Welcome to whatever is on my mind!

Some people use the term "nonsense" but I prefer to use the phrase "uncommonly sensed" because it's more reflective of creative types.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Book Review: The Pier Falls

If I were to compare the craft of writing to the field of architecture, I’d say that Mark Haddon is like the Frank Lloyd Wright of the literary world. His writing is modern and graceful with some experimental elements, but it’s always structurally sound and high quality. Haddon is most well known for his 2003 book The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time, but he’s been publishing his work for over two decades and has a number of titles for both adults and children. His latest book is a collection of short stories called The Pier Falls and Other Stories.

The issue with many short story collections is the lack of relationship the stories have to one another. Sometimes I feel like a shopper at a bargain bin when I read these types of books, wondering if the contents of the bin even came from the same source. However, this collection holds together through several underlying themes, as well as the consistency of the writing. Haddon takes the reader to an equilibrium on the edge between mythology and modernity, showing the transcendence of the human experience through his characters. There’s a rational-spiritual dichotomy peeking through the prose at numerous points, but the text always feels real.

Because these are short stories, a number of different themes are explored in different settings. For example, in the title piece The Pier Falls the author explores tragedy by showing us both the horrible and the absurd manifested side by side as a pier collapses into the ocean. Individuals grasp for life or succumb to death as a Strauss recording continues to play over loudspeakers during the event, reminding victims that life will waltz on with or without them.

In the story The Island, we’re given a re-telling of Ariadne’s final days on the island of Dias. Unlike Homer’s Odyssey, this version is in first person and we get to hear Ariadne process the events leading up to her death as she struggles for survival.

The theme of Loneliness also comes up in several of the pieces, with each story examining a different facet of it. We see the complexity of human relationships as circumstances and situations molds these bonds. A particular experience may have a lasting impact which can bring people together or tear them apart from one another or themselves.

In The Woodpecker and The Wolf a woman goes to space to escape relationships, but then becomes pregnant. The space mission encounters troubles and the woman watches the other astronauts perish, including the baby’s father. The struggle for survival and the new life for which she now feels responsible causes her to reassess her relationships and what she valued in them.

Diazepam makes an appearance in several of the pieces, acknowledging our modern tendency to self-medicate. This theme of self-medicating is explored more fully in the story titled Bunny, in which a morbidly obese man feels that his hunger and disappointment are more painful than the consequences of his overeating, and so he eats. Lots.

Haddon is a modern writer that I strongly recommend to many would-be writers. His style is modern, functional, and graceful without being ostentatious. His work definitely falls under the label of "literary" and shows remarkable facility to move back and forth between verb tenses keeps the reader centered on the story without feeling the jerk between past and present. His characters are complex but not over-explained or overtly obvious. The plots are cultivated in such a manner as to appear natural and yet perfectly manicured at the same time. Writing should always reflect life, but literary writing uses language and plot structure to explore it more fully. Haddon accomplishes that in these stories.

Several of the pieces in The Pier Falls have been previously published in literary journals, so if you’re reluctant to plunge into the whole book you can find a few of these stories online. Whether you read a sample of these stories online or purchase the entire book is up to you. Regardless, I encourage individuals looking for some great modern fiction to read them. The writing feels effortless, as good writing should, but afterwards it also causes me to marvel at how well it’s put together. It’s the sort of book that easily gets me on the train without me first asking where it will go or when it will arrive. I know that I’ll enjoy the ride, and the scenery will be worth my time.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Genevieve Cogman's Invisible Library

Genevieve Cogman is the author of The Invisible Library fantasy book series for young adults. A few months ago I received an advance review copy of the first book from the publisher and I enjoyed the story very much. The second book in this series have now been released and I’m looking forward to reading it. What I enjoyed most about the first book was the concept of a hidden library hat contains versions of books from alternate universes. The thought that there could be hundreds or thousands of versions of our favorite stories is appealing to a reader such as myself.  Aside from the incredible library, what caught my attention in her writing were the strong characters and action sequences - something we don’t typically associate with a book about books. This is truly an adventure novel that keeps moving. I had an opportunity to interview Genevieve and here are her responses to some of my questions.

