Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gift of Reading Club Selections - April 2010

Ever have one of those "duh" moments when you wonder why it took you so long to think of that simple, yet brilliant, idea?

Each month at the Odyssey Bookshop, I hand-select books for children signed up for our Gift of Reading Program. Usually a family member or close family friend signs up the child (age infant through teen), and each month I pick out, ring up, gift wrap, and mail out a book chosen specifically for them. The books have usually been recently published (within the last three months or so), and is chosen based on the age of the child, the gender (yes, I take that into consideration, though I do think outside the box) of the child, the reading level, if I know anything about the child's reading preferences, the literary merit of the book, the artistic merit of the book, and of course, my own personal taste.

Why I never thought to blog about my selections before is beyond me. I will now begin to do so, using only age and gender to identify the recipient of the book. Here they are:

April 2010 Gift of Reading Club Selections
(by age)

Baby (months old) female:

Gossie Plays Hide and Seek
by Olivier Dunrea 
9780547242965, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $13.99

1 yr/o male:

Trucks: A Mini Animotion Book
by Accord Publishing
9780740792007, Accord Publishing, $9.99

I Like Bugs
by Lorena Siminovitch
9780740792007, Candlewick Press, $6.99  

Zoo Parade!
by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Simms Taback  
9781593540142, Blue Apple Books, $8.95 

2 yr/o female:

Pepi Sings a New Song
by Laura Ljungkvist
9781416991380, Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), $16.99 

3 yr/o male:

Giant Pop-Out Ocean
9780811874793, Chronicle, $10.99 

4 yr/o female:

The Sandwich Swap
by Her Majesty Queen Rania AlAbdullah of Jordan, with Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Tricia Tusa
9781423124849, Harper, $16.98

by Elise Broach, illustrated by Richard Egielski
9781416916284, Simon & Schuster, $16.99

The Django
by Levi Pinfold
9780763647889, Templar Books (Candlewick), $16.99

6 & & yr/o male:

Shark vs. Train
by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
9780316007627, Little, Brown for Young Readers (Hachette), $16.99 

7 & 8 yr/o female:

Madame Pamplemousse and her Incredible Edibles
by Rupert Kingfisher, illustrated by Sue Hellard
9781599903064, Bloomsbury (Macmillan), $15.99

9 yr/o female:

Kaline Klattermaster's Tree House
by Haven Kimmel, illustrated by Peter Brown
9780689874031, Simon & Schuster, $5.99

8, 9, & 10 yr/o male:

Big Nate: In a Class By Himself
by Lincoln Peirce
9780061944345, Harper, $12.99

11 & 12 yr/o male:

Dangerous Book of Heroes
by Conn & David Iggulden
9780061928246, William Morrow & Co, $26.99

12 yr/o female:

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place
by Maryrose Wood, illustrated by Jon Klassen
9780061791055, Harper, $15.99

15 yr/o female:

And Both Were Young
by Madeleine L'Engle
9780374303648, Farrar Straus & Giroux (Macmillan), $16.99


Check out this post on my personal blog.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Author Visit: David Hyde Costello, author of I Can Help and Here They Come!

You want to know why I love my job?

Yes, I get to read children's books months before they get published and then recommend them to you and others to read. Yes, I get to hold weekly storytimes where adorable children sit at my feet and listen with rapt attention (usually) while I read them picturebooks. And yes, I get to hold events with authors and illustrators, meet them, hang out with them, find out their favorite type of signing pen and bottled water...

As if those weren't enough, one of the top reasons I love my job is that, on the rare occasion, an author will unexpectedly stop by for a visit. Those are some of the best days of all. Working at a bookstore in the Pioneer Valley, where the old adage says you can't throw a stone without hitting a children's book author or illustrator, greatly increases the chances of a surprise visit. Today, I got one from author/illustrator David Hyde Costello!

David is the author of Here They Come! (9780374330514, Farrar Straus Girroux - Macmillan, $15), a really fun Halloween book told from the point of view of small monsters. You see the monsters celebrate Halloween with a big party until strange creatures show up wearing all kinds of crazy costumes and scare the monsters away. Can you guess what type of creatures are beneath those costumes? (Answer: Human children.) Wonderful for storytime with a crowd, or if you're taking a closer look, make sure to keep an eye out for the sneaky subplots happening in the illustrations. SIGNED COPIES AVAILABLE AT THE ODYSSEY BOOKSHOP.

David's newest book is I Can Help (9780374335267, Farrar Straus Giroux - Macmillan, $12.99). In addition to the simple, colorful illustrations, the trim size is my favorite part. This book is perfect for the little hands of the youngest picturebook reader. The charming story is perfect for that age, too, about baby animals helping each other in various ways. What child hasn't said, "I can help!"? SIGNED COPIES AVAILABLE AT THE ODYSSEY BOOKSHOP.

