What’s Your Favorite Book You Read This Month?

At the end of each month, I think it would be a lot of fun if we could share our favorite book we’ve read in the past thirty days. For me it is several books (oops! I ignored my own instructions already), but they sort of qualify as one book. I am reading Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma “Mysteries of Ancient Ireland” and am really enjoying them.

At present I am working on revisions of a young adult novel set in medieval Ireland (8th Century to be precise) and so I’ve been indulging in a Sister Fidelma mystery (set in 7th Century Ireland) between every other book I read in order to help keep my brain in Dark Age Ireland, which actually was a rather enlightened place.

Fidelma is a smart, educated, independent woman who works within the medieval Irish legal system hearing pleas, and investigating and determining guilt in crimes. She takes the reader along with her from place to place in her novels as she is sent to fulfill her legal responsibilities. In one novel, she can be found in Rome! She is a sharp-witted and enjoyable companion. I recommend you give her a try.

So, what was your fave this month? Just use the comment box to write in the title and author’s name, maybe tell us the genre and a hint about the plot. There’s “So many books and so little time!” I’m looking forward to hearing about what you read.

Preserving Family Memories

My daughter started a blog about two months ago. She sent me the link and I read her posts and saved the link in my favorites. However, I forgot the name of the link. I kept looking in my favorites for her family’s last name because, after all, the blog was about sharing family news and preserving memories of their life together.

After emailing my daughter and confessing I had misplaced the link (and therefore had not read her blog for a while), I located the link, clicked on it, and enjoyed a delightful half hour of reading.

The little stories she shares about my grandchildren and the small details of their days were a delight. My Grace, two and a half years old, loves to sing and narrates her days in song, even moments like wanting to change from sandals to shoes because the grass keeps prickling her feet.

My daughter shared her joys and concerns about her life as a mother and I wanted to just crawl through my monitor and embrace her right then and tell her how proud I am of her.

Have you considered keeping a family blog? Do you have relatives and friends who live far away that you would like to share your lives with? Do you need a place to just quickly jot down those delightful details of your family life? Do you, unlike my daughter, have kids who can write and add in their memories, feelings, and perspectives to the “family record.” Updating the family blog could be a good way to maintain writing skills over the summer.

Now could be a good time to start one. Then let your loved one’s know they’re in for a treat. Happy blogging!

Plot—A Revelation

June’s The Writer magazine featured a series of articles on plot.

In school we teach students about plot, explaining such terms as “inciting incident,” “rising action,” “resolution” or—for those who trust their French accents “denouement.” And we insist the story must have a problem (or “conflict” for those of who like to talk in English major speak).

One article, “Artful Revelations” by Jordan E. Rosenfeld looked at plot from a different perspective, examining the revelations an author makes as the story moves along.

Working in partnership with the inciting incident, Rosenfeld identifies an “initial revelation.” Just as with the inciting incident, once this information is revealed, the main character is launched into action and a story follows.

Rosenfeld talks about further revelations that make it impossible for the main character to turn back or even to the side, or that draw him or her deeper into trouble, fitting the pacing of these revelations to traditional 3 Act theory.

The article was a good reminder that a plot is more than action. A good plot not only catapult’s a character into action, but keeps them moving with ever-increasing stakes toward a final, unavoidable resolution, and the carefully paced information an author releases to his or her reader can propel and deepen the storyline so that maybe, just maybe that reader won’t be able to put the book down until “The End.”

Book Shopping with a Friend

Last week I went used book store shopping with my friend Melinda. She is new in town, and to the state, and so had not yet discovered what a great place for used book store lovers Oregon is.

We went to Second Chance Books in Independence (where I have a ton of trade in credit after recently retiring from classroom teaching) and Reader’s Guide, here in West Salem, where my Mom, from California, shares her book credit with me.

Melinda has three kids, two middle school age (a boy and a girl) and a little guy finishing second grade. She wanted to find some books for her kids, and what fun I had recommending books to her. However, I kept having to hush myself and let her look (I didn’t want to be overly enthusiastic!). But by the time I got home, my head was swimming with authors and titles, and so I thought I would recommend some to you.

For her middle school son, she picked out Kevin Crossley Holland’s The Seeing Stone. Set on the medieval English/Welsh border, young Arthur finds his life strangely aligning with that of the legendary King Arthur. (And she mentioned, he also likes World War II stories.)

For him I recommended Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, which begin with The Book of Three, a fantasy series that deals with the coming of age of Taran, a mere pig keeper  who dreams of being a hero. I also recommended Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, starting with The Lightning Thief. My middle school students loved these books.  For a good World War II story, I recommended Graham Salisbury’s Under the Blood Red Sun, a novel about a Japanese boy and his family in Hawaii at the time of the bombing of Pearl harbor.

For her middle school daughter she picked Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light, an excellent novel (I love L’Engle’s Austin family series!), and I recommended The Moon by Night, the book L’Engle wrote before Endless Light. Both books are about the Austin family, and in both the family is on summer vacation, so they are great reads for this time of year. I saw Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted and would have recommended that, however, the other two books were realistic, contemporary sort of novels and so I was not sure how her daughter would go for fairy tale based fantasy.

For her second-going-on-third grader, she bought one of Jon Scieszka’s Time Warp Trilogy books, which my college age son enjoyed when he was young. I recommended Andrew Clement’s Landry News, a story about a conflict between elementary school students and their school’s administration over a classroom newspaper started by the kids. Clements writes great school stories. Even my middle school students loved his novels, despite the fact that the main characters were a little younger than them. Frindle was his first big hit, but all Clement’s books are fun. I also recommended Beverly Cleary’s Mouse and the Motorcycle books, also very enjoyable and a pleasure to read together.

