Sunday, February 28, 2010

Elizabeth Gilbert on Committed

Here's a fun video with Elizabeth Gilbert about her book, Committed. Has anyone read it yet?

The Read-Aloud Handbook

I was prompted to write this post because of Jen Robinson's recent review and reflection on this classic text.

I read The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease about a year ago, and absolutely loved it! Obviously, I don't have children yet, but I still found it to be fascinating. I learned a lot of things that I packed away to apply to my own children someday, but also applied it to my interactions with my nieces and nephews and with the kids I baby-sat for.

Basically, the premise is that one of the best indicator's of a child's reading-level and comprehension is how much they are read to. Trelease emphasizes the importance of reading to children even after that are able to read to themselves. He blends detailed research studies with experiences and advice from reading to his own children. For a comprehensive review, I direct you to Jen Robinson's link above.

I also encourage you to visit his website It includes book lists, book reviews, excerpts from the book, and a plethora of other useful information and resources. I just reread his biography page and was inspired to learn that he began his research and work on literacy out of personal interest. He wasn't originally trained in education or reading, but rather as an artist and journalist. This is encouraging to me as a consider how I want to incorporate my love of reading, books, and education into a future career. I love stories of highly successful people who found their niche later in life!

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

All the King's Men

I have a catalog of "favorite books", neatly listed on my facebook profile. I'm working one writing a review of all of them here on the blog. There are so many it's hard to pick just one, but if I'm asked for a single favorite, I always respond with All the King's Men. This Robert Penn Warren classic has it all. Romance, history, politics, scandal, intrigue. The characters are so compelling and the writing is superb. I first read it in AP English, with a teacher who adored the book. She instilled that love in us as well. We would spend whole class periods analyzing a single page of Warren's writing. None of the movie version's I've seen do it justice. It is a truly powerful story.

What is the story about, you ask? For those of you who haven't read it, All the King's Men is narrated by Jack Burden, a young man who becomes political aide to Willie Stark, an up and coming Louisiana politician. Known as "The Boss", Stark becomes the governor of the state, with aspirations of becoming a Senator. Corruption and scandal ensue. But the book also takes you back, and shares glimpses of Jack's past, with his friends Anne and Adam Stanton, and his mother's long line of husbands. We're also taken on a tour of Stark's past, learning how he went from a country boy to a successful and powerful politician. There are twists and shocking revelations throughout. The story is gripping and full of the political quandaries I love. But simple pieces of beautiful writing that stick with me the most, and that keep All the King's Men at the top of my all time favorites.

Whenever I am driving alone at night on a highway, I think of this passage, when Jack is traveling from his family home in Burden's Landing back to Baton Rouge in the middle of the night (because of an urgent call from "The Boss".)

"There is nothing more alone that being in a car at night in the rain. I was in the car. And I was glad of it. Between one point on the map and another point on the map, there was the being alone in the car in the rain. They say you are not you except in terms of relation to other people. If there weren't any other people, there wouldn't be any you, because what you do, which is what you are, only has meaning in relation to other people. That is a very comforting thought when you are in the car in the rain at night alone, for then you aren't you, and not being you or anything, you can really lie back and get some rest. It is a vacation from being you. There is only the flow of the motor under your foot spinning that frail thread of sound out of its metal gut like a spider, that filament, that nexus, which isn't really there, between the you which you have just left in one place and the you which you will be when you get to the other place.

You ought to invite those two you's to the same party, some time. Or you might have a family reunion for all the you's with barbecue under the trees. It would be amusing to know what they would say to each other.

Meanwhile, there isn't any one of them, and I am in the car in the rain at night."

It's that lovely? Driving alone is kind of like a respite, if we let it be. If we turn off the radio and put down our cellphones, driving alone is a kind of disconnectedness that it's hard to find elsewhere. And I love the idea of inviting all the different variations of myself from different parts of my life to meet each other. Maybe I will invite them all to tea.

Have you read All the King's Men? Have you seen the movie versions? Do you still love any of the books you read in school?

If pressed, what is your ONE top favorite book of all time?