Thanks, David, for stopping by!


Check out this post on my personal blog.

Book Review: White Cat by Holly Black & AUTHOR EVENT

 The Odyssey Bookshop welcomes 
Holly Black & Cassandra Clare 
in a duo-author event on 
May 11th at 7 p.m.!

Holly Black's New Release!

White Cat (The Curse Workers #01)
by Holly Black
9781416963967, $17.99, Pub. Date: May 2010

Introducing the beginning of a new Holly Black series! So dark, so complicated, so witty - so wonderful.

How to explain this book to without giving a page-by-page detailed explanation? Okay, let's begin with setting. The time is now, or sometime mirroring now, with the cars, phones, technology, etc. that we have. The difference is the existence of curse work. Some people have the ability to work curses, magic, by touching other people with their bare hands. There are different types of curse work - memory curses, emotion curses, and transmutation curses. Curse working has been outlawed and everyone wears gloves to avoid touching each other with bare hands.

Enter Cassel Sharpe. He was born into a family of curse workers, and though he's an excellent con artist, he's not actually a curse worker. That doesn't mean there isn't something a little magical going on. Cassel keeps dreaming of a white cat, and waking up not in his boarding school dormitory bed. His dreams tend to center around one event he'd like to forget: the night he killed the girl he loved, Lila Zacharov. She was the daughter of the powerful head of the Zacharov crime family. The only reason Cassel is still alive is that his older brothers, all powerful curse workers, covered up for him.

While this all sounds strange in its own right, the part that's more bizarre is that Lila's curse magic was an ability to turn into other animals, and a white cat was her favorite. How is Lila controlling Cassel's dreams if she's supposedly dead? As the complex plot unfolds, Cassel begins to realize he can't trust anyone or anything - not his own family, and worst of all, not even his own memory. Someone has been curse working him. Now if only he could figure out who and why...

Throw in a dysfunctional family, a girlfriend who just dumped him, the beginnings of actual friends for the first time in his life, and you've got one heck of a teenage life to get through.


Cassandra Clare's Trilogy, Mortal Instruments!

City of Bones
9781416955078, Simon & Schuster, $9.99

City of Ashes
9781416972242, Simon & Schuster, $9.99

City of Glass 
9781416914303, Simon & Schuster, $17.99

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Love in the time of Victoria...Queen Victoria, that is.

I have been meaning to post about this book for the last few months, as it was a book I mentioned on the radio for the Round Table book discussion on WAMC back in January, but I'm afraid real life derailed the blog for a while. But noticing the display of Lewis Carroll books at the Odyssey today prompted me to dig this so I could post it.

ALICE I HAVE BEEN by Melanie Benjamin is a new(ish) hardcover novel that is the ingenious imagining of the inner life of Alice Liddell, the real life little girl who was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. Now I have to confess that I’m a huge fan of the Alice classics--I read the books so often in my childhood that I took to reading them backwards AND upside-down just to keep things interesting. The poem "Jabberwocky" was the first poem I ever memorized (quite possibly the only poem I ever memorized) and I can recite it to this day, but this novel is so vividly imagined and compellingly told that you wouldn’t have to be obsessed with Lewis Carroll to reap lots of enjoyment from the novel. It opens in 1932 when Alice is an old woman, reflecting on her life and how the public identification as Alice in Wonderland has affected her. The author deftly interweaves known facts into the fantasy of her conjectured story, and my curiosity was roused to the point that I actually did a few Google searches to sift through the narrative for fact vs. fancy (Alice did meet Queen Victoria's youngest son whilst he was attending Oxford, but there's no evidence that he courted her, for one example).

I found Alice Liddell’s childhood the most compelling section, where we see her interactions with Charles Dodgson, the Oxford mathematician who would go on to write the Alice books under the psyeudonym of Lewis Carroll. The author does an amazing job of maintaining a very delicate balance between a sweet, avuncular relationship and a predatory relationship between the two, and it’s clear that however ambiguous their friendship is to the outside world, the two of them find mutual comfort and understanding with each other.

It’s the section where Alice is a young woman that is so heartbreaking to me, which picks up several years after the rift between Dodgson and the Liddell family. Tired of overanalyzing the relationship that shocked the entire Oxford community, Alice retreats into the comfort of hazy memories and finding order in the strict ideas of Victorian fashion and decorum, preferring not to dwell on that universal great mystery of just how narrow the chasm is that separates childhood from adulthood. Ultimately this spellbinding novel is a meditation on the sorrows and losses on both sides of that chasm, which makes it such a satisfying read.