Q: You’ve written some strong female characters in this book. Can you describe what inspired each of these (Irene, Coppelia, and Bradamant) characters?
A: I’m not sure any of them have a single point of inspiration. Irene is the standard protagonist who just wants to get on with the job, and finds herself with too many things to juggle at once. She’s also a thorough bookworm and daydreamer (which is why she picked the name “Irene”, after all) and a competent operative, a little bit Modesty Blaise though also a lot of Moneypenny.
Coppelia’s the mentor who knows more than she’s prepared to admit, a Librarian with a lot of history (such as why she’s got a mechanical arm) and her own personal tastes in literature. (For the record, she likes science fiction, particularly books about artificial intelligence.)
And Bradamant’s the rival who has a past history with the protagonist, and whose methods and morality are different enough that they come into conflict about how to achieve their goals, though they end up working together. She’s a person whose first argument is always “the ends justify the means”, and who sees herself as a misunderstood hard worker who makes the hard choices which nobody else will commit to.
I think that ultimately any of them could have been male or female. First and foremost, they’re people.

Q: What sort of research did you do in preparation for (or during) the writing of these books?

A: I did quite a lot of investigation on the internet into things like the geography of London, famous missing or never-written books, the British Museum and the British Library, and how to spell Liechtenstein. I  also read and reread my collected Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to try and get the vocal patterns and habits correct. And for the action scenes, I watched quite a lot of Hong Kong action movies (a long-term addiction of mine).

Q: What scenes were the easiest to write (and why)? Were any scenes difficult?

A: I think the hardest scene to write may have been the one where Irene is explaining about the Library to Vale, because I was trying to convey quite a lot of information, but I didn’t want the scene to get boring or slow down too much. I’m not sure that I can say any scene or scenes was the “easiest”. They all took work.

Q: What authors do you enjoy reading (and what do you like about their work)?

A: I don’t want to give you a list of several dozen authors (which would barely be scratching the surface), so I’ll try to think of a few favourites. Lois McMaster Bujold, Kage Baker, Naomi Novik, Terry Pratchett, Ben Aaronovitch, Paul Cornell, Tamora Pierce, Diane Duane, Steven Brust, Charles Stross, Barbara Hambly, Pat Mills, GK Chesterton,  JRR Tolkien, Mary Renault, John Dickson Carr, JK Rowling, John M Ford, Barry Hughart... I find a wide spectrum of things in their writing, including interesting characters, well-handled narrative, good description, brilliant dialogue, imaginative concepts, and stories which sweep you along once you get into them and make it hard to stop reading. I want to read different things at different times. Sometimes I really want a book that makes me think (like John M Ford or Mary Renault), and sometimes I just want something which I can settle into and enjoy.

Q: If you’ve ever read a book more than once, please give the name of the book and explain why you chose to re-read it.
A: If I’ve read a book once and enjoyed it, then I’m almost certainly going to read it again at some point. (There’s a reason why my flat is overfull of books...) I’m afraid the answer to this question is “far too many to count”, and “because I enjoyed reading it the first time”. I’m a very fast reader.

Q: What are the top 3 items on your bucket list?

A: At the moment:
See a live performance of the musical Elisabeth.
See a production by the Takarazuka Revue while in Japan (this includes going to Japan!)
Visit Hong Kong.

Q: Tell me about your favorite things: favorite travel location, favorite food, favorite drink, favorite activity, favorite museum, favorite library(ies), favorite book, favorite movie, and favorite band or song.

A: Bearing in mind that all these are my current favourites, and may change in the future if I come across something new which I like better:
Favorite travel location - Venice
Favorite food – Chicken liver risotto (my father’s recipe)
Favorite drink - Coffee
Favorite activity - Reading
Favorite museum – I used to love going to the Geological Museum in London, though I haven’t been there for ages.
Favorite library(ies) – No particular favourite, they’re all valued.
Favorite book – Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng’en
Favorite movie – Brotherhood of the Wolf
Favorite band or song – Pardonne-moi, by Mylene Farmer

Q: What are you working on now?
A:  I’m currently working on book 4 of the Invisible Library series. No rest for the wicked...