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Reading is Fundamental Funding

My beloved sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, supports Reading is Fundamental as our national philanthropy. I've blogged about it before, but I cannot say enough about this wonderful organization. Their mission is to bring books into the hands and homes of children who need them most. Many of the books I've read about literacy stress how important it is for young readers to have books in their home and books to call their own. RIF fills that need for children across the country.

RIF's funding has been completely eliminated in President Obama's next proposed budget. This will be catastrophic for RIF programs across the country. What can we do to help? RIF's website provides a simple and easy way to contact your congressional representative about this vital issue.

Budget issues are always difficult, I realize, and I don't mean this to be an overly-political blog. So if you believe these cuts are justified, I respect that. But I ask you to go to RIF's website and learn about the issue. Find other ways you can help. You can volunteer to read to kids, collect books, or donate money directly. And SPREAD THE WORD! There's a button (albeit truncated) on the left column of my blog where you can enter your zip code and be directed to a web page that allows you to contact your representative. You can easily paste that same button on your webpage if you so desire. Tweet or blog about RIF's work.

Reading is good for kids and kids need books to read. RIF delivers those books to kids. Can you help them?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tales of a Female Nomad

To continue my series of posts on my favorite books as listed on Facebook, today I want to share with you Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman.

I read this book back in college, but it has stuck with me. In many ways, it is similar to Eat, Pray, Love, which has been on my mind lately. Perhaps that is why I thought of this book today. (Also, Gelman is coming out with a second memoir this summer--EVERYONE seems to be doing that these days!)

After a divorce (sound familiar?), Gelman decides to embark on a cross-cultural and cross-continental journey (again, familiar?). However, the similarities do seem to fade a bit after the premise.

Gelman goes on a journey around the globe and shares the stories of her adventures. This book is unique because this is not just a trip for the author. This is her new way of life. A visit to her website shares that she is still traveling-and she's at least 60 years old.

Has anyone read Tales of a Female Nomad? Have you ever thought of making traveling your permanent way of life?

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

A reading habit...

I've recently received the opportunity to work on a few projects that might help others to read more and to enjoy reading. In my preparation for these projects, I have found a renewed joy in my own reading habit. During this research, I came across this wonderful quotation:

"To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life." -W. Somerset Maugham

Isn't that true? So often I find great solace and peace in a book when my life feels overwhelming and out of control. A refuge indeed.

(I found that quote at the top of this fabulous Lifehack article by Leo Babauta on tips for cultivating a reading habit.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sammy's Hill and House

I am in the middle of reading the recent Emily Post biography (details to come!), but it's really really long, so in the meantime, I thought I'd write about some books I've enjoyed in the past, before I had a place to write about them. I thought I'd start by writing about all the books I've listed as my favorites on Facebook. I've arbitrarily decided to start with these two.

I absolutely adore Kristin Gore's two novels: Sammy's Hill and Sammy's House. I don't remember how I first heard about Al Gore's daughter's first book, but I do remember devouring it in a weekend my senior year of college. I'm not going to say it's highly sophisticated literature, but it's not junk either. It might be classified by some as "chick-lit", but it's smart, hilarious, and full of political goodies!! What else would you expect from a former Vice President's daughter who previously wrote for the Harvard Lampoon, Futurama, and Saturday Night Live?

Sammy's Hill came first, and is the delightful tale of Sammy Joyce, a Capitol Hill staffer and health care advisor to a young U.S. Senator. The book has it all-romance, comedy, political scandal, and extremely realistic and compelling characters. I love Sammy Joyce. She's a quirky hypochondriac with a fondness for telemarketers and commemorating obscure historical anniversaries. Like myself, Sammy suffers from bouts of anxiety and often lets worrying thoughts send her into a tailspin about what disaster might happen. But she even takes it a step further and practices for the aftermath of such disasters (it's quite possibly one of the funniest sections of the book). But aside from her quirks, Sammy is smart, dedicated, and talented.

Sammy's House is the sequel, and I won't go into as much detail so as to not ruin the first book, but it is equally as delightful. As you might surmise from the title, Sammy has moved from the Hill to another branch of government. I honestly can't say which I prefer-both are wonderful.

I happen to love politics, so these books especially appealed to me, but I think they could be enjoyed by someone with less interest in the goings-on in Washington. I highly recommend both of Gore's novels for a light, but smart and entertaining read.