~Emily Crowe

Book Review: Serena by Ron Rash

This was a post I intended to publish over a year ago. Now in paperback, I'm finally going to post my review of Ron Rash's Serena.

Hardcover: 9780061470851, HarperCollins, $24.95
Paperback: 9780061470844, HarperCollins, $14.99

Serena blew my mind a bit.

You wouldn't think upon first picking up a book about a timber empire in North Carolina during the years leading up to the Great Depression that it would be a gripping read for anyone other than a history buff. Yet the cast of characters and the stark reality of Ron Rash's writing creates a compelling and bone-chilling story.

The absolute lack of morality and concern for anyone other than herself makes Serena a heinous individual. You want to hate her, but her intelligence and self-possession make her fascinating. In a harsh land, building a harsh timber empire, Serena is a beautiful, feminine, immovable steel rod who has a blow as heavy as one of the trees felled by her timber crews. Recently married to owner George Pemberton, Serena is as obsessed with power and the unplumbed Brazilian forests, as George is with her. Together they form an nearly unstoppable team of knowledge, money, and Serena's ruthlessness. If someone stands in their way, they will be taken down - whether by a swift knife across the throat, a hunting "accident", or Serena's right-hand man who always gets his prey.

An unnerving subplot involves George Pemberton's illegitimate child, mothered by a local mountain girl, conceived prior to George's marriage to Serena, but birthed afterward. Distracted by her ambitions in other directions, Serena does not focus on the mother and child until later in the book. Then, for reasons of her own, Serena turns her obsession toward them - and it is time for them to die.

Much like the trees now clogging the riverways, Serena will cut down everything in her path: Teddy Roosevelt's plan for a national forest, a local sheriff who is the only man with backbone enough to stand up to her, and the mother and child who retain a claim on the man and the empire that must be solely hers. Serena doesn't share; she takes, eliminates, and possesses.

A frighteningly compelling read, you won't want to put it down until you find out how, why, and who is the next to die. 


Read this review on my personal blog.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ininite Jesters

I have joined a book club and I have to say that I am delighted that our first pick is David Lipsky's Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace.

David Lipsky, now an editor of Rolling Stone magazine took a five day road trip with David Foster Wallace, at the beginning of his Infinite Jest tour, back in 1996.

This is also at the beginning of Lipsky's turn as a writer for Rolling Stone and perhaps because both Wallace and Lipsky are at the beginning of success, the truths revealed in his interview are that much more poignant.

By turns, insightful, funny and intimate, this book is the straight up interview between Wallace and Lipsky during the five day book tour. Lipsky reveals a Wallace that few people ever got to meet. Wallace was a very private person, who battled with depression his entire life, and dually was a high school athlete, and stellar college professor, who avoided the spotlight whenever he could. In order to get out of television appearances for his book Wallace allowed Lipsky to shadow him and record conversations for a Rolling Stones article. Though the article was not published at the time, Lipsky had a way of asking the appropriate questions to get very candid responses.

While delving into Infinite Jest is a feat in and of itself, getting to understand the man behind this behemoth of modern literature is what this book helps one do. I really look forward to discussing it with my Boss Lady Book club at our next meeting!



To order your copy of Infinite Jest from the Odyssey click here.
to order Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, from the Odyssey click here.

National Poetry Month: Sherman Alexie

Congratulations to Sherman Alexie for winning the 2010 Pen/Faulkner Fiction prize for his latest book War Dances (9780802119193, $23, Grove Press) (out in paperback in August). Always multi-faceted and multi-talented, Alexie's latest book brings his penchant for unique book design and content, began in his National Book Award-winning YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Absolutely True was written in various formats, like diary entries and comic sketches. War Dances alternates between poetry and prose, and as with all of Alexie's writing War Dances is lyrical, to-the-point, and thought-provoking.

This poem is not from War Dances, but is one of my favorites for its commentary on people who tend to think of themselves as in the majority, assuming everyone is just like them.