 Find out more about Genevieve Cogman:
Author Website
Author on Goodreads
Enter The Invisible Library sweepstakes
The Invisible Library on Amazon
The Masked City on Amazon

Monday, July 11, 2016

Nashville's Hot Chicken Festival

Every year on July 4th for the past 10 years Nashville has held a Hot Chicken Festival. Bill Purcell, Nashville’s mayor at the time, started the festival in 2007 in order to pay homage to one of his favorite local dishes. He created the event as a way to help market this unique food and to help establish Nashville as the place of origin.

For those of you outside of Music City, the legend of Nashville Hot Chicken started with Prince’s. The story begins with an unfaithful man and a woman’s quest for revenge when the cheating rascal returned. Instead of cooking his favorite fried chicken, she doused the bird in some very serious quantities of cayenne pepper and waited for the fireworks of her retribution to take hold. The problem was that Thornton Prince loved this new chicken recipe and after sharing it with a few friends he decided to open a restaurant. You can read a more detailed description about the history of hot chicken here.  There's also a Time article on Nashville hot chicken as well as a piece on the Nashville Public Radio's website.

While Prince’s was the first hot chicken shack to appear, there are now hot chicken restaurants all over Nashville. The dish has grown in popularity since the inception of the hot chicken festival and even upscale restaurants now have hot chicken appetizers or dishes on the menu. I've even had hot chicken tacos (click this link and scroll down the menu).

If you attend the Hot Chicken festival, be aware that the lines are often long, so it’s not as easy as one would think to sample all the different restaurants side-by-side (a dream of mine that has yet to become a reality). However, it’s not unusual for the lines inside the actual restaurants to be long, also. So don't let the wait dissuade you. It's worth it.

Advice for attending Nashville's Hot Chicken festival:

1. Take a cab, Lyft, or Uber. Traffic and parking are both congested near East Park during the festival.
2. Bring at least some cash - not all vendors accept cards (note: if you visit Prince's actual restaurant, they don't accept cards there, either.)
3. The weather and the chicken are both too hot for pets. Leave them at home in the AC with the TV tuned to their favorite station or send them to a spa.
4. Hot chicken comes in various degrees of hotness, but one vendors "XX Hot" may be another vendor's "Medium." Assume that even medium will have some heat and that the most extreme level of heat is "native Thai" or beyond.
5. Related to the above, I like to sample different levels of heat from the same vendor because the flavor of the chicken changes with the heat.
6. Get a dipping sauce - it not only adds flavor, but it can assist in cooling your taste buds, if needed.
7. There is no wrong way to eat hot chicken. You can alternate with bites of bread and pickle, you can make a sandwich, or you can just eat the chicken. Experiment and find what you like.
8. Check out the Hot Chicken Festival website for more information.

 Below are a few pictures of my pet gargoyle attending the festival. Yes, he loves hot chicken, too. After all, he is "Nashville’s Finest Gargoyle" - why wouldn’t he love Nashville’s finest food?

Monday, May 23, 2016

15 Things Every Woman Should Know

I’m almost officially old. Almost, but not quite. I have a lot of youthful mischief, so people are often surprised when they learn my actual age. They can tell I’m not the 21 years that I claim to be, but they’re often cautious about guessing the true number out of fear of being impolite.

While I might not always act my age (whatever that may be), I have learned a few things over the years. Creating your path takes a lifetime and the work to do so is what shapes a person, but the more we learn early in life, the better off we’ll be. This is true for everyone, but it's particularly important to women because we face certain challenges and social expectations to which men aren't subjected. That said, here's my advice for the next generation of women:

1. You will face double standards because of your gender, and these may not be blatantly obvious. Know that these exist, but don't ever let them hold you back.

2. No one will look out for you better than you can. This includes lawyers, doctors, husbands, wives, and other professionals - so make sure that you fully understand all advice that you're being given and never delegate your decisions to someone else because of their expertise or position of authority. Those individuals may be knowledgeable within their fields, but they don't know you. You'll make better life choices if you participate in those decisions actively.