All images from

Second Memoirs

As I mentioned in my last post, reading Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert made me wonder about second memoirs.

As a frequent reader, I usually eagerly anticipate a new book by one of my favorite authors. Fiction or non-fiction, I am always excited to hear about a new work by an author I have come to admire. Sometimes I am delighted, other disappointed. But either way, it doesn't change how I fundamentally feel about the author as a person. Their books, while part of them, don't really tell their own stories.

The situation is entirely different with memoirs. Like I said, I adored Eat, Pray, Love, and had high expectations for Committed. And for the most part, those expectations were met, even exceeded. Elizabeth Gilbert was essentially the same person in both. She had grown and learned something, but it didn't change who I felt she was.

I adored Julie and Julia by Julie Powell as well. I thought she was precious (an assumption probably helped along by the fact I already knew that Amy Adams would play her in the film adaptation) and that her story was charming. I felt like I knew her. Then I found out about her next memoir, Cleaving, and was immediately turned off. I picked it up in the book store, and almost immediately put it down again. So to be fair, I have not read it, so I can't speak about its contents with authority. I think part of me is afraid that reading it will change how I feel about the author, and then somehow diminish my affection for Julie and Julia. Carolyn of Hang on Little Tomato, has read it and offered her thoughts here.

I came across this little articlefrom Entertainment Weekly that addresses the same topic. It gives a light-hearted rundown of the contents of several recent memoir "sequels". The New York Times also offered thoughts on the differences between Powell's two works. Neither article sends me to the bookstore.

I might read it sometime in the future. I haven't decided yet. But I think if it was a work of fiction, or even a more disengaged, objective non-fiction book, I wouldn't be having this dilemma.

What do you think? Has anyone read both books by Julie Powell? (Carolyn, I'd love your thoughts!) Are you ever hesitant to pick up a second memoir?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I loved Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray Love and was excited to read that she was coming out with another memoir.

I had a giftcard to Border's from Christmas and found Committed, and bought it excitedly. I read it pretty quickly and thoroughly enjoyed it.

This second memoir basically picks up where Eat, Pray, Love leaves off. Elizabeth is with her Brazilian man and plans to spend the rest of her life with him-without being married to him. They have a lovely system worked out until he overstays his welcome in the U.S. and they are forced to marry in order to be together. In the months that follow, Elizabeth wrestles with her fears and misgivings surrounding a marriage being thrust upon her. She reflects on what was missing in her first marriage, and turns to everyone from marital scholars and academics, personal friends and family, Laotian tour-guides, and Hmong grandmothers in her quest to discover what makes a lasting and satisfying marriage. It's as much a story of marriage in general as it the story of Elizabeth's relationship. The book is also a revealing look at the journey that women have taken through the history of marriage and relationships. Regardless of your relationship status or plans, this book is worth reading for it's examination of a central institution in our society.

Although I am neither engaged nor married, I found the book riveting and deeply relevant to my life. As a child of divorce--and someone who hopes to get married sometime in the not too distant future--I am very concerned with what makes marriages happy and long-lasting. I'm pretty afraid of divorce, actually, and related to Elizabeth's concerns as she faced her impending nuptials. In a strange way, some of her findings were deeply comforting to me and gave me a great deal of hope--as they seemed to give the author as well.

Here are a couple of additional, more in depth reviews. One from Aidan of Ivy League Insecurities, and another from Elizabeth at Life in Pencil.

Finally, although it was quite different from her previous book, Eat, Pray, Love, I loved this one every bit as much. I had high expectations going in, and this one happened to live up to them. It got me thinking about second memoirs, though. Look for an upcoming post on second memoirs. I think it's a topic worth exploring.

Have you read Committed? Do you plan to? Is your decision swayed either way because of your impressions or experiences with Eat, Pray Love?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Book Wallpaper

I found this wallpaper via the blog A Cup of Jo, who found it in the latest issue of Lonny Magazine.

It's kind of amazing. Just saying. I have no idea where I would put it though...

Where would YOU put it?


Literary Revlations

There have been a few revelation in the literary world this week that offer glimpses into the minds and inspirations of two of the 20th century's most beloved American writers.

