everyday world meet. It brings literature to life, makes you think about what you read in a different way, and often deepens your understanding of both.

Another time I was reading the absolutely delightful New York Walks, Six Intimate Walking Tours of New York’s Most Historic Neighborhoods (Batia Plotch, editor). The 92nd Street Y put it out a while back, soliciting the expertise of their Talks and Tours program guides. These walks around the Big Apple are legend. The book is broken up into tours of different sections of NY/NY and a reader gets to worm their way along and learn about the place without taking a step if they are on some out-of-town couch. That is a nice feat in itself, but it is such a good book that makes you wish you were on the streets with each sentence. “Hey, wait a minute,” I thought and reached for google Street View once again. Pretty magic. There I was in lower Manhattan or in one of the carriage alleys near Washington Square. Click. Click. Look around. Click. Visual connection with what the page was sharing. Here’s a sample:

Return across Fifth Avenue (carefully! — you are mid block) for a glimpse of Washington Mews. Your view may be restricted by a closed gate, since the mews is privately owned, both the houses and the alley itself.

    This cobblestone alley, built in 1831, provided Washington Square’s elegant houses with access to their private stables or carriage houses. With the rise of the automobile at the beginning of this century, these un-heated one- and two-story structures fell into disuse. Many were rented to artists who were willing to endure cold and any lingering equine scent, simple because the rent was cheap.

    I found this trick works for novels, too. I was reading Colm Toibin’s The Blackwater Lightship and was so struck by the idea of the place that I hopped in someone’s google Street View car and took off for County Wexford to have a look for myself. Quaint, kind of stark, beautiful. Here are two shots from the road:

    Can you imagine growing up there young and full of ambition?

    In real life I associate my own experiences with what I am reading. I supply the picture that goes along with the author’s words. We all do it. It is one of the ways that we can get into a book and it can get into us. Reading is a shared effort between the projection of an author and the a reader’s ability to understand through their own experience-driven interpretation. I have found that I can enhance what I bring to my part of that task with a tool like Street View. It often gives me a sense of place that adds to the text something I might not otherwise be able to contribute. Landscape, architecture, the bustle of a place, the emptiness — these  are some of the things you can see for yourself with the tool. It can be very helpful. I encourage my students to use it to enhance their own work with a text. It can help deepen their understanding. So, while you are making a list of supplies for the school year ahead, make sure to jot down google Street View. You’ll be one click away from anywhere you might want to check out for yourself.

     

    Tim Singleton
    HoCoPoLitSo, Board Co-chair

     

     

    A slap upside the head from a favorite author

    Susan Hobby’s guest post for HoCoPoLitSo’s What Are You Reading series


    Margaret Atwood was hitting me over the head.

    Well, not really hitting, like in her cameo in “The Handmaid’s Tale” television series, in which she smacks Elizabeth Moss in the head.

    No, the subject of Margaret Atwood – not the actual Margaret Atwood — has been clubbing me for the last seven months. Here’s why:

    • In January, the sign from the Women’s March: “Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again.”
    • The profile in The New Yorker, describing Atwood as a “buoyant doomsayer,” recounting her penchant for reading palms, and explaining how, since she doesn’t drive, she often drags a cart loaded with used books through Toronto to donate to the library.
    • The aforementioned, terrifying television series based on The Handmaid’s Tale.
    • The copy of her Booker Prize-winning novel, The Blind Assassin, which was balanced on top of the growing pile on my nightstand, then cascaded onto the mound under my bed. I heard the Canadian novelist calling me through the mattress.

    Margaret Atwood and Elizabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale – Photo by George Kraychyk/Hulu

    So when I went on vacation this summer, I took Atwood with me.

    I started reading The Blind Assassin on my last day in Colorado, and it delayed our hike a bit because I had to finish a chapter. The story starts with the suicide of the protagonist’s sister, who drives off a bridge without slowing down, her white-gloved hands gripping the steering wheel. What would be a climax for any other writer is just the beginning for Atwood.

    Since I’m trying to write fiction, after years of telling the truth as a journalist, I’m having to make stuff up. It’s hard going – I can turn a phrase and describe a scene, but plot? It proves elusive. Atwood is teaching me to read like a writer, and, I hope, write like a reader. Her plots – the hateful girls and their tormented protagonist in The Cat’s Eye, the dystopian, reproductively challenged theocracy in The Handmaid’s Tale, the nineteenth-century murder tale in Alias Grace – are masterful.

