Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

I’ve moved to DoingWhatMatters.com!

Introduction to Literature from Excellence in Literature by Janice Campbell

It’s been awhile since I’ve visited here, and it’s because I’ve been blogging at DoingWhatMatters.com. You can find articles on education, entrepreneurship, and soul care there.

If you’re looking for resources for learning and teaching classic literature, you might want to check out my Excellence In Literature site.

If you’re looking for resources for homeschooling through high school, visit EverydayEducation.com.

Thank you for visiting!

Words Matter Week 2011 Day 5: Most Captivating Writer

Moth or butterflyWords, like moths, are captured by writers who pin them to the page in various forms. What writer’s work most deftly captivates you? Why?

Difficult, difficult choice. However, I think I’ll go with Emily Dickinson, whose poetry captivated me from the very first encounter. Here are a few favorites:

I’m Nobody

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us?
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Much Madness is divinest Sense
Much Madness is divinest Sense —
To a discerning Eye —
Much Sense — the starkest Madness —
’Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail —
Assent — and you are sane —
Demur — you’re straightway dangerous —
And handled with a Chain —
“Hope” is the thing with feathers
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
The Bustle in a House
The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted opon Earth –
The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity –

How to Become A Writer (or Not)

I’m not sure if this is funny or just horrifying…

Banned Books: What Are You Reading This Week?

Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.  -Heinrich Heine, Almansor, 1823

The last week in September is Banned Books Week, and as usual, I’m celebrating by reading something that has been banned somewhere. This year, it’s one of my old favorites, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion.  -Henry Steele Commager

I oppose book banning because it’s a slippery slope. I see the potential for it to become a place for the politically inclined to score points, with everyone losing in the long run. Just imagine–one faction bans Judy Blume, and the opposition retaliates by banning C.S. Lewis. One group bans Huckleberry Finn; another strikes back by banning The Diary of Anne Frank. The Koran is pulled from libraries in one area, and the Bible is banished in another. As the idea-rich pool of thought shrinks, minds and hearts desiccate, leaving nothing more than bland encyclopedia summaries to be forgotten at the end of the day.

We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.  -John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 185

Books are powerful– they can change hearts, minds, lives. I read to learn, grow, remember, and yes, to laugh. I read to enlarge my world, and I write to open doors for others. I shared books with my children to open their eyes, hearts, and minds to ideas and people they didn’t encounter in their daily life, and I want them to have the opportunity to do the same for their own children.

Books won’t stay banned.  They won’t burn.  Ideas won’t go to jail.  In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost.  The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.  -Alfred Whitney Griswold, New York Times, 24 February 1959

I’m not willing to allow others to decide what I read or write; therefore, I relinquish the option of deciding what others read. Instead of trying to suppress ideas that I don’t care for, I can write books that share what I do believe. And so can you.

The populist authoritarianism that is the downside of political correctness means that anyone, sometimes it seems like everyone, can proclaim their grief and have it acknowledged.  The victim culture, every sufferer grasping for their own Holocaust, ensures that anyone who feels offended can call for moderation, for dilution, and in the end, as is all too often the case, for censorship.  And censorship, that by-product of fear – stemming as it does not from some positive agenda, but from the desire to escape our own terrors and superstitions by imposing them on others – must surely be resisted.  -Jonathon Green, “Did You Say ‘Offensive?'”

Just Do Something: How to Escape the Slush Pile

Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoungI’ve been reading Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will or How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing In the Sky, Etc. by Kevin DeYoung. I picked it up at a recent conference, not because I have trouble with decision-making, but because I’m a sucker for a catchy title (there’s a lesson there for publishers).

It’s a solid little book that takes a serious look at the harm done by indecision, waffling, inconsistency, and the unwillingness to just put a hand to the proverbial plow and get moving. Spiritualizing indecision and inaction may make it more socially acceptable, but it doesn’t make it a more effective life strategy. Just Do Something is more than just a title, it’s a strategy that works.

How does this book relate to writing and escaping the slush pile? Take a minute to read Stephanie Blake‘s inspiring blog post, “How I (Finally) Got a Book Plucked From the Slush Pile,” to get a good look at exactly what “just do something” looks like in the writing world. Stephanie chronicles a year by year saga of her long road to publication heaven, and the thing that stands out is that she simply kept doing something.

Like many unpublished writers, she learned through the process–through slammed doors, frustrating rejections, and tantalizing “almosts.” She went to conferences, worked with agents, did revisions, and did it all again and again. She didn’t wait for the stars to align, for approval from others, or for anything else before she started sending out her work. She sent and sent and sent. She revised. She sent some more. Finally the miracle happened, and The Marble Queen was plucked from the slush pile and accepted.