On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City

The white woman across the aisle from me says 'Look,
look at all the history, that house
on the hill there is over two hundred years old, '
as she points out the window past me

into what she has been taught. I have learned
little more about American history during my few days
back East than what I expected and far less
of what we should all know of the tribal stories

whose architecture is 15,000 years older
than the corners of the house that sits
museumed on the hill. 'Walden Pond, '
the woman on the train asks, 'Did you see Walden Pond? '

and I don't have a cruel enough heart to break
her own by telling her there are five Walden Ponds
on my little reservation out West
and at least a hundred more surrounding Spokane,

the city I pretended to call my home. 'Listen, '
I could have told her. 'I don't give a shit
about Walden. I know the Indians were living stories
around that pond before Walden's grandparents were born

and before his grandparents' grandparents were born.
I'm tired of hearing about Don-fucking-Henley saving it, too,
because that's redundant. If Don Henley's brothers and sisters
and mothers and father hadn't come here in the first place

then nothing would need to be saved.'
But I didn't say a word to the woman about Walden
Pond because she smiled so much and seemed delighted
that I thought to bring her an orange juice

back from the food car. I respect elders
of every color. All I really did was eat
my tasteless sandwich, drink my Diet Pepsi
and nod my head whenever the woman pointed out

another little piece of her country's history
while I, as all Indians have done
since this war began, made plans
for what I would do and say the next time
somebody from the enemy thought I was one of their own.
To see other poetry posts, visit my personal blog.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Poetry and Childhood

One of the books I best remember from my childhood is Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.

This story is about Sylvester, a curious donkey who manages to turn himself into a stone. His parents search high and low for him but are unable to find him, as they don't recognize him now that he is a large stone. Don't worry though the story ends with Sylvester being restored back to his natural state, and back in the arms of his parents who never doubted that they would find him.

Steig's book has been around for almost 40 years so it has been a bed time classic for a few generations. Drawing inspiration from this beloved children's book is poet and Paris Review poetry editor Dan Chiasson whose latest collection features a long poem that the collection is named after. Where's the Moon, There's the Moon is centered around Chiasson's experience of being read Sylvester by his father.

Here is a selection of the poem from Chiasson's new book:


And the child's attention fixed upon the animal book,
and all the animals in the book intent upon dinner
or eyeing some harbinger cloud forever, permanently
dejected because of some little stone turned their child
to stone, weeping big mule or owl tears as though
the child never turned the page, the sun never shone
again bringing larkspurs, gentian, and the mule-boy
reunited with mule mommy and daddy just in time to end,

Where's the Moon, There's the Moon is the third poetry collection by Chiasson, an Amherst College alumnus. The poems' themes vary from parent-child relationships to life and death. It is an insightful collection from a fairly local author.

To order your copy of Dan Chiasson's new book of poems from the Odyssey click here!


Saturday, April 17, 2010

David Foster Wallace Vocabulary

Thanks to @kentmeusemarian for today's post! (Follow me on Twitter: @rebf)

David Foster Wallace was an American novelist, essayist, and short story writer, whose most famous work, Infinite Jest, was included in Time magazine's All-Time 100 Greatest Novels list.

Hardcover: 9780316920049, Little, Brown & Co., $35
Paperback: 9780316066525, Little, Brown & Co., $17.99

In his work, he had much occasion to check out his favorite American Heritage Dictionary, and while he was there, circled a multitude of words. Though this article doesn't really go into detail about why DFW circled all these words, this is, apparently, a complete list of the words he did circle.

Were they his favorites? His most-used? Words he could never remember the definitions for? Words he most-loved to use at dinner parties? Was he studying up for an adult spelling bee? We may never know, but you should check them out.


Check out this post on my personal blog.

An Odyssey Staff Favorite--Yann Martel!

April 15 is a date most Americans dread, but 2010 is a year that I, for one, will have happy memories of Tax Day. I was fortunate enough to meet Yann Martel at the NEIBA (New England Independent Booksellers Association) offices in Arlington, MA, who was in town doing an event at a Boston-area bookstore. Michael Kindness, one of our sales reps from Random House, arranged for the opportunity for us to get books signed, so while the Odyssey Bookshop wasn't able to book Martel for an event of our own, we could still get signed books for our customers, particularly those in our First Editions Club. (Give us a call or visit our website at to order a signed one--limited quantities!)

Yann Martel signs his new book. To the tune of about 350 copies!

I eagerly devoured Beatrice and Virgil a couple of months ago in the Advance Reader's Editionformat, having loved Martel's previous novel. As with Life of Pi, Martel puts animal allegory to good use again, layered over a postmodern meta-fiction structure. Ostensibly about a writer named Henry who has lost his creativity after hitting it big with a critically-acclaimed AND commercially successful novel, the book is actually an exploration of how inadequate words are to describe the Holocaust. In fact, Martel suggests, the only way one can convey the true horrors of this world is by coming at them obliquely, not directly. This novel is so haunting and provocative that I could not stop thinking of it for days.