    The Blind Assassin sounds complicated, but in Atwood’s deft hands, the reader spins along quickly in the book, flashing back and forth in time, into and out of the world of the science fiction novel within a novel. Iris, whose sister, husband and daughter all die untimely deaths, tells the story from her silver years, writing herself back in time to her privileged childhood and her young marriage to her father’s competitor to save the family fortune. But interspersed in Iris’s tale is her sister’s novel, about an illicit affair in which the man, to entertain the woman in bed with him, tells a story about a blind assassin and his lover, on a faraway, violence-torn planet.

    About halfway through, this reader thought she had it figured out. Then, by two-thirds through, I had it figured out a different way. By the end, though, Margaret had blindsided me again, her plotting twists and turns slapping me around like I was the punk in the fight.

    I marvel at her imagination, her structuring, the control that Ms. Atwood had over me. The Blind Assassin’s protagonist and narrator – writing her own story – explains:

    The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.

    Impossible of course.

    I pay out my line, I pay out my line, this black thread I’m spinning across the page.

    All the while the protagonist is teasing us, telling us half-truths and outright lies mixed in with reality. The voice, the plot, the book, they hit you like a ton of bricks.Thanks for schooling me, Professor Atwood. This writer – slightly more black and blue – will get back to work now.

     

    On Reading: Holding Hands with the Dead.

    Tim Singleton, co-chair of the HoCoPoLitSo board, writes On Reading for the last week of each month on the HoCoPoLitSo blog.

    Recently, the siblings went through the home we grew up in. It was time to move on, that is to say, pack it all up and send it in new directions – keepsakes and sales. It is a task I wasn’t quite prepared for, a lot of work, certainly, but also an un-anticipatable rite of passage. Mom’s recently gone and dad has moved into a new place, size-suitable for one and already a wonderful nest of books with him heart and center. It is decorated with a number of precious memories, artifacts of the place that was, the life that is, time unstuck as it moves on, backwards and forwards in the present moment.

    The sibling task, as you might imagine, was full of stories. Every single object had history. Our individual histories, our parent’s history, the family history. The six of us latched on to things that particularly resonated with our own hindsight, collected things that in an instant can take us back to the special place that is the family, that is growing into the world, gaining a sense of being from within the nestle of love and care and the forward tromp of formative years. Some of these stories we shared out loud. Some we let resonate in the silence within us, awed and full of emotion.

    About this time it just so happened that I had picked up John Berger’s book Here is Where We Meet from one of my own shelves to have another go at reading. Grabbed it from a store when it came out and, for some reason, didn’t settle into it. The narrator visits/re-visits places important to his life and within those places re-meets those now dead who were once key to his own being. “The dead don’t stay where they are buried,” says his long-dead mother as she meets up with him in Lisbon for the first chapter. Pertinent, this time I was bewitched. Towards that chapter’s conclusion, she says, “Do us the courtesy of noticing us.” I love how a book casually picked up can provide such a parallel framework to where one is off the page. It is a breathtaking magic. My world was full of notice waiting to be noticed.

    There’s a fork my Mother gave me a few years before she died. It is something that charmed me from the first time I saw it. There’s a curve to its tines, shaped over the decades and generations by vigorous beating against the side of mixing bowls, its mettle not full up to the task. When young, it was the curve that struck me – how cool – and I took in the science of the story: friction, hardness, softness. [Many years later, Mom would give me a copy of the The Dalkey Archive (Flan O’Brien) and I was amused by the bicycle-stealing policeman who was only being protective of the citizenry – you see, he understood the danger of friction and the exchange of molecules, bike riders and bikes shedding themselves into each other; he wanted to protect people from becoming bicycles. Hard to explain in a referentially clear way without the book in hand. Track it down, it’s a good read and will start you thinking. The fork, for us, was a perfect illustration of how this crazy idea was a truth.]

    Later on I came to understand using that fork was a way the generations could hold hands across time, the gone and the present meeting in the mixed handle of effort. I’ll take it out and use it once in a while, though these days it is mostly artifact and talisman. All I have to do is look at it to reach back and hold on.

