On Book Reviews

I had this great idea. I was going to write a book review for every single book I read, as soon as I finished it, while it was still fresh in my head. After all, I’ve read almost 150 books in the past three years alone. Surely that would have generated a respectable number of book reviews by now. But alas, it didn’t happen that way.

In the first place, how many times did Mom drill into my head that if you didn’t have something nice to say about someone, it was better not to say anything at all? It is difficult for me to write anything less than a 4-star review. Three stars is about as low as I go.

And secondly, who am I, who is anyone for that matter, to decide what is good and what is bad? There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to books. Our tastes in books are personal, as unique as we are ourselves unique as individuals.

It was my cancer survivor’s writing group, which utilizes the techniques and philosophy of the Amherst Writers and Artists Methodology, which pointed the way to how I might resolve this dilemma. In our group, we don’t critique each other’s writings, per se. We listen in silence, non-judgmentally, and only after the piece is read do we comment on what we heard in the writing, what stayed with us, what did we remember?

This gave me a new direction for my book reviews. Why not make them more like book commentaries instead? Write about what I learned from them, what stayed with me, what moved me, what was useful, entertaining, or enlightening? In that spirit, I think I’m ready to write about books again!


More Four and Twenties

Two of my poems appear today in the October edition of Four and Twenty: A Short Form Poetry Journal. http://bit.ly/4nyAWZ

I discovered Four and Twenty last year, through one of those serendipitous searches, the kind where you follow links from other links. Since then, 9 poems of mine have appeared in this journal. I’ve been consistently delighted with this non-daunting poetry form. It is simply this: four lines (or fewer), twenty words (or fewer), and a short title (or no title at all). Now I’m absolutely hooked on the little things. Haiku are my favorite subset of four and twenties.

My two poems this month were both inspired by real-life events, as is probably everything I write. Five Bats at Twilight came to me at once, as I stood at the bottom of my driveway late one summer evening, after coming home from somewhere, and watched first one, then two, and finally five bats flit crazily around the greenspace near where I live. See, it’s taken me a whole paragraph to describe, but I wrote it in 15 words (with 4 more for the title)!

Stray objects is a tribute to my friend Robin, who succumbed to ovarian cancer almost exactly a year ago. She was days short of her 51st birthday. It was either in a conversation we had, or in one of her many humorous, touching and gutsy writings where she mentioned mismatched objects, and how by the time you had amassed three of anything, you could consider it a collection. I believe she was specifically talking of teacups at the time, but it applies to anything. Again, a long-winded explanation. My poem Stray Objects, one of my shortest, captures it in 7 words (with 2 additional for the title). That’s why I’m hooked on 4 & 20’s. Try writing one yourself. You won’t be sorry!

Komen Wrap Up

I wanted to take the time once again to thank everyone who supported me in my fundraising efforts this year on behalf of the Komen Portland Race for the Cure. Not only did I meet my goal of raising $385, but I actually exceeded it with the wonderful support of family and friends and raised $527!

Thanks again to Holly, Haldan, Avra, Jeff, Tom, Emilie, Robert, Myra and John for their generous contributions. Thanks also to Douglas, Evan, Gabi, Candice and Jason for walking with me this year. Together we can make this disease a thing of the past! It is not too late to contribute. Although this current fundraising drive ends tomorrow, donations are accepted year round. http://bit.ly/NqiPQ

A Parent’s Intuition

When my youngest son was 15-months old, he became very ill with a rare condition,that baffled the doctors. Six nerve-wracking days passed, with many calls to the pediatrician’s office and one emergency room visit, before he was properly diagnosed and underwent emergency surgery. The story of this experience was one of five winners in the 31 Hours parents’ intuition contest: http://bit.ly/36V3CK

Although it has been over 13 years since this event took place, and my son made a complete recovery following surgery, I wanted to tell the story, not in an attempt to bash the medical professionals who failed to recognize the seriousness of the situation, but to encourage parents to continue to advocate for their children when their intuition tells them that something is seriously wrong, even if it means seeking out a different medical provider. I will always be grateful for the pediatric ENT on call, who took the time to listen to my concerns, took stock of the situation, promptly and accurately diagnosed this infrequently occurring condition, and put our son on the path to recovery. Without this doctor’s expertise, I don’t even like to think about what might have happened that day. Luckily, all’s well that ends well!

More Wordstock Wit/Wisdom

And then there was the panel on “Stages of Playwriting” with panel members Marc Acito, Storm Large, and Cynthia Whitcomb.

  • “The secret of comedy is surprise.” (Marc Acito)
  • “All comedians are motivated by hostility.” (Marc Acito, noting comedians use expressions like “I killed them”, “I slayed them”, “I died out there tonight.”)
  • “The closer you get to the truth, the funnier it is.” (Marc Acito)
  • “A writer is someone who feels bad when they’re not writing.” (Cynthia Whitcomb, on the true definition of a writer.)
  • “You can’t figure it out.” (Cynthia Whitcomb, noting that there’s no formula for producing a successful screenplay time after time—it’s an organic process between the audience and the performers.)
  • “You can get brilliant gifts from your subconscious if you ask it to deliver for you.” (Cynthia Whitcomb)
  • “You win some, you lose some, but you win some.” (Cynthia Whitcomb’s motto)
  • “Failures become part of your fabric.” (Storm Large)

And finally, the last book talk I attended was Hope Edelman speaking on her latest book, The Possibility of Everything. I was, to put it mildly, a wee bit fatigued at this point, and initially put away my notebook and decided to just listen. But I absolutely had to pull it out again to jot down the bit where she said that she initially began the book as fiction, because she was wary of portraying herself as a “new age lemming.” Can lemmings be new age? Who knew?