You know how it feels impossible to describe the look, feel, and taste of a food another person has never encountered? There is a seven page passage of this novel that will serve as the ruler against which all future food descriptions will be measured and found wanting, in which Virgil (a Howler monkey) describes to Beatrice (a donkey) *exactly* the various aspects that give a pear its "pearness." This passage alone stands out, but there are dozens more, scattered throughout, that highlight Martel's facility with prose that is beautiful, concise, and often cutting.

By the time I got to the epilogue, the Games for Gustav section, I felt utterly sucker-punched. I read the Games section hurriedly straight through the first time. The second time I paused and considered the implications of each game through Virgil's & Beatrice's eyes. The third time I read it, tears coursed down my cheeks, as the utter impossibility of answering each question of the games really began to sink in. This book is as serious, agonizing, visceral, and immediate an encounter with the Holocaust as I've ever experienced, in book or film format.

Photo of Yann Martel and me--about 3/4 of the way through the signing.

~Emily Crowe

Friday, April 16, 2010

Pioneer Valley Children's Book Exhibit

For those folks living in, around, near, or feel like traveling to the Pioneer Valley in Western Mass (an area consisting of towns such as Amherst, Northampton, & South Hadley), a traveling area picturebook exhibit is making its final stop.

The Making of a Picture Book: The Marriage of Text and Art is an exhibit curated by Mount Holyoke College Professor and author, Corinne Demas. The exhibit focuses on these four picturebooks:

Hans Christian Andersen's The Perfect Wizard
written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Dennis Nolan
9780525469551, Dutton Books (Penguin), $16.99

The Littlest Matryoskha
by Corinne Demas, illustrated by Kathryn Brown
9780786801534, HarperCollins, $15.99

Once I Ate a Pie
co-written by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest, illustrated by Katy Schneider
9780060735319, HarperCollins, $17.99

Ten Times Better
by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Leonard Baskin
9780761450702, Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, $17.95

The exhibit has toured around the Pioneer Valley, most recently at Mount Holyoke College, and now is installed in its final exhibit space at the Forbes Library in Northampton (20 West Street, Northampton, MA - 413.587.1011). The exhibit will be up through the end of May. Stop by and check it out!


Poetic justice of modern foibles

I would be remiss if I did not include a collection of love poetry. But one of the best recent collections if a little volume of a book compiled by John Wareham.

Wareham has collected 49 sonnets, written by classic and modern poets, ranging from Shakespeare, to John Edwards.To be precise this collection explores the pitfalls and foibles of forbidden love and what it means to follow through on you desires. With each poem Wareham explores the hidden meanings and unveils insights to each sonnet.

One of the poems that Wareham includes is by one of the best poets I have ever come across, Edna St. Vincent Millay. I hope you enjoy!

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply;
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands a lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet know its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone;
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

~Edna St. Vincent Millay




Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Poetic Inspiration

Austin Kleon's collection of poems Newspaper Blackout walked into the store today, and I must say it is quite possibly one of the best quirky poetry books that we've had in a while.

The beauty of what Kleon does is he simply starts with a newspaper story and blacks out most of the words. The results are funny, insightful, and just plain cool.

From one page he got the following poem:

The Skinny Son


the skinny, son

what is hidden from
sight is
only gradually
yet even as mother and father
re imagine their courtship
A feeling
Hovers around you
To describe "A Secret"
images drained of


I would recommend picking up a copy for some inspiration! Happy Poetry Month!



To order your copy from the Odyssey click here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Vera Pavlova and Translated Poetry

I discovered Vera Pavlova when her latest volume of poems If There is Something to Desire, 100 Poems, walked into the store; and I have to say I am in love.

Pavlova writes succinctly, sweetly, and with an immediacy that touches you before you are even aware you have finished reading her words. This is the kind of collection of poetry that one would keep on their shelves in order to share with others; though I must admit that it is equally successful as a collection that one would turn towards to read to oneself. It is playful but thoughtful, eloquent but not mind numbing. In short it is straightforward poetry that doesn't miss a lyric beat.

The success of her poems is not unrelated to the capableness of her translator Steven Seymour. I often wonder how translation changes, or perhaps does not change, a work of writing. This is not the first collection that Seymour has translated from Russian for Pavlova. So I can only assume that he must be doing her words justice.

Below are two selections from this awesome new collection:


He gave me life as a gift.

What can I give in return?

My poems.

I have nothing else.

But then, are they mine?

This is the way, as a child,

I would give birthday cards

to my mother: I chose them,

and paid with my father's money.



A poem is a voice-mail:

the poet has stepped out, most likely

will not be back. Please leave a message

after you hear a gunshot.


I hope you enjoy as much as I did!


To order your copy from the Odyssey click here.