    Going through the homestead I grabbed the copy of Wilkie Collins’ Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, a Dover Paperback. It reminded me of those Dover catalogues we’d pour through once the mailman brought them to us (see how memory spills out of things?). Opening it, a note in one of the end pages reminded me I had given it to her as a Christmas present in 1984. It is one I hadn’t read, so I set to the task. By the looseness of the pages, it seems like it had been read a couple of times and that comforted me. It seemed a way to share the space and mind of this person now physically gone from the place of living, a way to hold on to a connective something and pass time together again. I imagined how she would have taken to the stories, thrilling in parts, tedious in others, ever so English and of their time throughout.

    Books are on the way out, or so I hear. Maybe I’ll be one of the last to hang on to them, especially the keepsakes from the childhood home, the ones the parents once held up to their faces. For me, they are part mirror/window still reflecting/looking on that time and person, a way to reach out and hold on to what was and what is as we all pass through living and linger in the stories of our interconnected lives, a way of noticing and perpetuating each other.

     

    Happy reading,

    Tim Singleton, board co-chair

    Who to Read: Daniel Woodrell

    A guest post by Kathy Stowe (HoCoPoLitSo’s Program Coordinator)

    Searching for authors to take me through the rabbit hole into a new world has been an unending but rewarding task since I was old enough to walk the mile to the local library, the summer after third grade.  When I saw the movie Winter’s Bone, I knew I had to seek out Daniel Woodrell. Rarely have I been so rewarded. Woodrell conveys in just a sentence an entire world, an unfamiliar but believable territory that exists somewhere frighteningly close.  It’s Neil Gaiman without the alternative universe.

    William Boyle, in a review of the recently released movie Tomato Red, also based on one of his novels, called Woodrell “the battle-hardened bard of meth county.” An apt description for a man described as a “lady stinger of a writer” by E. Annie Proulx on the book jacket review of Woodrell’s 1996 Give Us a Kiss: A Country Noir.  Even the book’s title gives you a little shiver, conjuring up images of a perverted uncle.  The lady stinger, a “little black thirty-two” tucked into a blue pillowcase that held his traveling clothes, accompanies Doyle Redmond on his family errand into the Ozarks to convince his older brother, Smokes, to turn himself into the law even though “us Redmonds have never been the sort of bloodline who’ll give up our kin easy to the penitentiary.”

    In Give Us a Kiss, this particular Redmond, Doyle, has just one true love, “following his fantasies out and scribbling them down … telling stories … big wet whoppers” that “ … eventually … shade toward truth.”  Having escaped the academic world in a stagnant pond-green Volvo listed on the hot sheets as yellow, Doyle has left behind the world of four published novels nobody much had read.  He’s also left behind the Volvo’s owner, his two-timing wife who had “been in a frenzy to be a poet both revered and lusted after … .  A hybrid of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Carolyn Forché, and Gypsy Rose Lee.”

    A quick check reveals Woodrell lists four published novels, meaning another tendency of mine, rummaging about in favored authors’ lives, might get a satisfying scratch.  Lists of books carried in a box along with the pillowcase of clothes and the lady stinger, and references to authors, music and Doyle’s own writing process offer possibly slightly veiled autobiographical insight into the rather reclusive, fascinating mind of Daniel Woodrell.  I too take great joy in looking under rocks to imagine, examine and describe the “dashingly scuzzy dudes,” just for the joyride of it.

    Oh, and as in other Woodrell novels, sex and the Dollys are involved.  The newest novel released as a film, Tomato Red (2017), and Winter’s Bone (2010) also feature the Dollys, a legendary clan of criminal persuasion, another backwoods family tribe who aren’t nearest and dearest to the Redmonds.  Sex in the form of Doyle’s attraction to Niagra, Smokes’ girlfriend’s (Big Annie) 19-year-old daughter who tells him, “I believe we got the makings of a dream that’ll burn mighty hot, Doyle, you’n me.”

    Woodrell’s ability to transport the reader to another world includes transforming words to smells and taste.  Squirrel meat soaked in buttermilk doesn’t make my mouth water until he describes the old Folger’s can of bacon grease, burger leavings and whatever “from a United Nations of edible critters” that Big Annie cooks it in.

    Woodrell, an author who is “…not the type who can exclude people socially just because they operate under some bad habits,” creates a world of memorable characters.  He describes a neighborhood where “Some old boy across the road and down a few houses kept up a racket trying to cut the grass of his entire yard with a Weedwhacker.  He stopped and dragged an ice chest along behind him after every five or six paces of whacking.” His evokes a believable world with unbelievable skill. This post aimed to give the reader enough of a taste to want to check out one of our best American writers.  Start with Give Us A Kiss … .

     

     

    %d bloggers like this: