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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bark Up the Right Tree

Bark Up the Right Tree by Jessie & Ruth Tschudin

Jessie and Ruth are a great team. They are both senior citizens who love long walks, children and singing. They didn't get together for awhile due to some difficult circumstances in Jessie's life, but they are devoted to one another now and have big plans for the future.

Jessie was a rescued black lab who was adopted by Ruth, and Bark Up the Right Tree is her story--told in her voice.

Because of the dog narrator, the story could have easily ventured into the sappy or ridiculous, but Jessie and Ruth stay right on track with succinct chapters, amusing and poignant stories and, in general, great writing. They also highlight some important causes without ever sounding preachy.

This would be a great read for families or in a classroom setting. Anyone would enjoy it, but I think children would appreciate Jessie's antics, and adults could help children discuss some of the lessons at the end of each chapter ("paws" for lessons learned). It would also be helpful to read if you're considering adopting a dog. Almost as a sidebar to the stories, Jessie and Ruth remind potential dog owners that there are many details to consider and a few difficulties to endure, but the relationship you'll establish is ultimately worth it.

Again, Jessie and Ruth have big plans for the future, and you will be cheering them on by the end. I look forward to keeping up with their story at Kids 'n' Kritters Project.

Meanwhile, thanks for reading my review-a-day this last week of May! I'll be back to posting as normal, and my first Southern Reading Challenge review is due June 15! Yippee!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Of Dreams and Realities

Of Dreams and Realities by Frank Johnson

Frank Johnson's target audience in Of Dreams and Realities is young adults. However, I'm afraid his poetry style is far removed from what most young adults like to read, and his subjects aren't treated with the same attitudes and respect (or ironic disrespect) that many young adults currently appreciate.

If you've been reading Considering All Things Literary for very long, you know that I hate to give bad reviews, and they are rare on this blog. However, I feel compelled to be honest, and when I've tried and failed to like a book (or a collection of poems in this case), I don't want to give other readers a false impression.

Dr. Johnson's poems are all rhymed, most in either AABB or ABAB format. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it sometimes seems forced to try and find a word that rhymes but doesn't accurately fit the poem. When you have approximately 60 poems in a collection, the odds are good that there will be several forced words. A mix of rhymed and blank verse would have been nice.

Meanwhile, the topics are various, ranging from dating to parents to inner thoughts, all of which are fine for poems in general and, specifically, for young adult poetry. However, Dr. Johnson could use a lighter, less lecturing tone on many of these, and on others he could use a bit more sincerity--sharing perhaps his thoughts or memories of his time as a young adult.

Again, I don't enjoy disliking poetry, and I'm not trying to be overly critical of Dr. Johnson. I know poetry is deeply personal and open to various interpretations. However, I don't think this collection fits his target audience, and I think it would have been better off remaining in his own journal.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Bouncing Boy

The Bouncing Boy by Ilia

Jack is an overweight boy who is mercilessly teased by his peers and even the adults in his life. When his parents die, he is driven out of town to live as a hermit. But when tragedy hits his fellow citizens, he must decide whether to forgive them and offer assistance or continue life on his own.

The Bouncing Boy is a new fairy tale, but its principles are traditional. Ilia stresses the importance of respect for elders in the community, forgiveness, kindness and adaptability.

Her illustrations are simple but nice--black and white images drawn in large, bold strokes, which would tempt children to color them (a good thing, I say). I would actually have enjoyed one on every page.

The vocabulary, meanwhile, is challenging, and the book is longer than many younger children's books. So I would recommend this to a somewhat older audience--perhaps 10-13. However, I would question whether the story itself would appeal to this age group. The style seems somewhat geared toward younger readers. However, as with most fairy tales, I would imagine children of many ages would be able to find applicable principles here.

For information about Ilia's other work, check out Winsome Tales.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Legs Talk

Legs Talk by D.E. Boone

Legs Talk is an unusual look at dating from the perspective of a pair of legs. Boone (a man, I was surprised to learn) uses quick one-liners and minimal dialogue to illustrate your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-turns-out-to-be-kinda-crazy relationship.

It's amusing and would make a fun coffee table book (albeit a small coffee table) or conversation piece.

However, I had a bit of trouble distinguishing the target audience. Women will identify with the dialogue, but most wouldn't appreciate page after page of provocative pictures of legs (although the photography itself was inspiring).

Meanwhile, spoiler alert, but you can't go wrong with having a puppy as the ultimate hero.

Favorite quote...
How can I miss you if you won't go away?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

City Above the Sea

City Above the Sea and Other Poems by Stephen Alan Saft

Because modern poetry seems to have such a broad definition, you're never sure what you're going to get when you pick up a set.

So I'll let you know that with Stephen Alan Saft's latest collection, you can expect rhythm, transparency, stimulating questions, ideas and vocabulary worthy of an SAT prep book. Overall, excellent poetry!

Saft tackles subjects from nature to political conspiracy theories to careers to poetry itself, using blank verse as well as rhymed, and he even includes lovely illustrations. He says in the preface that he presented some of the poems live and accompanied by a jazz band, which I think could be the only thing better than reading them yourself.

My favorites included To an Old Professor Wherever, The Cucumber Plant to the Sun, Solomon Bricker, To the Motorcycle's Master Robert M. Pirsig, Not Enough and Too Late.

It's hard to do favorite quotes from poems because you always miss something by not reading the entire thing. So, I'll quote one stanza from New York in Winter and otherwise highly recommend that you read Saft's collection for yourself.

O New York, your theaters and concert halls
your grand ballet and bookophile's bookstores
your cabbies who can answer any question
and leave no subject untouched by an opinion
your deal makers, deal takers and your consultants
your fancy writers of advertising copy
your chewers on very large cigars
your towers towering above streaking airplanes
with express and local elevators
their banks, some restaurants in upper reaches.
Once science fiction, now living fact.
For more information on the author, visit his website.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Decorating Drama Subsides

New nightstand! (End table?) Anyway...hooray!

Our neighbors were getting rid of this, so I snatched it up for free. Awesome.

It needs a bit of work, so if any of you have done refinishing/repainting, I would love some tips.

Meanwhile, it works for now as is...

And I don't know if you can tell from this picture, but I think it complements Jason's nightstand nicely. Also, this gives you an idea of what Fred has been up to lately.

Next project--living room curtains!

Straight From the Horse's Heart

Straight From the Horse's Heart by R.T. Fitch

In the prologue of Straight From the Horse's Heart, R.T. Fitch asks the reader to keep an open mind. I'm a skeptic by nature, but I'm also an animal lover. So I tried my best to do as he requested when reading his story about how communicating with horses changed not only his life but also helped shut down the last few horse slaughterhouses in the United States.

Fitch's writing style is rather down-home, similar to what you might hear at a family reunion, and this is endearing. He is free with the superlatives but straightforward about his flaws. And I never got the sense that he was pushing me to believe his story. He was simply presenting his side of things--that he talked to horses, and they talked back.

And whether you believe him or not, Fitch raises some important issues about animal cruelty, and he doesn't hesitate to include graphic descriptions when those descriptions are warranted. The book isn't overwhelmingly depressing, however; he weaves in plenty of laughter and hope, leaving you to take from it what you will by the end. He does encourage readers, though, to take some action to help animals--horses, in particular.

For more information on how to do this, Fitch recommends visiting Habitat for Horses. And for more information about Fitch, you can check out his website.

Meanwhile, this is the first of six reviews I'll be doing during the next six days--a review a day during the last week of May! Enjoy!

Favorite quotes...

One of the windows, which looks out over the west pasture, is only a few feet from my side of the bed. The windows have a reflective coating that makes it virtually impossible to see in from the outside...When I gaze out that dark window, by the glow of one of our barnyard lights I can see the horses lying in the west pasture...The sight of those relaxed beings always sets the tone for the day; they focus and center me. But, one thing they do unsettles me. As I stand and stare...I can feel their calmness wash over me; and, as their peace settles my soul, at least one, if not more, turns and looks directly at me. First, the head turns; then, the neck bends, and finally, the gentle eyes calmly stare right through the black glass and touch my soul.

It is her job to teach you that it is okay to break down that wall and love someone even though it is only for a short time. You must risk the pain when it comes time to leave to enjoy the moment of love that you can share right now. She risks that hurt for you, and in so doing, she is attempting to show you that it is okay to love her back.

She uttered a small gasp when she...saw him lying on the ground wiht his back planted upright and his legs splayed out in the hay. She then quietly inhaled when she noted that the little Mustang colt was laying next him with his head in her husband's lap. On the other side was the Appaloosa, sitting like a reproduction of the Sphinx with his front legs tucked under his body, looking dreary-eyed at her. Standing on either side, above them, were the Thoroughbreds, both with back feet cocked and heads dipped low in gentle sleep. She froze for a moment as she knew the danger that he was in should she spook one causing them to unwittingly step on him. She then took in the expression on his face: eyes closed, and mouth frozen in a gentle smile.

Friday, May 22, 2009

You Just Can't Read It All

I still remember the moment when I realized I would never be able to read everything that was ever written. It was the first day I went for library time in middle school. My class had moved up that year from elementary school, and I was astounded by the number of books in the much larger library. Reality hit, and, let me tell ya, it was quite a blow to 5th-grade Tiffany.

It still makes me a little sad that I probably won't be able to read everything I would like in my borrowed time here (sorry to be morbid, but it's true). But this realization has helped me be a bit more choosy about what I do read. OK, I still read a lot of random stuff and the occasional People magazine, but I really don't want to waste my time with a book if I am 99% sure before starting that I won't like it.

That's why I've so far skipped Dan Brown's Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code.

But the hype surrounding the latest movie has brought the books to mind again, so I'm revisiting my decision and wondering if anyone wants to contribute to the thought process. (Picture of Fred thrown in to up the blog's cuteness factor.)

Two quick notes on that thought process...
  • Let me just say that I'm all about reading points-of-view that are different from my own. I don't eliminate a book just because I think I'll disagree with its premise--especially when it comes to non-fiction. I like understanding different perspectives and the reasoning behind those.

  • This is not always true when it comes to fiction that passes itself off as factual ("faction" as I've heard it called recently). This is part of the reason that I won't read the Left Behind series. It really bugs me when authors blur the lines between what they invent and what is true.
Again, I would love your thoughts on this issue! Do you make it a point to read books you know you'll disagree with and/or won't like? Should I give Dan Brown another shot?

Let's wrap up with a few quick links...

The art of reading aloud is a near and dear one to me. My mom read aloud to me every day, as far as I know, from the day I was born. It's no coincidence that I started reading on my own at age 3. It's also the thing I miss most about working with kiddos.

Also in my near and dear file...

And should I reconsider asking my husband for a taser for my birthday?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Decorating Drama

Let's just start this off by saying I am not a decorator. When I was growing up, our house always had flair--in a good way. My mother not only kept it amazingly neat, but she also always made sure things looked...put together. She was constantly rearranging, adjusting, repainting, and it always. looked. great. But she must have passed that flair gene along to someone else because I sure didn't get it!

Our house is clean...for the most part. OK, it's really clean every Saturday and gets progressively worse by the following Friday. But, on the decorating end of things, it's more efficient than full of flair. I have my moments of brilliance (ha), so I will really like a random wall or the way one corner is arranged, for instance. But the overall place is not exactly House Beautiful.

One room I almost always adore, though, is our bedroom. I use a lot of whites, so it makes it feel cool. No TV, so it's peaceful. All my shoes live there. And up until recently, it was also relatively clutter-free.

But, as we've rearranged some in the living room, a few boxes, papers and such found their way into my beloved bedroom. Also, I've amassed quite a collection of to-be-read books--both personal and professional (I do book reviews on my other blog, so I get a lot of review books in the mail).

Anyway, I lay in bed one night and realized that I felt uncomfortable...for no readily apparent reason. But I looked to my right and saw...

My nightstand was overflowing. Boxes in my line of sight. Tissues everywhere, and would you look at the books?! It just didn't feel peaceful anymore...

So, I tackled my nightstand, the boxes and books almost immediately. And life is a little nicer in my corner now...

But, as I was tackling, I realized that Jason's nightstand looks a lot better than mine (excuse the's Tuesday, not Saturday)...

Jason's looks normal and grown-up. Mine looks like something I would have had in college. Except not as nice because my roommate always made our room look awesome. Maybe she got my mom's missing decorator gene.

Now, I will say that my nightstand is just as functional as Jason's, and his actually works better for him than it would for me for a variety of reasons. So I don't want to just swap ours out. I actually want the bedroom to look nicer, so I thought I'd just buy the same nightstand to go on my side of the bed.

Problem. I bought this nightstand (or is it end table? whatever) about seven years ago at Wal-Mart. Inspected it and can find no brand name, serial number or any indication of which company created it. I posted my issue on Facebook, and most agreed that I should just get a nightstand that complements the other...

