Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Tuesday: encounters with books (and blogs)

April 6, 2021 @ 8:37 am | Filed under: , , ,

August 2008

I’m chuckling over the word “encounters.” In my Rule of Six (or Seven) list, that word flows naturally: encounters with beauty, encounters with living books, encounters with ideas to ponder and discuss…

But when I lift the phrase out of the list, it becomes comical. My entire day is a series of “encounters” with books. I might as well say I’ve had an encounter with air, or that my feet have encountered floors.

Actually, come to think of it, my feet have had plenty of encounters with books, too, because there is never not a stack somewhere in kicking distance. Right now: beside my bed, next to where I leave my slippers at night—i.e., exactly where I groggily aim my toes in the pre-dawn darkness every single morning. You’d think I’d learn after the sixth or seventh stubbed toe, wouldn’t you?

Narrator: she wouldn’t.

But okay. With what books have I had a particularly close or meaningful encounter in the past week?

When You Reach Me

Well, I finished our readaloud of The Wind in the Door, the sequel to A Wrinkle in Time. And for once I wasn’t tormented with indecision over what the next readaloud should be: I had Rebecca Stead’s lovely When You Reach Me waiting in the wings. It’s a natural next book after Wrinkle. (But we’re studying the parts of a cell in our biology lessons, so OF COURSE I had to read Wind in the Door first. After that book, you’ll never forget what mitochondria do.)

When You Reach Me is, as I expected, going over like gangbusters. Scott listens along with us, and since it’s set in 1979, with a narrator only a year or two older than Scott and I were that year, it feels like home. And Miranda’s Manhattan neighborhood is familiar to us from the years we lived in Queens and worked in Manhattan.

For Huck and Rilla, this setting and time period are new territory, an interesting backdrop to an incredibly gripping story. Miranda’s favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time, and she quotes from it or narrates bits and scenes quite often. I love love love internal references like this: they’re the best kind of organic connection, and our brains loooove connections. I’m always talking about giving kids hooks to hang other knowledge on, like the way the Horrible Histories English monarchs song is a useful set of hooks for us to sort other historical events by. “That happened around the time of King John,” I might say, and the kids burst out with: “Poor King John, what a disaster, rule restrained by Magna Carta.”

Anyway, we’re about a third of the way through When You Reach Me and I’m beside myself with happy anticipation of what’s in store for my listeners.

Tiny Habits

I’ve also been spending a lot of time with B.J. Fogg’s Tiny Habits, which I devoured when it first came out and have been enjoying revisiting more slowly. One of my 2020 achievements was becoming a certified habit coach via Coach.me, because—as you know if you read Bonny Glen back in the beginning—habits have been a subject of particular interest to me since the day I first picked up a Charlotte Mason book in the mid-’90s.

Tiny Habits adds new layers to the subject through Stanford professor B.J. Fogg’s research on human behavior and what he calls “behavior design.” His premise is that you can coach yourself into any behavior you wish if you approach it incrementally, taking advantage of certain hardwired aspects of human behavior—and that willpower has nothing to do with this process. He explores prompts, ability, and motivation—motivation being the least powerful factor of the three, when it comes to creating a habit.

James Clear’s Atomic Habits and Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before also unpack this topic and explore related strategies. Gretchen incorporates her unique and highly useful theory about the Four Tendencies into her discussion of habit formation. I loved her book, because she zeroes in on the importance of understanding yourself (your tendency) in establishing the right bite-sized habit and the best-for-you prompt.

A very long postscript

This post could go on and on, but I’m trying a new practice. I have hundreds of unfinished draft posts sitting in my queue—because life is so full that if I don’t publish them right away, it’s hard to come back later. The momentum is gone. The energy I have for persistent, gradual progress on a piece of writing goes entirely to my books and to my working creating Brave Writer literature guides. But whenever I let my blog slip, I start to feel twitchy. It’s an important chronicle for my family and an important vehicle for my own learning and exploration. I need to write in order to know what I think. And I need to share that writing—narration is such a crucial piece of learning and critical thinking!

So what I’ve decided to try—and I’ll be evaluating the success of this plan in real-time, as I go, probably out loud—is writing for a set amount of time (most days, 45 minutes) and then hitting publish even if I had more thoughts to think, or (as with this post) more books to dish about. I’ve rearranged the day to allow this pocket of time (swapping it out with my Morning Pages practice, because the truth is, Morning Pages bore me silly after about the third day) most mornings. And when the timer goes off, I’ll give it a quick scan for typos and then smash the publish button, even if I had more to say.