First, my lovely friend, Katie, told me about some newly released J.D. Salinger letters. I listened to an NPR story about Salinger just after his passing, and the scholars who took part in the conversation wondered aloud if there would be additional writings released. Is the a harbinger of things to come?

The other was a recent "discovery" about a possible inspiration behind William Faulkner's novels. A plantation diary was recently revealed to have contained some character names and other details from some of Faulkner's best loved books such as The Sound and the Fury and Go Down Moses.

I'm excited to read more about both of these recent revelations. I've never read Go Down Moses, but maybe I should. Are you a fan of either of these writers? What do these new insights provide to you?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Let the Great World Spin

Last June, it was disgustingly hot in South Texas, but I was transplanting flowers and herb on my mom's deck. Did I mention that it was only 10 o'clock in the morning? After a few minutes, I did think to bring the little vintage-y radio out from the kitchen and tune to NPR. Diane Rehm was having a conversation with a lovely man with an Irish accent. That man, it turns out, was Colum McCann and they were discussing his book, Let the Great World Spin.

I don't remember much about their conversation, but I do remember that he was a fascinating and very gentle man who spoke thoughtfully and considerately. They discussed the events of September 11th several times, so I thought the book was about that day and its aftermath. The novel sounded interesting, so I filed it away in my long list of "books to read", which is really a list of "books to buy and then sit on my book shelf for a few months (or years) until I finally get around to reading you". I eventually put it on my Amazon wishlist, but never bought it.

In December, my boyfriend and I were wandering around Barnes and Noble during a visit to his parents'. He had a coupon and said he'd buy me a book (yay!). I don't think he realized what he was getting himself into with his generous offer. I collected a stack of books from all over the store, unable to make a decision. Then I'd return them all and stark another. Then, finally, I had a stroke of genius. Let the Great World Spin! I put down the books in my hands and started searching for the book. I couldn't remember the author's name. It's also possible that I didn't even remember the title. But then I miraculously stumbled upon it on a side table and grabbed it, ran up to G triumphantly and presented him with the book. "I'm ready," I said confidently. I think he was relieved.

I started reading it immediately, but then about 250 pages in, I was sidetracked by moving and new jobs and holidays. It was lost in mounds of stuff in my car. Then Monday, when I was looking for something new to read, I remembered the forgotten book, and dug it out. I'm glad I did.

My opinion of the book 250 along was quite different from my opinion now that I have finished it. The novel is not so much about September 11th as it is about an event that happened at the Twin Towers years before in 1974. A man walked on a tightrope between the two towers and captured the attention of New Yorkers as they walked below.

McCann's novel tells the story of several of those onlookers, as well as the story of the walker himself. Each chapter is from a different point of view. At first, this was very unsettling to me. I was annoyed by the sudden change of scene and character. But by the end, the connections became clear, and I closed the book with a sense of satisfaction.

One of the reviews I read refers to it as a "September 11th novel", and the concluding chapter does occur post-9/11 and make reference to the tragedy in connection to the events on 1974.
The author explains some of the connections for him in this novel in this interview after winning the National Book Award. I don't want to go into too much more detail in case some of you might want to read it (which is would encourage!).

Has anyone else read it? What were your impressions? Do you even get book suggestions from hearing the authors speak on TV or radio?

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Treasury of Great American Scandals

Here's another book I finished before the holidays.

I found A Treasury of Great American Scandals by Michael Farquhar at Half-Price Books over the summer, but didn't pick it up again until December. At the time, I was in the mood to read about American History, but wanted something fun and exciting to read as well. This book was the perfect choice.

The book is divided into chapters based on the subject matter of the scandal (family affairs, congressional feuds, etc). There's even an entire chapter devoted to duels! Farquhar gives the details some of the well-known scandals in our nation's history, but also recounts more obscure stories about beloved Presidents and forgotten politicians.

The scandals ranged from the Revolutionary period all the way to the 1970's. Carter is the latest story I can remember (apparently, his brother was quite a character), but there may have been a few mentions of administrations after him. It was sort of refreshing to read about the scandalous lives of politicians hundreds of years ago. Things haven't changed all that much.

In the back, he also provides a detailed timeline of American history, and a roster of American presidents with all of their basic information, and a few nuggets of useless, but interested trivia about each man that held the office.

If you are at all interested in American history, I think you'd enjoy Great American Scandals. And if you find history boring, but wish you knew more about it, this might be your solution!

Farquhar also wrote a version about royals, so I might have to find that one as well. You know how scandalous they can be!

Latino in America

Latino in America
Originally uploaded by commonreaders

Now that I am writing on this blog again, I have quite a back log of books I have read over the fall and winter that I haven't written about yet. I'll take this next week to catch up on those books.

A few months ago, I read Latino in America, by Soledad O'Brien and Rose Marie Acre. I had heard about the CNN special a few times, but never got to catch it. I watched the Black in America series last year and enjoyed it, so I was sad to have missed the Latino series. However, I was delighted to stumble across the book version and started reading it right away.

It starts with Soledad O'Brien's fascinating personal family history. Both of her parents were immigrants: her father an Australian of Irish ancestry, and her mother a Cuban of African descent. The stories of her family's rich and mixed cultural heritage had me hooked from the beginning.

Of course, the book's not about Soledad O'Brien. After the first chapter, she goes on to share the stories of many other Latinos living in this country. Some are citizens, others are immigrants (both legal and illegal). They are from Mexico, Central America, South America, and several different island nations. The book explores the how Cuban immigrants are treated differently (often better) than immigrants from other Latin countries. She interviewed Latinos from Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, and other countries. Some of the stories were inspiring, while others were deeply heart-breaking.

Growing up in south Texas, I felt like I already knew something about Latino Americans, but of course, realized my experience was limited. This book showed me just how limited my knowledge was and still is. It exposed biases and assumptions I never noticed in myself.

O'Brien's book is entertaining, informative, inspiring, gut-wrenching, eye-opening, and revealing. I'm certainly no expert on the subject as a result of reading her book, but I do feel as if a have a slightly better grasp on the issues thanks to her reporting. I'm glad I read it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Blogiversary (did I spell that right?) Reflections

One year ago today, I began this little blog. And in a post or two, I'll be at one hundred posts.

I have mixed feelings about this blog. I read so many other fabulous blogs, and I feel like my little place here in the blogosphere is inadequate. I post so erratically, I wonder if there is even really a point. At yet, at the same time, I think of my blog so often, even when I haven't posted in months. So why the silence?

So here I am at the one year anniversary of my entry into the blogging world. And I am recommitting myself to blogging. And to writing in general.

A big reason for my silence for the last 2 months is change. The new year brought immense, frightening, exhilarating, and exhausting change. It all started when I got a job. It's a job that I never really thought I'd be doing at this point in my life, and one that I still have mixed feelings about. Nevertheless, I enjoy the work, and know that this is a temporary side-step toward my ultimate career goals.

The job forced me to reexamine and ultimately change my thoughts on what I want to do. And after a lot of reading, writing, reflecting, and discussing, I've become even more convinced that I want to be a writer. I still might want to do other things with my life professionally, but I know now that I want to write. I have a dozen ideas floating around in my head (and periodically landing in my writer's notebook). These are everything from children's picture books, adult novels, children's novels, non-fiction, and essays or articles. And yes, blog posts as well. I don't know what kind of writer I am (or will be) yet, but I know that if I want to be a writer--I have to write!

This job, however, has brought other changes as well. It brought me to a new city, (I LOVE Austin, Texas!), to a new apartment (which is still in dire need of some purging and reorganization), to a new church, to new friends, and to a new way of being independent. The job has given me a very new schedule, which forces me to prioritize my time in a new way, and made decisions about what is most important and how to fit those things into my life.

The move also brought me closer to my boyfriend. For the first time in my regular, daily, every day life (as opposed to summer vacation, spring break, etc), I am spending more than a few days at a time in the same city with someone I am in a relationship with. And it's brought more change that I anticipated. But all of this change is good, and it's forming and molding me in wonderful ways.

Because of all this changes, I feel like I am just now ready to make "new year's" resolutions and goals. I will write about those later today or tomorrow.

So happy birthday dear blog! My birthday present to you is a commitment. A commitment to nurture and put time into you as I would any other priority in my life. It's going to be great!