3. If you see a man treating someone badly because he thinks that person deserves it, that means that there are circumstances under which he will treat you the same way. Just because he approves of you at the moment doesn't mean that things won't change. If you're in any type of relationship with someone like this, it's only a matter of time. There are women who are like this also, so learn to set boundaries. Then stick with them to protect yourself.

4. No one knows what you’re capable of doing or becoming. Not even you. Figuring out who you are is a lifelong journey. There’s trial and error involved. Mistakes are not only good, they’re important because without them you’ll never know what roads not to take in the future.

5. When you do make mistakes (because you will), it's not the end of the world. No one does the right thing in every situation because there will be times when you only have part of the information and you'll think that you're doing the right thing. It could be days or years later when you finally get all the facts. You can always pick yourself up and start moving forward again, even if it's at a slower pace. The important thing is to keep moving.

6. Expanding on the point above: never hide from your mistakes. They're written in stone and can't be erased, but that doesn't mean that you can't reshape the stone to work those blemishes into something better. If you hurt anyone you should do your best to resolve the situation, no matter how much time has passed. If you can't find the person, look for someone else to help so that your mistake makes life better for someone else because of what you've learned. Own your mistakes, and also own the corrections. It's part of being true to who you are.

7. Your value is not determined by the person you’re with at the moment. Not your boyfriend or husband. Not your father or family. Not your friends. Your value is in being you, so as soon as you rely on any of these other things to feel your worth, you're actually devaluing yourself.

8. The people around you can color your thoughts, so surround yourself with the colors that are best for you. These are not necessarily the colors that make you more comfortable - they’re the ones that make you grow. Thoughts, opinions, attitudes and lifestyles are all colors that paint the picture of your life. Allow room for people who are different from you and your life will be filled with beautiful things.

9. You don’t have to be thin or fat. You just have to be you. Thin and fat are relative. So get over these definitions, especially since they vary by culture and time periods. You will never be beautiful if you let the prevailing cultural definitions of beauty define you.

10. Don’t worry about what others think about you. When we’re younger we spend way too much time worrying about how others will perceive us. A sign of maturity is understanding that other people’s opinions of you are based more on themselves than on you.

11. Change yourself for the right reasons, and never compromise for the wrong ones. If someone wants to be with you to change you, then you probably don’t want to be with that person.

12. Your career is over when you want it to be over. You’ll have setbacks. People will lie about you to advance themselves (more times than you’ll ever be aware). These situations aren’t fair, but they’re also not the end. No matter how bad things look at any time, it’s only the end when you want it to be.

13. There will be times when you're discriminated against for being a woman. You might not be aware of all of them, but it will happen (and probably already has). Try not to be angry or bitter, even though it may be difficult. Bitterness never advanced any cause, it only sets things back. Look for ways to deal with these situations as constructively as possible, and also remember those times when you see discrimination in any form. If you see someone being discriminated against for any reason (regardless of gender) and you're in a position to do something, don't be idle. Do something. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to speak up to make a difference, and that voice usually has to come from someone other than the person being discriminated against.

14. Kindness is free but one of the most valuable resources on earth. You have no idea what anyone else is going through and taking a moment to hold a door for a mother struggling with a stroller or being patient when getting bad service in a restaurant can make a huge difference to another person. Try to be kind as much as possible, and (as the Dali Llama says) it is always possible.

15. Moving forward is not always moving up. You can benefit a lot from those times when life appears to go backwards because you didn’t move in the direction that appeared the most advantageous. Maybe you didn’t get the promotion, but that larger salary may have come with a large price tag on other areas of your life. In addition, lateral (or slightly downward) career moves can build different skills that can help you later in life.

This is a long list, and I could make it even longer - but I think I've made my point. The bottom line: never delegate your happiness or success to anyone else. If you do, you'll never have either of those things.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Miles Ahead: A Movie Review

This past weekend I went to go see the new movie about Miles Davis starring Don Cheadle. The movie, called Miles Ahead, utilizes creative license and mixes fact with fiction in order to get at the truth a little more clearly than facts alone.