I have plenty of outlets for more polished writing. Patreon, Medium, Darts, Arrows, my books. For the first ten years, blogging worked brilliantly for me as a catalyst for discovery and analysis. I resisted the shift toward professionalization of one’s blog and I bristled at the trend toward prioritizing the inclusion of beautiful photos, creating a magazine effect. (Do you know what I do for images here these days, most of the time? I click the “Add Media” button and type a word, loosely related to the content of the post, into the search bar. Then I pick one of the zillion photos I’ve shared here in the past. Thus the ancient snapshot at the top of this post.)

Because social media favors posts with a captivating and properly sized “featured photo,” I kept leaving drafts in the queue to await a moment when I could take or find the right picture. And of course you’re supposed to use keywords and subheads or your SEO plug-in yells at you. Mine loathes the length of my sentences and paragraphs.

And I find that I no longer care. I seldom bother to share links to Bonny Glen posts on Facebook or Twitter any more. I use subheads sparingly and mainly because I love that shade of blue.

This shade

Now, I realize I’ve gone and written a whole second post to explain why I’m publishing the first one practically mid-thought. Once again, I’m thinking out loud, firming up my vague notions by articulating them to you.

This practice—which, again, is an experiment I’m testing to see if it clicks for me—will mean more frequent, less polished posts. If you’re still here reading Bonny Glen after all these years, and through my long silences, I’m guessing you won’t mind. If you ever feel I’ve given short shrift to a topic and you’d like to hear more, please let me know! I’d be happy to tackle it the next time I set the timer.

P.S. No time today for adding book links! If you’d like to give me the affiliate credit, here are links to my Amazon & Bookshop.org portals.

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Books finished in the first quarter of 2021

March 31, 2021 @ 8:45 am | Filed under:

Scanning my list, I see some threads:

Books about creative practice

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life by Twyla Tharp
Wild Words by Nicole Gulotta
Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg
Do the Work by Steven Pressfield
The True Secret of Writing by Natalie Goldberg
Thunder and Lightning by Natalie Goldberg

Books about habits, project planning, balance

Start Finishing by Charlie Gilkey
Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin
Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Books for which I wrote Brave Writer Darts and Arrows

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland
Year of the Dog by Grace Lin
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol
Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Books I read to my kids (and Scott, who listens in)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle

Books of poems / books about poetry

Three Simple Lines: A Writer’s Pilgrimage into the Heart and Homeland of Haiku by Natalie Goldberg*
Familiars by Holly Wren Spaulding
Ikkyu: Crow With No Mouth translated by Stephen Berg

* I made a video about this lovely tome for the Book Club tier of my Patreon

And oddly, only one novel read to myself, purely for pleasure

The Kitchen Madonna by Rumer Godden, a treasured re-read—a short novel, it’s worth noting)

As always, I started many more books than I finished. Some of them will make their way onto my next-quarter list. I’ve been enjoying choosing a collection of essays and several books of poems to savor slowly through a season (or two). Right now this includes collections by the Scottish poet Thomas A. Clark and a leisurely meander through Christian McEwan’s World Enough and Time.

Writing booklists makes me want to drop everything and read. But reading something wonderful makes me want to drop everything and write. Writing compels further reading. Research generates new booklists. I have no complaints about this cycle. It’s as thrilling to me as the cycle of seasonal growth and dormancy. Speaking of which—it’s the season for gardening books!

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Dreaming of greasy fries and fruity drinks

March 3, 2021 @ 10:13 am | Filed under:


I’ve been reading a lot of Natalie Goldberg in preparation for a workshop I’m taking this month. She always makes me wild to write, write, write—but reading her this time around, a year into pandemic hibernation, she’s also making ache for coffee shops and sleepy afternoon pubs. Walking down Fremont Street to the sports bar whose back room was all empty tables between three and six, passing the stone retaining wall with the succulents sprouting from every cranny, the yard with the hollyhocks towering over my head, the yard with the two small dogs who tore furiously around the corner of the house to proclaim their hatred and suspicion of all passersby, especially me. Except once when the growlier of the two wasn’t around, and the other dog trotted right up to the fence, wagging, interested, asking for my phone number. The next time I passed, the angry dog was back, insisting on warfare, and our promising friendship was shattered.

Tulip trees and daffodils on the median strip. A pair of shoes neatly lined up next to a port-a-potty in front of a house undergoing renovations. For weeks, those shoes stayed exactly put. Sneakers, once white, now gray, but no scuffs, not much sign of wear. The story behind those shoes—their precise placement beside the blue metal outhouse, not a millimeter out of line with each other—tormented and entertained me during weeks of walks while I was revising Nerviest Girl.