To find out more about Vera Pavlova visit her website.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

To better understand a community tragedy...

The town of South Hadley, MA, made national news recently with the sad, sad story of a young high school girl from the local high school who committed suicide. It later came out that she had been bullied relentlessly by her peers, both physically & verbally, and even online. Allegedly a number of the bullies even bragged about how miserable they made the poor girl's life. I'm a good 20 years removed from high school myself, and while I never experienced the cruelty that Ms. Phoebe Prince suffered, I recently read a young adult novel that enabled me to relive every taunt, every nasty aside, even the few physical assaults that accompanied me through middle school and high school:

BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, I’LL BE DEAD by Julie Anne Peters. Daelyn Rice is a girl bullied by her peers and misunderstood by her parents when she discovers a website called Through-the-Light. There she meets other teens who are assigned a “Date of Determination,” a date by which, if their lives do not improve, they plan to commit suicide. Follow Daelyn as the website counts down to her D.O.D and she recalls the endless stream of abuse from her school peers and her "Fat Camp" counselors--abuse that the perpetrators intimidated her not to reveal. This raw, horrifying and tragic book couldn’t come at a more pertinent time to our community, mourning a similar loss. If you think bullying is no big deal, read this book and think again.

~Emily Crowe

National Poetry Month: Galway Kinnell

In honor of my co-worker, Nieves, who loves turkeys:

by Galway Kinnell

Sometimes we saw shadows of gods
in the trees; silenced, we went on.
Sometimes the dog would bound off
over the snow, into the forest.
Sometimes a tree had twenty
or more black turkeys in it, each
seeming the size of a small black bear.
We remember them for their care
for their kind ever since we watched the big hen
in the very top of the tree shaking
load after load of apples down to the flock.
Sometimes I felt I would never
come out of the woods, I thought
its deeper darkness might absorb me
or feed me to the black turkeys
and I would cry out for the dog
and the dog would not answer.

For more poetry posts, visit my personal blog.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Glascock Poetry Competition Take 3

And now a poem from Kathryn Irene Glascock...

By Kathryn Irene Glascock
Class of 1922

Give her any flashing thing
That could please a child at play--
Some small passion fit to fling,
In a little while away.
Give her tears or give her mirth--
Mirth that passes, tears that dry--
Something that is all of earth,
Something that is cheap to buy.
Never think that she would guess
If your gift had been more dear,
Never give her tenderness
Worthy to be kept a year.

There have been two previous posts about the upcoming 87th annual Glascock Intercollegiate poetry contest. To catch up click on post 1 and post 2.

And last but not least Judge number 3:

Terri Witek

Witek is the director of Steton University's Sullivan Creative Writing Department. She is the author of four books of poetry. Including The Shipwreck Dress (2008), Carnal World (2006), Fools and Crows (2003), and Courting Couples (2000). Courting Couples won the Center for the Book Arts prize in 2000.
To listen to or hear a selection by Witek click here.
To hear the three judges read, come to their reading on April 16th at 3:00 p.m. in the Williston Library.
For more information click on the Mount Holyoke Website!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Glascock Poetry Competition Take 2

Mount Holyoke College is gearing up for the 87th annual Kathryn Irene Glasock Intercollegiate Poetry Contest. To read the previous post about Judge Andrew Hudgins click here.

Some past poetry judges have included poetry heavy weights Robert Frost, Adrienne Rich, W.H. Auden, and Elizabeth Bishop (as seen above).

This year judge number two is Myung Mi Kim:

Click on this link to read part of a poem from The Bounty.

For more information about Myung Mi Kim visit her website by clicking here.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

National Poetry Month: Nikki Giovanni

Last year's poetry month post also included Nikki Giovanni, and in fact, this same book, though a different poem. Now in paperback, I highly recommend running out and picking up a copy of Bicycles: Love Poems (9780061726491, $11.99, Harper). Here's a taste of a new favorite:

Another Day (Revisited)

Librarians do it
but they do it by the book
Fisherman do it
'cause they have a special hook
Opticians do it
and they love to take a look
Zorro does it
'cause he's a special crook

Three-ring circuses
do it for the clows
Football players
do it on first downs
Swimmers do it
'cause they know they will not drown
Prince does it
'cause he likes to go down

Chefs do it
and they like to use the spices
Bakes do it
with all the bread that slices
Butchers never do it
on the job
Persnickety folk
never do it with a slob

Weather any clime
Poets do but only in good rhyme

I like this poem because it reminds me of one of my favorite songs sung by the great Ella Fitzgerald:
Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)

To see this on my personal blog go here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Glascock Poetry Competiton Take 1

Mount Holyoke College is gearing up for the 87th annual Kathryn Irene Glasock Intercollegiate Poetry Contest.