It may sound absurd to those who segregate information into discrete categories such as fact and fiction or truth and lies, but people are far more complex than most binary categories can yield. One of the advantages of this movie is that it drives this point. It addresses the complexity of Miles as an aging creative force in a world that sees art as a revenue source. It also explores the precarious dependency between artist and those who monetize art.

Miles was a master of improvisation, and given the way he interpreted music I think he would enjoy this interpretation of his life. After all, if we only look at something from beginning to end, we miss some of the larger themes that get buried in the day to day events. This movie realigns time and abruptly jumps from one time period to another in a series of cycles. The technique reveals the leitmotifs within the life of Miles Davis.

Don’t see this movie if you’re looking for a biography of Miles Davis. While some events in the movie are accurate, this is not a historical retelling of his life.

Go see the movie if you’re interested in an interpretation of the essence of Miles. One of the reasons I suspect that Miles would prefer this movie to a factual chronological biography is because, like his music, it tells us more about Miles than the events in his life could.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My 5 Darkest Parenting Secrets

My kids are nearly grown now (crossing fingers here). But I have to confess that there were times when I took an unconventional approach to raising them. Let's face it: parenting is more or less a survival game, and if you let the kids win you're doomed. I admit that I made it through by using some unconventional tactics in my strategy, but I'm willing to share my dark secrets in the hope that these will bring other parents through this journey (mostly) unscathed.

Dark Secret #1: 
The Broccoli Emporium isn’t actually my favorite restaurant because it isn’t a real place at all.
Whenever we were on road trips I told my kids The Broccoli Emporium was my favorite restaurant and we would stop there for our next meal if they didn’t behave in the car.
“Is everything made out of broccoli there?”
“Yes. Even the milkshakes.”
Worked like a charm. No regrets on that one.
Note: this technique works best on small children before they can actually read billboards.

Dark Secret #2:
When she was about three my daughter loved watching the child catcher scene from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so I let her.
Apparently she thought the rest of the movie was boring, so I played that scene over and over for her while she snacked on goldfish. If a kid finds terror entertaining, I don't feel that we, as parents, should restrict them and deny them what they crave. After all, an electronic babysitter is only as good as the content. BTW - Now she’s in college and enjoys reading HP Lovecraft, so I obviously did something right.

Dark Secret #3: More than once I’ve thought about texting one of my kids and saying, “Please don’t come home until I figure out how to dispose of your body.”
They were teenagers. Need I say more?
The point is I never sent those texts. At least not on purpose, anyway.
But even if I sent them, the kids learned that everyone has limits, even "sweet mommy."

Dark Secret #4: I let my children watch all kinds of TV shows and movies that more conservative parents frowned upon.
I made it a rule that my kids could watch anything as long as I watched it with them, and I did. I asked just enough dumb questions to keep them from renting anything they didn’t want to have to explain to me. There's nothing like pure embarrassment for behavior modification.
Of course, I wouldn't do that now because they learned from the best and I'm sure they'd put in a movie that made me very uncomfortable and enjoy asking me questions about it.
Free parenting tip: stop while you're ahead and learn to anticipate potential revenge situations.

Dark Secret #5: The Internet in my house magically stopped working whenever anyone had a big test the next day.
Actually, that wasn’t me. Comcast is simply unreliable. My Internet stopped working all the time for no reason, but I like to think that subscribing to Comcast was part of my nefarious plan to keep the kids focused on their schoolwork.

Let's face it, we're all going to be scarred by our parenting experiences, but at least my children's therapists won't be bored during those decades of counseling ahead.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

14 Crazy Church Posts In Preparation For Easter

 With Easter rapidly approaching, some of us may be planning to attend church for the first time in quite a while. Occasionally while visiting churches I like to pretend that I'm a visitor from another planet and just learning about the culture and customs of church. Here are a few of my posts on social media from these occasions. Important notes for reference: Mr Amy is the Music Director for all of these services, we live in Nashville where every church service is a major production, and I do play the drums.


You know what the best thing about church is? They serve wine at 8:00 in the morning and no one thinks it's weird.