My revision was due in April (2019), and as the weather got lovelier and the spring more exuberant, I found I wanted to walk farther, so I would keep going, past the barber shop, the tiny art gallery, the quiet pub; past Goodwill truck in the corner lot next to the cemetery where coyotes are rumored to make their home; past the family-owned restaurant that got ruined by being declared the home of the best hamburger in America; past the donut shop whose line always stretched out the door and down the block, even in rain. Past pizza parlors and yoga studios and bakeries to—of all places, on that stretch of quirky indie shops—Starbucks. Such a cliché! But a place with good light, where I could park for hours without feeling guilty. I’m not a coffee drinker and I only like good Southern sweet iced tea, but the berry Refreshers are okay, and sometimes I treated myself to an almond croissant. I got buckets of work done at the window tables in that establishment, that spring, summer, fall. And the winter before, and the whole year before that, I spent so many afternoons writing in the dim back room of the sports bar that for a while Huck actually thought I had a job there.

If I got to Starbucks by three, I had a solid hour of quiet writing time before the kids streamed in from the middle-school down the street. Then I would lose long stretches to eavesdropping. By 4:30 the students had drifted out, and the after-yoga crowd would arrive, and parents with small kids on the way to activities, and a few college students meeting their tutors. I usually found another burst of focus and wrote until just shy of six. Sometimes I walked home up Klickitat Street, a very slight detour with hundreds more flowers, and other times, especially in rain, I’d stick to Fremont, and Scott would drive to pick me up, usually meeting me on the long cemetery block.

After Daylight Savings Time ended in the fall of 2019, I stopped making the walk—it got dark so early and my studio was cozier. Then my surgery in February, and I wasn’t going anywhere for a while—dozens of stitches and two black eyes. And then, of course, March. I love my studio and spend a silly amount of hours in here—work, play, rest, even doing ballet lessons on Youtube, using my bookcase as a barre. But oh, how I look forward to venturing out to coffee shops again!

Does the little white dog still loathe the universe? Will the brown dog remember he wanted to be friends?

Are the white sneakers still lined up side by side?

Meanderings

February 3, 2021 @ 10:12 am | Filed under:
Me in my blue coat crouching in a field of crocuses, grinning at my husband who is taking a picture of me taking a picture

My first encounter with our local crocus patch, Feb 4, 2018

In the neighborhood:

• The snowdrops and crocuses are blooming, and the daffodil stems are getting tall. It’s time to visit the nearby park that becomes a field of purple and yellow crocuses this time of year. Most park-goers here seem to be good with masks, so hopefully we can safely meander along the paths.

In my reading life:

• Our Wrinkle in Time readaloud is getting to the exciting part. Yesterday, Huck and Rilla (along with Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace) got their first glimpse of the shadow blotting out a swath of stars. Things are about to get intense!

• Library books keep expiring on my Kindle before I get through them. This is poor patronage on my part! (Given the hefty prices libraries pay for e-books, which have a finite number of check-outs and then must be repurchased.) The blessing of rabbit-trailing is also its curse: I encounter more books than I can possibly read, ever, ever. Currently in progress: Good Habits, Bad Habits by Wendy Wood; Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari; The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner; The Cave Painters by Gregory Curtis; and (oh the irony) Start Finishing by Charlie Gilkey. Oh, and Grace Lin’s The Year of the Dog, for which I’ll be writing a Brave Writer Dart this month.

• Oh but of course there are hard copies in my hands too! My friend Michelle reminded me of Christian McEwen’s World Enough and Time, which I bought a year ago but hadn’t begun. If you’re a Patreon subscriber, you know I have now begun reading it at last, and I’m adoring it. Am also midway through a reread of Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic.

• The poets I find myself reaching for most often at present are Ross Gay, Ilya Kaminsky, Louise Gluck, Basho, Olav K. Hauge, and Julia Hartwig—and the title of her book gave me a good chuckle just now, considering what I was just saying about my library books: In Praise of the Unfinished.

In fine whack

January 27, 2021 @ 9:20 am | Filed under: ,

When you mention A Ring of Endless Light in a post, naturally you check for dolphins among your photos. Here’s Beanie making a friend in 2008.

My morning routine has been a bit out of whack lately, and I’m trying to get it back in what an etymological site tells me is the opposite: in fine whack, meaning the same as in fine fettle.

There seems to have been a phrase in fine whack during that century, meaning that something was in good condition or excellent fettle. (It appears in a letter by John Hay, President Lincoln’s amanuensis, dated August 1863, which describes the President: “The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene and busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union, all at once”.) It doesn’t often turn up in writing, though, so there’s some doubt how widespread it was.

And now I’m trying to remember which Madeleine L’Engle book discusses the word amanuensis—I’m hearing a small boy saying it; he’s proud to be someone’s amanuensis, a literary or artistic assistant; which means it’s either Rob Austin or Charles Wallace Murry. Hmm, no, neither seems right, although in my memory there was an element of precociousness in the character’s use of the word. I reread A Ring of Endless Light for the umpteenth time last year—always my favorite L’Engle novel—so that’s probably where I’m recalling it from. But would it have been Rob? Was Adam Jed’s amanuensis? Sort of?

Well, this digression is indicative of the way I sometimes allow my morning routine to skitter off course. I have a no-screens rule for the first hour minutes, and then I allow myself to open the laptop for an hour or more of writing time. I’ve been trying to keep to a strict one-tab-at-a-time habit, but a rabbit trail like the one above has generated three extra tabs and a jaunt to the library website to see if A Ring of Endless Light was available in ebook. It was! But my search for amanuensis in the text revealed zero hits. Hmm. My brain will keep poking this question until I find the answer. Watch me: I’ll wind up rereading all of L’Engle to find the quote!

Booknotes: The War of Art

January 2, 2021 @ 12:53 pm | Filed under: , , ,

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

A reread to help me jump into a new year and a new project. Steven Pressfield’s take on Resistance is some of the most useful teaching about writing I’ve ever encountered.

“I wake up with a gnawing sensation of dissatisfaction. Already I feel fear. Already the loved ones around me are starting to fade. I interact. I’m present. But I’m not.

I’m not thinking about the work. I’ve already consigned that to the Muse. What I am aware of is Resistance. I feel it in my guts. I afford it the utmost respect, because I know it can defeat me on any given day as easily as the need for a drink can overcome an alcoholic.

I go through the chores, the correspondence, the obligations of daily life. Again I’m there but not really. The clock is running in my head; I know I can indulge in daily crap for a little while, but I must cut it off when the bell rings.”

Affiliate links: Bookshop.org (supports independent bookstores) • Kindle

“…fields everywhere invite you into them.”

December 29, 2020 @ 8:59 pm | Filed under: ,

I set this afternoon aside for reading, a whole glorious seven hours of it, and reading always makes me want to write. So here I am, blowing the dust off this dear old blog. I neglect it for weeks at a stretch because I spend so much of my day writing other things, and when I open this tab I often feel drained or blank.

There’s also an aspect of blogging that feels like homework—combing my photos for the right image, choosing tags, looking up books on Bookshop.org or Amazon to add links, the kind that send a few cents my way, defraying the costs of maintaining the site. Chores I find tedious and sometimes embarrassing. The book links aren’t as necessary as I tell myself they are—you can Google anything that catches your interest—but money’s as tight for us as it is for most everyone else right now, and omitting the links always feels, in the end, a bit irresponsible. Even now I’m staring at the word Bookshop up there, feeling internal pressure to stick my affiliate link in place like a sensible blogger.

But this is my magic week, when I don’t have to be sensible. I try to reserve the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day for combing through the year’s notebooks, revisiting, panning for gold. It’s mostly iron pyrite so far, but that’s often useful in its own way. I gave yesterday afternoon to a single notebook, distilled now to a page of notes and asterisks. Today, as I mentioned, was hours and hours of reading other people’s work. Twyla Tharp’s Keep It Moving, a packet of poems, a Mary Oliver essay that cut me to the quick. Lordy, I love her. Both of them. Twyla shakes you by the shoulders and Mary raises her eyebrows at you until you cry uncle. You’re right, I’m constantly shouting back, of course you’re right! I’ll go for a walk! I’ll try to enter the long black branches of other lives! More birds, less Twitter! 

The line that made me gasp tonight—it was like an adrenaline syringe to the heart—was in her essay “Of Power and Time”:

In creative work—creative work of all kinds—those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward.

She writes about her three selves—the child she was, who exists now in remembered experiences; the “attentive, social” self who makes dentist appointments and remembers to buy mustard; and a third self, “occasional in some of us, a tyrant in others.” A self “out of love with time,” a self that “has a hunger for eternity.”

The shock of recognition was severe. These past several months, my capable, responsible second self has—out of necessity—run the show. I’m a bit sick of her, to be honest. My third self, more tired than tyrannical in this bizarrest of years, is stretching her limbs and wondering when the prime minister took over running the kingdom.