So, if you're still with me--thanks! I have a question! How do you know what compliments a run-of-the-mill nightstand like this one? Suggestions? Other decorating input any of you brilliant, full-of-flair types would like to pass along?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Old Vs. New

Funny story passed along on the SLIS listserv recently...

Someone asked my staff member Stephen that question always dreaded by today’s librarians, “Since so much information is on the Internet now, why do we need libraries?”This person was a doctor, so Stephen answered, “Well, I have a question for you – since there is so much medical and health information available on the Web these days – I suppose we really don’t need doctors any more do we?”The doctor sputtered and turned red in the face as he tried to explain how people couldn’t interpret all the raw data available out there & that so much of the information out there was not accurate & that doctors did much more that just compile information, etc. Stephen replied, “Exactly.”
This debate has grown along with the explosion of the Internet. Don't get me wrong, I *heart* the Net--Google and Wikipedia are fabulous. But they're not all-inclusive, and, I know I'm prejudiced, but they don't replace libraries or librarians. Not yet anyway.

So many students and people today seem to think that "everything" is on the Internet. Two problems: obviously, "everything" is not. Also, just because something is on the Internet doesn't mean it's easily found. Again, our profession is still needed!

And that's partly because many consider the library to be a sacred place on campuses.

I love that article. Brought back sweet memories of Gorgas Library on campus at the University of Alabama. I loved my 4th floor nook, the couches on the 5th floor (where the library school was housed) and, of course, the 1st floor coffee bar. (The above are pictures of the library where I'm now creating sacred memories.)

What about you? What are some of your sacred libraries? Or just sacred places?

Friday, May 15, 2009

What a Long, Strange Week It's Been

Truckin' my week cashed in...keep truckin' the graduate man...Together, more or less in line...just keep truckin' on...
We had the graduation banquet for Jason's school. (He's not graduating, but he's the president of their version of the student council, so he had to help, which meant I had to help.)
Meanwhile, I had half of my student workers who are graduating or leaving for the summer leaving last week, which meant bringing lots and lots of food to work...

Hang it up and see what tomorrow a soft machine...
My good pal and bestest college roommate (hi Shelley!) is getting married soon! I headed to Dallas to see her and do pre-wedding stuff on Saturday.

Most of the cast that you meet on the streets speak of true love...Most of the time they're sittin and cryin at home...
Mother's Day. Frankly, it's a tough one when you've lost your mom, and you don't have kids. (Even though that's been our choice during this season of life, and I have zero regrets about that.) Nevertheless, it's still a tough day. Happy for all you moms and amazed at the work a lot of you do. But some years are tougher than others--this was a tough one.

One of these days they know they better get goin...out of the door and down on the streets all alone...
The other half of the departing student workers headed out this week. Sad. But more food. Also, more scheduling. And more projects for me because it's summer. Crazy work week. But good.

Busted, down on dentist street, set up, like a bowlin pin. Knocked down, it gets to wearin thin. Cavities just wont let you be, oh no...
Yeah, dentist this week. Nine cavities. Nine! (I kept hearing Ferris Bueller's mother in my head..."Nine times?") That's more than my lifetime combined total. Plus, one needs a crown. Great. Thanks.

Sittin and starin out of the hotel a tip they're gonna take me to the vet again...
Poor Fred must be going through puberty. He's had a recent outbreak of pimples. One of which concerned the vet. Plus, he needed a check-up, shots, registration, grooming. Tough day for the little dude.

I'd like to get some sleep before I travel...But if you've got plans, I guess they're gonna come in. I get sick of hangin around, and I'd like to travel...Get tired of travelin and I want to settle down...
This weekend, plans abound--Star Trek, girls' night out, other standard weekend stuff. But the plans will be fun. And maybe I'll work in a little rest and even some good tunes as well...
Truckin, I'm a goin home...whoa whoa baby back where I belong...back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin on...

Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

You see, when a geisha wakes up in the morning she is just like any other woman. Her face may be greasy from sleep, and her breath unpleasant. It may be true that she wears a startling hairstyle even as she struggles to open her eyes; but in every other respect she's a woman like any other, and not a geisha at all. Only when she sits before her mirror to apply her makeup with care does she become a geisha. And I don't mean that this is when she begins to look like one. This is when she begins to think like one too.

The story of the geisha Nitta Sayuri is a colorful one--from her dreary childhood in a gray fishing village to the black years when she is sold into virtual slavery and tortured by an unscrupulous geisha to her pink blossoming under a kind mentor and finally to the vibrant reds and golds of her own career.

Indeed, Golden makes constructive use of color through almost vertigo-inducing descriptions of everything from kimonos to makeup to the landscape to tell Sayuri's story of friendship, revenge and, most importantly, destiny.

Destiny isn't always like a party at the end of the evening. Sometimes it's nothing more than struggling through life from day to day.

And Sayuri definitely has to struggle to determine her destiny. When she is not yet 10 years old, her grieving, hopeless father sells her and her sister into a life of indentured servitude. She mourns her stolen childhood but comes to the realization that she has to embrace her new life in order to survive in this twisted sorority.

I thought Sayuri was a lovely name, but it felt strange not to be known as Chiyo any longer...It was as if the little girl named Chiyo, running barefoot from the pond to her tipsy house, no longer existed. I felt that this new girl, Sayuri, with her gleaming white face and her red lips, had destroyed her.

For a flicker of a moment I imagined a world completely different from the one I'd always known, a world in which I was treated with fairness, even kindness--a world in which fathers didn't sell their daughters.

She not only survives, but she also learns to succeed as a geisha--even throughout a national depression and World War II. These events could easily steal the scene, but the novel remains Sayuri's story and is stronger for it.

Adversity is like a strong wind. I don't mean just that it holds us back from places we might otherwise go. It also tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be.

Sayuri continues through this adversity and through success to seek her destiny, even though she is never sure if she will obtain it. It was fascinating to read her thoughts and agonize with her over decisions.

The novel was told from Sayuri's point of view and even given an introduction by a fictional translator. This, compared with the richness of her emotions and the historical detail, made it difficult to believe it wasn't completely true.

You'll lose yourself in Sayuri's story. But it's worth the loss.

Favorite quotes...

I think all she wanted was a yes or no answer. Probably it didn't matter to her what our destination was--so long as someone knew what was happening. But, of course, I didn't.

It says a great deal about how civilized we human beings are, that a young girl can willingly sit and allow a grown man to comb wax through her hair without doing anything more than whimpering quietly to herself. If you tried such a thing with a dog, it would bite you so much you'd be able to see through your hands.

The air wafting from the dank little tunnel of the steps felt as cool as water, so that it seemed to me I was entering a different world altogether. I heard a swishing sound that reminded me of the tide washing the beach, but it turned out to be a man with his back to us, sweeping water from the top step with a broom whose bristles were the color of chocolate.

It goes without saying that men can be as distinct from each other as shrubs that bloom in different times of the year.

Grief is a most peculiar thing; we're so helpless in the face of it. It's like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.

Hopes are like hair ornaments. Girls want to wear too many of them. When they become old women they look silly wearing even one.

He was a small man; but keep in mind that a stick of dynamite is small too.

Now I know that our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean. Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Southern Reading Challenge...09ers

I'm giddy about this year's Southern Reading Challenge! It starts next week, and here are my picks:

The Mansion by William Faulkner
The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg
In the Land of Cotton by Martha Taylor

If you've never done this before, I highly recommend it.

Top Three Reasons?

  • It's not too demanding (only three books over three months) if you're short on time.
  • It's a good way to escape, yet embrace, the Summer heat.
  • You get to read great reviews of other Southern books.

Still not convinced? OK, truthfully, just having a shot at those chocolate covered pecans that Maggie gives away makes all the reading worth it!

Happy Birthday, Texas Hail and One More Year

Kind of a random conglomeration, but it represents how life has been lately...

Happy Birthday...

I've started making cards for birthdays and other occasions. This is the only one I have a picture of, but they're all black and silvery with fun little images thrown in. I'm not exactly the artsy type, so, for me, this is big.

Texas Hail...

Since we moved here almost two years ago, we've heard a lot about how big the hail is (isn't everything bigger here?) and how frequently it hails. We weren't too impressed by the couple of hailstorms we've seen/heard, but this one was a doozy. I don't know if you can even tell anything by the pictures, but I thought they turned out kind of cool. I also got a video, but it was upside-down, so I'm not posting it. ha

One More Year...

Jason has officially completed another semester of seminary and is still on track to graduate next May. Only one more year! (at the master's level...then we'll see about the phd...oh my...) Seriously, I'm incredibly proud of him. He worked really hard this semester, and our time here is flying by.

So, that's a taste of our life lately. How are things with you?

Read from the beginning...