This morning's episode of Church Service is subtitled "The Wrath of Mom", where the character of Mom forces the children who were not ready on time to drink the substandard church coffee instead of stopping at Starbucks on the way there. Mom's cruelty knows no bounds!!!

In this morning's production of Church Service all parts had been previously cast, so I created the role of "Assistant Sound Engineer" because there are too many buttons on that board for one pair of hands. Plus I really want to mess with the sound levels while people are talking.

As "Assistant Sound Engineer" I have the power to mute anyone who says something I don't like. Carry on, Preacher. Carry on.

This morning in Church Service I've decided to enhance the pastor's reading by replacing the scripture verses with selections from Kerouac.

Good news! I've found some interpretive dancers to join in today's special beatnik production of Church Service. Won't the pastor be surprised when they rush the stage during the 3rd act!

The woman sitting next to me mumbled incessantly throughout the Church Service production, and I found it very distracting and disrespectful while I was typing all my text messages.

In order to make today's production of Church Service more interesting, I've decided that I will only speak using lyrics from songs by The Who.

Pastor: How are you doing today?
Amy: No one knows what it's like to be the bad man ... to be the sad man.
Pastor: Are you okay? Did you have trouble sleeping or something?
Amy: My dreams... They aren't as empty as my conscience seems to be.
Pastor: Let me go find your husband for you.

I love going to church because I always learn something. Today I learned that you're not supposed to use the leftover communion bread to make a sandwich and that "the alter is not a kitchen table."

In this morning's production of "Church Service" I've been assigned to the role of "Congregation Member." I have no solos. As a protest, I've painted my eyelids in the shade of "Yellow Scream." I'm planning to blink at the director so he can see my eyes screaming at him.

Good news! I downloaded a cowbell app for my phone and grabbed a wireless mic. Now I can add cowbell to all the songs from anywhere in the sanctuary!!!

In this morning's production of "Church Service" I'm playing the role of Slideshow Bob. This means that I push the button to change slides on the big screen. I'm thinking about editing the slides to make the service more entertaining.

So... "Running With the Devil" was not the best choice of music for exiting the church service, but I was only trying to get the crowd pumped.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

My 15 Best Books of 2015

For those looking for something new to read or who want to discover something new, I’ve compiled this list of my top-rated books from 2015. Most of these were released in 2015, but several are older books that finally got off my TBR list. There were a lot of good books released or read in 2015, but these are my picks (in the order that I read them).

Title: Circling the Sun
Author: Paula McLain
Genre: Historical Fiction

Brilliant writing and great storytelling have come together to produce a very rich historical fiction novel. Beryl Markham is a strong female character during a time when being a strong woman could get you killed for asserting yourself or for attempting to maintain an identity apart from being property.

Title: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage
Author:Ann Patchett
Genre: Nonfiction
If you want an example of how to write great nonfiction this is the book to read. This is a collection of essays Overall, this is a great read should certainly be on the TBR list of anyone who wants a career as a writer.

Title: Get in Trouble
Author: Kelly Link
Genre: Fiction (experimental)
A wonderful collection of short stories that transcend traditional genres. The writing is experimental and yet accessible. Some of the characters are bizarre, yet still relate-able (not a real word, but now that I've spoken it into existence it will hopefully show up in the dictionary soon). If you like unusual and innovative writing this book is for you.

Title: Shadow Scale (Seraphina #2)
Author:Rachel Hartman
Genre: YA Fantasy
This may be one of the best books I've read in the past year. It's about a girl on a diplomatic mission to bring the half-dragons together, but she's also struggling to come into her own as the world appears to be falling apart. Cleverly and imaginatively written with strong female characters on the sides of both good and evil, this book kept me reading and turning pages.

An exciting read with interesting (as well as likable) characters and a strong, well-developed plot. Highly recommended for individuals who enjoy fantasy books.

Title: The Cloister Walk
Author:Kathleen Norris
Genre: Nonfiction
This is a book that I thought I could read straight though and move on to the next novel on my TBR list, but it wasn't that simple. Norris has the poet's eye for insight and the material written here includes some beautifully written prose with keen observations on life and humanity.
If you're a fan of authors such as Thomas Merton I recommend giving this book a slow and thoughtful read.