If she hadn’t written this blog post, there would have been unpublished writers who commented enviously about luck and overnight success and people who get all the breaks (I know, I’ve heard all that– many times, and if you’ve been through Lucky Freelancer coaching with me, you’ll know exactly how to turn those excuses upside down). There’ll probably still be writers who say things like that, but that’s because they’re not out there doing something. They’re just a little too busy–way too busy–to do all that sending and revising and resending, but one day, just watch, they’ll get the call too. Or not.

The fact is that  just do something is the key to almost everything. The book is good too. I’ll be sharing it, so don’t be offended if I send it your way. Just do something!

Serendipity and the NAIWE Summer Challenge

I had a few rough ideas of what I’d like to accomplish for the NAIWE 2010 Get it Done Summer Challenge. If you haven’t checked it out, the three parts of the Challenge are:

  1. Read three books that will stretch your mind and inspire your creative spirit.
  2. Finish one project that’s been nagging at you for longer than you care to admit.
  3. Brainstorm a new project that will bring you an additional stream of income, then take the first step to make it happen.

NAIWE 2010 Get it Done Summer Challenge

I read Sheri McConnell’s Smart Women Know Their Why (see review in the preceding post) for the first of my three books, and have a teetering stack from which I can choose the remaining two official Challenge books. This is the easiest part, because I know that before summer is over, I’ll have read quite a few more than three books. I schedule morning and evening reading times so that I can bracket each day in knowledge, inspiration, and sometimes, just plain fun.

The second element of the Challenge was to finish a nagging project. I finished a huge one just a few weeks ago, so considered counting it and coasting on this option. However, another nagging project has been to learn more about financial management, retirement planning, and all that goes into being a good steward of resources. So that got added to the list for Part 2 of the Challenge.

The final challenge piece is where serendipity kicked in. I brainstormed a great list of projects that could bring in an additional stream of income (some of them would also qualify as nagging projects), and was trying to decide which to pursue when a brand-new project dropped into my lap. Serendipitously, it happens to fulfill not only the final element of the Challenge, but the second as well.

For Part 3 of the NAIWE challenge, I’ll be producing a book on personal finance and estate planning. I just love serendipity! The author has provided a large collection of written work that needs to be transformed into a book and prepared for publication (compilation, editing, layout, cover, etc.). I’ve begun to work with it, and I can already tell I’m going to learn a lot about finance. It’s also going to be a very large project with a very short deadline, so I’m scheduling the rest of the summer pretty tightly. I’m grateful to have such an interesting project come my way, and doubly delighted at the serendipity of it all.

So…what are you doing for the NAIWE Summer Challenge?

Review: Smart Women Know Their Why by Sheri McConnell

Smart Women Know Their Why by Sheri McConnellI read quite a few business books, and over the years I’ve found that there’s a common denominator in the ones that stick with me. These are the books in which the author digs deep, gets personal, and shares what’s really worked and what hasn’t. Sheri McConnell’s latest book, Smart Women Know Their Why: The Guide for Discovering Your Life Purpose While Owning a Business So You Can Create Positive Change In the World (and Make Big Profits!, is just such a book.

Sheri understands that without an undergirding purpose and a passion for service, entrepreneurs can create a business that is just another job. Purpose is your reason for being at the time and place you are in this world; passion is what carries you through life’s challenges; and a business is the vehicle that helps you share your purpose with others. Sheri walks readers through the process of discovering life purpose and teaches how to think entrepreneurially and create a business that fulfills that purpose.

What makes Smart Women Know Their Why different from many “purpose” books is that Sheri unapologetically believes that profit is good, because it helps individuals share their purpose and passion with others. What makes it different from many other business books  is that it’s purpose-focused, and written by a mom who has built a seven-figure business from the ground up, working from home.

Throughout the book, Sheri shares her personal journey– an amazing story of transformation that will strip away any excuses you might have for not being able to succeed. I have observed Sheri’s journey over the past few years. From her very first little e-mail newsletter for women writers, Sheri has focused on creating something that would help other women grow and succeed. Smart Women Know Their Why fulfills that purpose–I recommend it.

You can read two sample chapters and order Smart Women Know Their Why at http://www.smartwomenwhy.com.

Words Matter Week Blog Challenge: Writers That Make My Heart Sing

Wednesday’s blog challenge question for Words Matter Week is:

Writers are people who take isolated words and craft them into memorable phrases, stories, poems and plays. Who are the writers who make your heart sing? What is the magic ingredient?

Different writers appeal to me at different times, and the magic ingredients can be found in different proportions in most of my favorites.

Here are the magic ingredients for me:

  • A sense of possibility
  • A big idea
  • Humor
  • A worldview that I can believe in
  • A wonderful setting (usually foreign)
  • Something unexpected

Writers who make my heart sing:

I love C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien anytime, all the time.