Melinda was so thrilled with her used book store finds, she has decided regular trips to the used book store with her kids is going to be part of her summer routine. For less than it takes to feed the four of them at a fast food restaurant, they can go shopping and all three kids can each pick out a book and begin building a personal library of his or her own. I’d call that a good summertime investment.

Let’s Talk Genres

When I was young and I found a book I liked, I used to go back to the bookstore or library and hunt down every book I could find like it, then read them all in rapid succession until I felt like I’d spent a week on a cruise ship eating off the dessert buffet breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight snack.

I’d find that what initially tasted so sweet no longer really satisfied, and that I missed the more varied fare of multiple food groups in more balanced proportions (dessert still included of course, just in more rational portions).

So I devised my reading rotation.

I listed all the kinds of books I liked to read and arranged them in a convenient order. For example, I chose not to have Historical Fiction follow Arthurian Literature because they share some characteristics in common. My reading rotation is not a system set in stone. I usually rewrite it every year or so as my reading tastes change. And I do still let myself indulge in things I enjoy—at present historical mysteries, and include plenty of the things I need to keep up with—for example young adult literature, particularly fantasy, which I both enjoy and write.

So what’s my list look like right now?

Children’s Literature from the family room A –>

Historical Fiction, hardback

A book by Elizabeth Goudge—a favorite author

A book of short stories or folktales (I also retell folktales)

A mystery

Children’s Literature from the family room, right shelf

An author biography or autobiography

A work of Christian Fiction

A work of Celtic-influenced Fantasy

A mystery

Children’s Literature from the dining room

A book about writing

A contemporary novel

A King Arthur book

A mystery

Children’s Literature, paperback A –>

Historical Fiction, paperback

A work of Christian Fiction

A fantasy novel, hardback

A mystery

Children’s Literature, paperback <–Z

A classic or bestselling novel

A contemporary novel from the library

A series

A mystery from the library

Children’s Literature from the library

A book about writing

A work of Christian Fiction

A paperback Fantasy novel

Lest you think me nothing but an hedonistic escapist, I must add I have a second list in my family room for daytime reading. It includes: a writing book, a biography, a history book, a book about psychology, a book that nurtures my faith, and a book about current events. (I also read the Bible daily and a variety of magazines–news, professional, and women’s.)

Those are my lists. What would yours look like?

Tool Time Field Trip

Last weekend I found myself in a hardware store with my husband, and not just any hardware store but one that focused on tools for customers who knew what they were looking for (few items had instructions on their packaging).

We spent some time on the welding aisle. It was amazing! There were so many objects from floor level to all the way overhead, whose purposes were a mystery to me. It was fascinating.

There was something called a “Chipping Hammer” that had a spiral metal wire handle with a rod and a hunk of wood located at its end. Pointing upward from the wood were bristles like on a hairbrush, only they were made of metal. Protruding from the end of the “hairbrush” base was what looked like a hatchet blade. Hmmm. It got me thinking. What is this used for? What could I imagine it to be used for? What would some space alien, coming upon it, hypothesize it was used for?

There was a welding helmet shaped and painted like a skull with silver teeth and a rectangle where its eyes should be and a cool 24 inch magnetic claw that I know a bunch of third graders could have a lot of fun with. It had a spring powered handle at the top and a bright orange casing that held two little magnets at the bottom and from which emerged a little metal spider-hand when the handle was activated.

Suddenly it hit me. What a great family field trip this would make. You could go to a store that sells things you know nothing about (a farm machinery or tractor parts warehouse, an auto shop, or craft store). Each person should take a piece of paper and something to support it for writing, a pen or pencil for taking notes, and if you wish, an eraser and color pencils for drawing your finds.

Each person should select an object. (You might want to choose an aisle to focus on so you won’t have to split up.) Each person should take notes describing their object, speculating on its uses. Then go somewhere you can sit down and write. Each person can write a catalogue description of their object, including a physical description and instructions for how they think it is to be used, or a short story, script or chapter of a novel showing their object in use in some meaningful way.

Then, of course, share your masterpieces with each other. Read aloud and praise one another, specifically highlighting where each person’s writing really shines.

A Solution to Butterfly Brain?

I read an article in the May Family Circle magazine that really spoke to me.

To be up front, I am in rebellion against multi-tasking. When I try to do it, either my brain skips here and there like a butterfly in an English country garden, or I just get stressed out and can’t seem to do anything right. I believe the much hallowed efficiency of multi-tasking to be a myth.

So, “Mind Control,” by Robin Westen , was balm to my spirit. Westen does not discuss mind control as some outsider  coming in and controlling our minds (although, hmmm, perhaps that could be useful), but rather as me (or you) learning to better control the minds we possess. The key is focus.

Our days, our world can be so fragmented. We’ve got media coming in from multiple sources and directions, and so many tasks relating to the multiple and varied aspects of our lives needing attention.

My attention is valuable, and so is yours. Westin interviewed Winifred Gallagher, who likens attention to money. Gallagher says, “Just the way you’re careful about where you put your dollars, you need to be careful about where you invest your attention.”

Dr. Gloria Mark, also interviewed for the article said,“If we are interrupted from a task, it takes us a full 23 minutes to circle back to our original degree of concentration.” Wow, that was a revelation!

So how do we improve our focus? Westen’s first tip is a great big “Duh.” Before setting down to an activity we need to eliminate distractions. The less distractions in the environment around us, the better our focus.

When working at an activity, focus for a maximum of 90 minutes. At that point, according to Gallagher, or minds seek their own breaks.

The article calls attention to a variety of ways our lack of focused attention impacts our lives and provides ideas for strengthening this mental skill. If you, like me, struggle with butterfly brain, check out the article. It’s a good read.

http://www.familycircle.com/health/improvement/how-to-focus-and-pay-attention/