The Glascock Poetry competition honors MHC alum and poet Irene Glascock, who graduated in 1922, and died in 1923.

Each year students from surrounding colleges read poems and are judged and a winner is picked. Some very notable poets have read as tender undergrads, and some very notable poets have judged in years past. To name a few participants, Sylvia Plath, James Merrill, Kenneth Koch, Katha Pollitt, etc., etc.,

Judges have ranged from Auden to Bishop. This year there will be three new judges added to that hallowed list.

Introducing the first along with one of his poems Andrew Hudgins:

Andrew Hudgins was born in Killeen, Texas, on April 22, 1951. He is the author of Saints and Strangers (1985), which was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize; The Never-Ending (1991), a finalist for the National Book Award; and his most recent, Ecstatic in the Poison (Overlook Press, 2003). His book-length poem After the Lost War: A Narrative (1988), in which he addresses the soldier’s life during the Civil War, won the Poets’ Prize.

Below is one of his poems! Enjoy:

Praying Drunk
by Andrew Hudgins Andrew Hudgins
Our Father who art in heaven, I am drunk.
Again. Red wine. For which I offer thanks.
I ought to start with praise, but praise
comes hard to me. I stutter. Did I tell you
about the woman whom I taught, in bed,
this prayer? It starts with praise; the simple form
keeps things in order. I hear from her sometimes.
Do you? And after love, when I was hungry,
I said, Make me something to eat. She yelled,
Poof! You’re a casserole!—and laughed so hard
she fell out of the bed. Take care of her.
Next, confession—the dreary part. At night
deer drift from the dark woods and eat my garden.
They’re like enormous rats on stilts except,
of course, they’re beautiful. But why? What makes
them beautiful? I haven’t shot one yet.
I might. When I was twelve, I’d ride my bike
out to the dump and shoot the rats. It’s hard
to kill your rats, our Father. You have to use
a hollow point and hit them solidly.
A leg is not enough. The rat won’t pause.
Yeep! Yeep! it screams, and scrabbles, three-legged, back
into the trash, and I would feel a little bad
to kill something that wants to live
more savagely than I do, even if
it’s just a rat. My garden’s vanishing.
Perhaps I’ll merely plant more beans, though that
might mean more beautiful and hungry deer.
Who knows?
I’m sorry for the times I’ve driven
home past a black, enormous, twilight ridge.
Crested with mist, it looked like a giant wave
about to break and sweep across the valley,
and in my loneliness and fear I’ve thought,
O let it come and wash the whole world clean.
Forgive me. This is my favorite sin: despair—
whose love I celebrate with wine and prayer.
Our Father, thank you for all the birds and trees,
that nature stuff. I’m grateful for good health,
food, air, some laughs, and all the other things
I’m grateful that I’ve never had to do
without. I have confused myself. I’m glad
there’s not a rattrap large enough for deer.
While at the zoo last week, I sat and wept
when I saw one elephant insert his trunk
into another’s ass, pull out a lump,
and whip it back and forth impatiently
to free the goodies hidden in the lump.
I could have let it mean most anything,
but I was stunned again at just how little
we ask for in our lives. Don’t look! Don’t look!
Two young nuns tried to herd their giggling
schoolkids away. Line up, they called. Let’s go
and watch the monkeys in the monkey house.
I laughed, and got a dirty look. Dear Lord,
we lurch from metaphor to metaphor,
which is—let it be so—a form of praying.
I’m usually asleep by now—the time
for supplication. Requests. As if I’d stayed
up late and called the radio and asked
they play a sentimental song. Embarrassed.
I want a lot of money and a woman.
And, also, I want vanishing cream. You know—
a character like Popeye rubs it on
and disappears. Although you see right through him,
he’s there. He chuckles, stumbles into things,
and smoke that’s clearly visible escapes
from his invisible pipe. It makes me think,
sometimes, of you. What makes me think of me
is the poor jerk who wanders out on air
and then looks down. Below his feet, he sees
eternity, and suddenly his shoes
no longer work on nothingness, and down
he goes. As I fall past, remember me.

The contest itself will take place on Friday April 16 at 8:00 p.m. For more information visit the competition website!