Other authors who’ve had the magic touch at some point in my life (and usually still do– I tend to remain loyal):

  • Madeleine L’Engle (Crosswicks Journals, as well as her middle-grade fiction)
  • Rosemary Sutcliff (Dawn Wind)
  • Edith Wharton
  • Dorothy Gilman
  • E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • Mary Stewart
  • Edward Ormondroyd (David and the Phoenix)
  • Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun)
  • L. Frank Baum
  • William Butler Yeats
  • Anne Morrow Lindbergh (Gift from the Sea; Journals)
  • Laurie Colwin (Home Cooking)
  • Annie Fellows Johnston (Little Colonel books; Mary Ware)
  • Clair Blank (Beverly Gray series)
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Isak Dinesen

Of course, there’s always a flip side– things you couldn’t pay me to read. I won’t read anything in which an animal is harmed, and I am dismally bored by whiners, navel-gazers, chronically-depressed characters, and insecure people in unhealthy relationships. I confess to a completely low-brow desire to spend my reading time with characters, ideas, and settings I find interesting. Life’s too short to tolerate bores!

You can visit the Words Matter Week website and blog to find more posts from the blog challenge. They’ve been a lot of fun to read.

Whose Memoir Is It, Anyway?

Memoir: A record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation.

From Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/memoir (accessed: January 12, 2010).

Every time I browse through the Amazon.com reviews of a memoir, I notice that some of the amateur reviewers seem to have a grave misunderstanding of the definition of the literary form. Rather than realizing that a memoir contains the selected personal memories of a single person, some reviewers seem compelled to point out–often in a snide or superior tone–that the memoir they are reviewing is not a comprehensive study of the people, places, or events that touched the author’s life.

In one particularly amusing review of Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, an anonymous reviewer rants that “There are no poor people in Mayes’ book, nobody unemployed, nobody mentally ill or physically disabled. No word on the tragic swathe that heroin and cocaine addiction has cut through even the smallest and most remote Italian towns. Nothing about the intractable problem of illegal immigrants flooding the Italian peninsula from Eastern Europe and Africa…”.

It makes me wonder exactly what this reader thinks a memoir is supposed to be. Mayes was writing a memoir about the purchase and restoration of her home in Italy, not a textbook on modern social conditions in Tuscany.

In choosing to read a memoir, the reader elects to walk down memory lane with the author, seeing people, places, and events from the writer’s perspective. Unlike an autobiography (a history of a person’s life written or told by that person), which usually provides a more linear and comprehensive narrative, a memoir is deeply personal, and often focuses a single theme or time period such as Isak Dinesen’s years on her farm in Out of Africa or Frank McCourt’s childhood in Angela’s Ashes. The author chooses a theme and mood and selects the events that will convey the memory. Although the reader of a memoir will often come away with a strong sense of personality and place, it will be shaped by what the author chose to share, chose to leave out, and his or her skill in shaping prose.

One popular memoir put-down often includes the offering of an alternate recommendation for something to read if you want to “know more about the REAL” person, place, or event. The implication usually seems to be that if a memoir isn’t dark, ugly, or negative, or if the writer has a different perspective than the reader, the memoir can’t be true or worthy. The reality is that good things do happen, and many readers find sunlight, travel, humor, and good conversation much more engaging than peering into the dark closets and dank basements of another’s life.

I don’t advocate hagiography in place of biography, and I believe that dark, tragic tales have their place– we need King Lear and Jean Valjean just as much as we need Pratchett’s Vimes. However, it must be either ignorance or hubris that causes a reviewer to reject a memoir on the grounds that it doesn’t reveal the “real” person, place, or event.

I’ve been a caregiver for my grandparents for nearly twenty years, and if I wrote a memor about the experience, it could certainly be focused on frustration and depressing scenes of diapers, dementia, and drool. But because those aren’t the things I find interesting or choose to remember about my sweet grandparents, my hypothetical memoir would focus instead on the funny moments, the poignant times when another ability disappeared and we were able to get through it with love and laughter, despite grief for the losses.

Would my memoir provide a look at what caregiving is “really like”?  Yes and no. On one hand, yes– it would share what caregiving has been (and is) like for our family. On the other hand, no– it wouldn’t address what caregiving is like for other people in other places. A memoir is one writer’s memories, selected and shared. If you want to go along for the ride, read memoir for what it is, and don’t critique it for not being what it never pretended to be.

1.18.09- Addendum: When Frank McCourt died in 2009, several distinguished contributors offered commentaries on McCourt’s impact on the art of memoir. Read Memoirs and McCourt on the New York Times “Room for Debate” blog.

Here’s a quote from Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States, that sums it up nicely: “McCourt fully recognized that what a story is about depends on who is telling it.”