Title: Thirteen Ways of Looking
Author:Colum McCann
Genre: Fiction
This was one of the most well-written books I've read this past year. It consists of a novella and several short stories: each one unique and addressing a different topic. My favorite is the first (and longest) about an elderly widower that chronicles his last days on earth. The stories in this volume are beautifully constructed and the prose is outstanding.

Title: Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People
Author:Nadia Bolz-Weber
Genre: Nonfiction

Nadia Boltz-Weber's writing is raw and honest. She asks a lot of questions, and sometimes those questions don't have answers. There's no formula on how to live a perfect life or list of rules to follow in order to gain sainthood in this book. However, what the author does show us how to do is recognize the beauty in other people, even when it takes unconventional forms. I got to interview the author about this book (Englewood Review of Books, print edition).

Title: We Never Asked for Wings
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Genre: Fiction

Diffenbaugh writes about individuals on the edge of society and makes them accessible to the mainstream. It's difficult not to become engaged with the characters the way that she writes them. Even when they make bad decisions, instead of judging these characters I felt myself cringing while filling with empathy for the heartaches that resulted. Well constructed and emotionally rich. If you loved The Language of Flowers you should definitely read this one. Be prepared for another bumpy ride that you will be glad you took.

Title: Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
Author: Madeline L’Engle
Genre: Nonfiction

This book is one of the best I've read for artists who also happen to have a strong religious faith. L'Engle approaches creativity as a natural response to being created in the image of The Creator. In fact, she explains that most children start out creative, but wander (or are trained) away from these activities. What I respected most was her assertion that art designed to evangelize tends to be come across as forced, and is often lower quality because of this.

Title: The God of Small Things
Author: Arundhati Roy
Genre: Fiction

The book is set in India and follows the lives of twins (a boy and a girl) through the early events that shaped them. It's a tale of childhood, innocence lost, and forbidden love The prose is sometimes filled with passages that convey both the bitterness and romance of childhood. Be forewarned: there is no shortage of loss in this book (it's a tragedy), but the writing is poetic.

Title: The Girl Who Could Not Dream
Author:Sarah Beth Durst
Genre: Children’s Fiction

A highly imaginative look at dreams, the importance of childhood friends, and learning to deal with fear. Although Sophie in unable to dream on her own, when she ingests the dreams of others the things in the dream become real. This is a great way to explore the line between reality and dreams and the importance of each. Durst write some great characters, including a lovable monster, a vain Unicorn/ Pegasus, and a sinister villain called "Mr. Nightmare." The story moves at a good pace and takes the reader on a few unexpected twists and turns.

Title: Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing
Author:Jamie Holmes
Genre: Nonfiction

This book brings together several different cognitive theories to help understand how different individuals deal with ambiguous information. While some individuals have a high need for context, others are more comfortable when new information doesn't neatly fit into their current understanding of the world. This is a great book for learning how to understand different points of view and how some individuals choose to interpret events differently from others.

Title: Little Man, What Now?
Author:Hans Fallada
Genre: Fiction
An interesting read that gives insight into what it was like to be a white collar worker in Berlin just prior to WWII. This is a fictional account of two newlyweds, but it should be noted that the author did extensive research on the subject and managed to portray an accurate picture of the struggles at the time. What makes the book so engaging is the humorous aspect that pervades the story - some critics have compared the main character to Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp. A series of unfortunate events are consistently cushioned by the humor in the characters and plot line.

Title: Seeker
Author: Arwen Elys Dayton
Genre: Children’s Fiction
The best way to describe this book is as a modern tale of knighthood, with the added twist of vying for power and position. Seekers are a special group of individuals who are supposed to work for the good of humanity, but Quin quickly learns that not all the protectors of the truth are actually protecting it and some are out for personal gain.

Title: My Name Is Lucy Barton
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Genre: Fiction

The story centers on a woman who is hospitalized for an illness, which is the point in time from which she begins to make sense of all the imperfect forms of love she's experienced in her life. Central to this insight is her relationship with her mother who comes to stay with her during those few days when the doctor is trying to figure out the cause of the illness. The writing is solid and the book does a great job of exploring the basic need for love, even in it's most broken forms.