I’m being a little unfair to the second self: someone had to get the FAFSA done and the health insurance renewed, and it certainly wasn’t going to be the poet queen. Mary Oliver’s delight was in lying down in the grass, as though she were the grass. My delight has been in showing the grass to my children and teaching them how to find its secret name. We walk in different fields, is what I’m saying.

But. Sometimes the second self tumbles or leaps into the whirlpool of distractions—most of them connected to the internet—and promises the third self her turn will come “as soon as.” As soon as the election is over, as soon as this assignment is turned in, as soon as the bathroom floor is mopped. The as-soon-as train has an infinite number of cars.

Twyla Tharp would say: you must make a pledge to the third self. Promise her time on the throne. Mary Oliver says to put your foot into the door of the grass and to sit down like a weed among weeds and rustle in the wind! 

Every day, I get up before dark to give the third self a little time in the chair. I’m dedicated to this practice and it bears fruit on a long, slow timeline. But here at the end of an infuriating, stupefying year, those morning hours already feel like a distant memory by the time breakfast is over. The poet queen refuses to compete with Twitter. She won’t come back until all the tabs are closed. That’s Mary Oliver’s point.

“It is six a.m.,” she writes, “and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be.”

This last week of the year, I invite the third self to occupy the chair not just in the dawn hours but for a string of entire days. The second self can go jump in a lake, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, jump! urges Twyla—there is literally a chapter about jumping in Keep It Moving, in which she recommends four different kinds of leaps you ought to fold into your day. Beside her, Mary is calling: Fall in, fall in!

December 1st

December 1, 2020 @ 3:31 pm | Filed under: ,


There’s autumn, all stitched up. I feel myself shifting into winter mode, despite the bright leaves still lingering here and there on the neighborhood trees. I packed up the backyard bird fountain for the winter and replaced my studio blanket with an electric throw. On our walk yesterday, I discovered that I need to have my warm ankle boots resoled—I could feel every piece of gravel underfoot! I’ve logged a lot of miles in those boots on my treks around Northeast Portland.

Speaking of Northeast Portland! I’ve been reading—and loving to absolute bits—Beverly Cleary’s memoir, A Girl from Yamhill. As a young child she moves from the family farm in Yamhill to a rented house in Portland just a few miles from my neighborhood. And then, a year or two later, she moves to a house “a block and a half north of Klickitat.” I live a block and a half north of Klickitat! Just nine blocks away from the place Beverly lived for a while—a direct line east of where I sit as I type this post. I knew that she had lived in Northeast but I only knew about the homes near Grant Park and Fernwood Elementary. I didn’t know she’d had an interval right here in my own small neighborhood. She saw her first movies (silent films!) at the very same theater in which my family saw Avengers: Endgame. Goosebumps.

The sun is bright today, a rarity this time of year, not to be squandered. I’m itching to get out for a nice long tramp. At the same time, I’m longing to cuddle up under that heated throw and read more about Beverly, or dive into a chapter in the gorgeous book my friend just sent me: Nichole Gulotta’s Wild Words. It’s been a full day.

How to get a signed copy of The Nerviest Girl in the World

September 30, 2020 @ 7:51 am | Filed under: ,

Annie Bloom’s Books, a wonderful Portland bookstore, has kindly offered a way for customers to order personally inscribed copies of The Nerviest Girl in the World. If this is something you’re interested in, you can place an order at Annie Bloom’s website and the shop will let me know. The following weekend, I’ll head across the river to sign the book and then the Annie Bloom’s Books folks will ship it directly to you. (Sundays are usually the best day for me to make a drive to the west side of town, so you’ll want to factor that into your timeline.)

On the book’s order page, you’ll see a note asking customers to include any personalization requests in the comments field at checkout.

Now’s a great time to get the ball in motion if you’d like to give the book as a holiday gift! I’m beyond thrilled to see how much fun kids are having with it—making hot-air balloon bookmarks, starting a Gordy fan club (!), and even shooting their very own silent films. I’m continually blown away by my young readers’ inventiveness. Check out my Instagram highlights for a passel of pics (and immense thanks to all the parents and teachers who have been sharing them).

Nerviest Girl on the web:

Loads of resources & activities to pair with the book in this guest post at Random House Teachers & Librarians

•  Brave Writer Arrow selection literature guide (includes Party School ideas for book clubs)

• California teacher Julie DenOuden of Girl on the Move wrote a Southern California Travel Adventure inspired by the book

• Podcast interview at Everyday Motherhood

• Interview with authors Anne Nesbet and Chris Barton at Bartography

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