Scrabble Sacrilege

Some disturbing news concerning the game Scrabble was released today. Matel, the toy company who holds rights to Scrabble in the UK, has announced that they will be releasing a new form of the game in which proper nouns will count for points (there has been no news as to whether Hasbro, the toy company who holds rights to Scrabble in the US, will release a similar game). Those are the names of people, places, and things, that up until this time have been considered cheating by the more serious scrabble players. This causes some concern for me, and I will tell you why, but first let me confess something:

I am horrible at Scrabble. No, really, considering how much I read, what I attend grad school for, and the scores I received on my SATs and GREs, you'd really think my apparently impressive vocabulary would hold me in good steed when it comes to a word-based game such as Scrabble. Not so, my friends. Though it's taken me many years to admit to this, I've finally made my peace with the fact. Now on the rare occasions I play, I resign myself to the knowledge that even the 9-year-old I'm playing against will probably beat me.

Why am I telling you this? So you won't think the following rant comes from a die hard Scrabble lover who just can't imagine imposing upon the sanctity of the game rules.

Now, back to why a Scrabble rule change is horrifying. Basically, Matel is saying that the current "younger generation" they're trying to reach is too dumb to play Scrabble, so they're making the rules easier. Oh, you can pretty it up by likening it to an updated version of Trivial Pursuit that has references to pop culture from J.T.T. (Jonathan Taylor Thomas to those who don't get that reference) to Beyonce, but we all know the original Trivial Pursuit is the best, the hardest, and has the most equal playing field, and so is the now-old version of Scrabble.

Also, both articles I could find on this tragedy - one from the BBC and one from the NY Daily News - neglected to mention that in the globalized communities we find ourselves in, ALMOST ANYTHING can be argued as a proper name. There are names from languages other than English that do use silent Qs, Ps, Xs, Ys, and Zs (probably)! Even as I realize these new rules will probably make the chances of me actually winning a game all the more greater, I still can't endorse a change as apparently ill-conceived and not thoroughly thought out as this one.

To read my last point on this matter, check out my personal blog.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Why I Write: Karl Marlantes

Everybody in the book world seems to be talking about the new book Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes, published by Grove Atlantic last week. It's a mammoth Vietnam novel and it debuted on various bestseller lists last week, including IndieBound, the bestseller list of independent bookstores nationwide. It went into a second printing even before publication and we were thrilled to land Marlantes for our First Edition Club selection for June. He's touring the west coast now but we are eager to welcome him to the Odyssey in a couple of months. If you're at all interested in collecting this one, call us early before our first printings run out!

Publishers Weekly ran an interview with Marlantes called "Why I Write" and it's so well written and engaging that anybody who understands the importance that reading novels plays in our understanding of the world should enjoy it, too. It doesn't hurt that he references Eudora Welty, one of the best but underappreciated American writers of the 20th century.

~Emily Crowe

Why I Write: Karl Marlantes

by Karl Marlantes -- Publishers Weekly, 1/25/2010 2:00:00 AM

Having read a galley of my novel, Matterhorn, about Marines in Vietnam, a somewhat embarrassed woman came up to me and said, “I didn’t even know you guys slept outside.” She was college educated and had been an active protester against the war. I felt that my novel had built a small bridge.

The chasm that small bridge crossed is still wide and deep in this country. I remember being in uniform in early 1970, delivering a document to the White House, when I was accosted by a group of students waving Vietcong and North Vietnamese flags. They shouted obscenities and jeered at me. I could only stand there stunned, thinking of my dead and maimed friends, wanting desperately to tell these students that my friends and I were just like them: their age, even younger, with the same feelings, yearnings, and passions. Later, I quite fell for a girl who was doing her master’s thesis on D. H. Lawrence. Late one night we were sitting on the stairs to her apartment and I told her that I’d been a Marine in Vietnam. “They’re the worst,” she cried, and ran up the stairs, leaving me standing there in bewilderment.

After the war, I worked as a business consultant to international energy companies to support a family, eventually being blessed with five children. I began writing Matterhorn in 1975 and for more than 30 years, I kept working on my novel in my spare time, unable to get an agent or publisher to even read the manuscript. Certainly, writing the novel was a way of dealing with the wounds of combat, but why would I subject myself to the further wounds all writers receive trying to get published? I think it’s because I’ve wanted to reach out to those people on the other side of the chasm who delivered the wound of misunderstanding. I wanted to be understood.

Ultimately, the only way we’re ever going to bridge the chasms that divide us is by transcending our limited viewpoints. My realization of this came many years ago reading Eudora Welty’s great novel Delta Wedding. I experienced what it would be like to be a married woman on a Mississippi Delta plantation who was responsible for orchestrating one of the great symbols of community and love. I entered her world and expanded beyond my own skin and became a bigger person.

I was given the ability to create stories and characters. That’s my part of the long chain of writers, publishers, agents, booksellers, librarians, and a host of others who eventually deliver literature to the world. I want to do for others what Eudora Welty did for me.