If you see something that interests you, check out a few other reviews on Amazon or Goodreads to get a slightly different perspective and see if one of these could be the treasure from 2015 that you missed. Please don’t forget to come back and leave me a comment on how you liked the book!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

5 Reasons Why Trump Will Never Make America Great

 Many individuals have embraced Trump as an outsider who has the potential to save the American political system from itself. I view him as just another symptom of a broken system. There are numerous reasons why I don’t think he can “make America great again.” Here are five of them.

1. Lack of tact and diplomacy
There are a number of skills that I think are essential for The President of the United States, and two of these near the top of the list are diplomacy and tact. We don’t need to get into wars or have trade talks stalled because our leader said whatever he felt like saying or felt that another world leader was beneath him.

2. Arrogance
The best politicians understand that they’re public servants, and the most effective leaders don’t put themselves first. Trump’s tendency toward arrogance is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Of all the things we’ve seen from Trump, acting out of service for the common good is not one of them.

3. He doesn’t represent what’s best about America
The President of the United States needs to represent the interests and the people of the country as a whole. Donald Trump has already made glib statements about different segments of the American population that indicate he feels some people are more equal than others. Differential treatment of people based on race or ethnicity is not something to be proud of, and it’s something that America has been working to eliminate.

4. He’s part of the problem
Most of what isn’t working in politics is the result of special interest groups putting their needs above society as a whole. Trump is just another variation on this theme: his special interests are the business sector and his ego.

5. Only the American people can make America great
We need to stop electing our officials based on what benefits us personally or financially at the expense of others, and start behaving as if all individuals really are created equal and that every living person has value.
I'm done talking about politics for now. If you want to read more on the subject, I highly recommend this well-written piece by Kareem Abdul Jabbar in The Washington Post.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why I'm Not Voting For Trump

I don’t usually voice political opinions for two reasons:

1. As a writer, I know that there are always at least three sides to every story and there are as many interpretations of current events as there are people. Most of us tend to vote for the individual we think will make life better for us personally. And since I’m not you, I have no idea how to tell you to vote.
2. I don’t believe either political party has the answer - they only have alliances (often of the corporate and unsavory kind).

However, today I’m going to break my rule of avoiding politics, and while I won’t say who I’ll be voting for I’ll explain why I don’t think that Donald Trump is the answer to what’s ailing America right now.

My first reason:
The idea that someone who’s successfully run a business can fix the problems we’re having with government is a fallacy.
I’m not sure where this idea originated, and I’ve heard it for years. There seems to be a prevalent idea that someone who’s been successful in business must also have the best sort of expertise to run the government effectively. This logic is not new, but I don’t know if anyone has ever taken a look at the underlying assumptions. I'll address three of these underlying assumptions in this post, but there are more.

1. Success is a stable track record that will generalize into a new field
People who are successful in business aren’t always successful. In fact, most of these individuals have also failed a number of times. The smart ones protect themselves so that when the business goes under they don’t go personally bankrupt - which is what Trump has managed to do each time one of his enterprises collapsed. Governments, however, don’t have the same sort of luxury, unless the officials take risks and the taxpayers foot the bill when those risks don’t pay off (sort of like Congress has been doing for years …).

2. Government is just another form of a business
While some of the components are similar, business and government have different goals. The purpose of a business is to make money. The purpose of government, on the other hand, is embedded within the name: it’s to govern. There are no investors to repay or stock prices to maintain. Ideally, citizens should be taxed only enough to run the necessary programs and services and ensure that those programs continue.

3. A CEO knows how to get things done in any situation
Because these two institutions have different goals, the rules made within businesses are very different from laws made by governments. In a business all employees are not considered equal, and your value is determined by how much the organization stands to gain financially from your job performance. In other words, equality is not guaranteed in a business setting.
I don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time on this point, but a government is not simply another form of business: it’s public service and in a democracy it’s built on the concept of being “by the people, for the people.” It’s not a profit center.

Enough seriousness for one day.
I’ll leave you with something to make you laugh: