Book Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

I became a fan of Roxane Gay when I first saw her speak at Boswell Book Company about her book, the part memoir/part assortment of essays, Bad Feminist. Bad Feminist blew me away so when I found her latest release, a collection of short stories called Difficult Women, I just knew I had to read it. I hoped Gay’s singular voice in writing non-fiction would translate into writing fiction.

I am glad to say I am not disappointed. Gay is a writer who fully recognizes the complex lives of women’s truth, from the most of grand experiences to the tiny minutiae that make of their daily lives (and ours). Some live in impressive privilege and others dreary lives of poverty.

Difficult Women is made of 21 stories, dissimilar yet fully connected. The opening chapter “I Will Follow” is about two sisters who were abducted as children and experienced deplorable acts. The sisters’ past makes them eerily, yet touching connected well into adulthood as they follow each other all over the country. Even though these sisters (by society’s standards) should have staked out their own separate lives, I understood how this might be nearly impossible for them.

The title story “Difficult Women” Gay defines “loose,” “frigid,” “crazy” women along with mothers and dead girls through vividly written definitions and descriptions:

Just what does a loose woman see when she sees herself in a mirror? “Nothing. She doesn’t look. She doesn’t need to. She knows exactly who she is.”

Where does a frigid women go at night? “There are places for people with secrets and she has secrets, so many of them that sometimes they threaten to choke her. She goes to the places for people with secrets for people with secrets and there she waits.”

What happens when crazy women snap? “She is sitting at her desk, working late, when her boss hulks his way into her office, sitting too close, on the edge of her desk, taking up space in the way men do. He stares down her blouse and it’s the presumption in the way he doesn’t hide his interest that makes her hold the sharp letter opener in the cool of her hand.”

As for mothers? Well, mothers can only be described in their roles as mothers on from what she sees in her child’s face to how she loves.

Dead girls, you are now wondering? What about them? Well, they are dead. How do you define them? Are they more interesting? Do you find them beautiful?

Another story I adored is Gay’s fable-like “Requiem for a Glass Heart.” In this story the wife is made entirely of glass, her husband is fully-human. The glass wife is smooth, hairless, and transparent. Day after day she takes care of child also made of glass. The husband has matted chest hair and calloused hands who earns his money as a stone thrower. He also has a mistress on the side, one made fully of flesh and blood. Does the glass wife know about the mistress? She just might. Perhaps being made of glass doesn’t quite this woman as transparent as she may initially seem….

Other stories are complete stand-outs—“North Country,” “Bad Priest,” and “Best Features” quickly come to mind. But to be honest, every single story in Difficult Women is so remarkable that choosing a favorite is quite, well, difficult.

As I came to Difficult Women’s close, I found myself not only thinking of Gay’s voice as a visionary writer, but how these stories played out like mini-movies in my mind’s eye. Difficult Women would make for a great TV series, perhaps all the stories adapted by female screenwriters and directed by female directors. Or maybe in an interesting twist, some stories adapted by male screen writers and directed by male directors.

But alas, Difficult Women is for now, is a book, one I implore difficult women everywhere (and the beguiled men who love them) to read.

Book Reviews: One Step Closer-Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God by Christian Scharen

There’s cathedrals and the alleyways in our music. I think the alleyway is usually on the way to the cathedral, where you can hear your own footsteps and you’re slightly nervous and looking over your shoulder and wondering if there’s somebody following you. And then you get there and you realize there was somebody following you: it’s God.”— Bono

Rock ‘n’ roll has long been called the “devil’s music.” But for many U2 fans, it’s also been known to uplift and awaken our spirituality. Christian Scharen, currently Vice President of Applied Research and the Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn (he also taught at Yale), examines how U2′s music not only makes our feet move, but also moves our hearts, minds and souls in his thought-provoking book “One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God.”

Scharen is a long-time U2 fan who knows both the band’s music and how the teachings of Biblical scripture is infused into nearly every one of U2′s songs, not only in the obvious like “40” from 1983′s War album, a song taken from Psalm 40 and refrain from Psalm 6, but less apparent songs like “Discotheque” from 1997′s Pop.

One Step Closer is divided into three parts, which Scharen calls steps. The first part is called “Singing Scripture,” in which Scharen points to the ways scripture speaks of God’s work, using various voices of scripture like psalms, prophecies, parables and the apocalypse. Scharen takes these aspects of the scriptures and shows how these elements are evident in U2′s music.

In the second part of the book, “Singing the Cross,” Scharen uses such themes as faith, hope and love and explains how these themes are evident within U2′s music. He also discusses how these themes have tension with less lofty themes that we found ourselves struggling with like despair and selfishness.

In the final section, Scharen introduces the idea “Singing the Truth,” a way to live the cross. This section takes in account on how U2 lives out their faith. Most of us aren’t unfamiliar on how the members of U2 live out their faith beyond the boundaries of their music, especially regarding Bono’s tireless work on behalf of the African continent.

Throughout the book, Scharen gives examples of U2 songs and how they relate to different scriptures and themes found in the Bible. For songs embodying themes of faith and doubt, Scharen offers songs like “I Will Follow” from U2′s 1980 debut Boy and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from 1987′s The Joshua Tree. In songs with themes of the saint and the sinner, Scharen mentions songs like “Bad” from 1984′s The Unforgettable Fire and “Acrobat” from 1991′s Achtung Baby. Scharen quotes lyrics from these songs to make the reader understand the themes and also asks the reader to think of other U2 songs that follow various Biblical ideas. I can imagine this inspiring U2 fans everywhere to run to their CD collections or grab their digital devices to find U2 songs that follow these themes. I also wonder if Christian U2 fans will open up their Bibles to find different scriptures that relate to U2′s music.

Though a Lutheran pastor and a professor of divinity, Scharen takes a critical look at the modern church and asks it to take a good, hard look at itself. Religious institutions have to ask themselves why so many U2 fans feel no connection to the church or religion as a whole, but find God’s word or a “higher power” in U2′s music. Scharen isn’t afraid to tell the modern church to get over “religion” to get over its obsession of piety and judgment of everyone and everything. The goal of the modern church, instead, should be to inspire, forgive, uplift and do good work in the world around us. I know as a lapsed Roman Catholic turned Unitarian Universalist full committed to my faith, I have more often felt the spirit of something greater than I at a U2 concert than I ever did in all my years of going to Mass (but service at my UU church comes pretty close.

I don’t think you have to be particularly religious or even a Christian to gain something from this book. Religion is a fascinating topic, especially in how it can relate to modern music. Furthermore, Scharen gives thorough explanations of different aspects of scripture for readers not quite up on their Bible studies. Fortunately, Scharen is respectful to those of all religious backgrounds. And though “One Step Closer” is a scholarly book, it isn’t dry and acts as a reference to both U2 fans and those looking to know the Bible more fully.

In a world where religion is often quite polarizing in these troubling times, Scharen offers U2′s music and its messages as a unifying force. In “One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God,” the secular and the sacred aren’t mutually exclusive.

Book Marks

bookmark
Experience vs. Reading according to according to Samuel R. Delany
.

How books can alleviate anxiety.

Senator Al Franken discusses his latest memoir Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.

First Amazon book store located in NYC makes buying books a less than a delight.

With summer coming up, here are some beach reads for children of all ages

Douglas Ridoff brings slam poetry to the deaf community.

Feministing’s review of one of my favorites Whatever Happened to Interracial Love by Kathleen Collins.

Publisher Weekly’s thoughts on the future of mass marketing publishing.

Full Frontal’s Samantha Bee’s throws some epic shade at Ivanka Trump’s book.

Recently deceased Sir Roger Moore submitted his final manuscript before he died.

 

 

 

Writer’s Block

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Hello everyone. I hope everyone had a lovely Mother’s Day. But what else? Well, I’ve been keeping busy. Warmer weather after a dreary winter is always welcome and often inspires me to get busy with other projects and activities. So far, I’ve done a big spring cleaning, taught RE (religious education) at my church, attended an inspiring poetry workshop in Chicago, made some pretty bling, and baked up some lovin’ from my oven of an fundraising bake sale.

I’m also dealing with some professional issues, which includes everything, which include overhauling my resumes, cover letters, networking methods and other work-related issues. Just as I my home needs a good spring cleaning, so do I, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually in both my personal and professional worlds.

However, I am reading. And I hope to have some book reviews and other assorted posts up soon. Thanks!!!

Book Marks

lets read book markI can see re-reading Fear of Flying or reading some Anais Nin, but 50 Shades of Grey?

Jeannette Walls memoir The Glass Castle is now a film and should open late this summer.

President Clinton and James Patterson are joining forces to write a  book.

Carrie Fisher (RIP) and 27 other celebrity authors’ most famous literary lines.

What if Hillary Clinton never married Bill? Curtis Sittenfeld imagines this scenario in her latest novel.

Millionaire Bash celebrates kids who are superstar readers and red carpet ready.

Chicago’s American Writers Museum opening May 16th.

Young Adult fiction and fans are rocking it at conventions..

Advice for authors who want to build up a mailing list.

Book Review: Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants? The Tale of a Teen Rock Wannabe Who Almost Was by Craig A. Williams

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Many a teen boy has dreamed of strapping on an electric guitar, joining a band, playing to cheering crowds, getting it on with groupies and achieving both fame and fortune. For most of them, this is just a dream. But for Craig A. Williams, this dream was nearly a reality, and he documents his experiences in his book, Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants?

While still in his teens, Williams played lead guitar in an LA-based heavy metal band, Onyxx (later, Onyxxx). Originally called Onyx, the band added the extra xx-s to avoid copyright infringement due to a hip-hop group also named Onyx. And perhaps because their band was just too much rock for one measly X. Managed by a Loni Anderson look-alike, Onyxxx journeyed from small school gigs to the hottest clubs on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.

Williams first embraced his musical dreams when he wrote a song using his Casio keyboard. The seeds of musical greatness were sown, but Williams knew making music on a Casio keyboard was too dorky for words, so he picked up an electric guitar. Soon he joined forces with some high school chums — lead singer Tyler, bassist Sunil and drummer Kyle — and formed Onyxxx.

Laying the groundwork for rock and roll stardom, Onyxxx went from playing for their classmates in suburban LA to less than enthusiastic audiences at seedy dives. Despite these humble beginnings, Onyxxx’s manager believed they could make it big, and be the New Kids on the Block of glam heavy metal. It was the pre-grunge days where Guns ‘n Roses, Poison and Motley Crue were MTV staples. Before long Onyxxx were playing shows at such notable venues like the Troubadour and the Roxy. Their shows garnered them a sizable fan-base, including some very willing groupies. Williams thought he had reached the pinnacle of rock and roll paradise when he autographed a girl’s breast for the very first time.

But like lots of other rock bands on the verge of fame, Onyxxx had to deal with their share of problems. Tyler, though a charismatic frontman, was often a total jerk to those who crossed his path. Sunil was frequently bullied due to his East Indian heritage. And despite being a drummer, Kyle didn’t have the best sense of rhythm. Onyxxx also dealt with trials familiar to anyone who has seen at least one episode of VH-1′s “Behind the Music,” including rampant drug use, unsavory club managers, psycho fans and fighting among band members.

But Williams had other issues that probably weren’t bothering Axl Rose or Tommy Lee at the time: the life of a teenaged boy. When he wasn’t rockin’ out on-stage, Williams argued with his parents about doing his chores and his homework, studied for exams, and tried to maneuver the halls of his high school. Williams lived in two very different worlds, which kind of made him the Hannah Montana of glam heavy metal (egad, remember a time when Miley Cyrus was known as Hannah Montana and not a girl who uses a foam finger the way the inventor never intended?).

Sadly, Onyxxx was not meant to be. Even without the drug use, mismanagement and squabbles among the band members, glam heavy metal was about to be toppled by flannel-clad grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. By their senior year, Onyxxx was on the verge of breaking up. They were also on the verge of adulthood, which included college, jobs and other not exactly glamorous responsibilities.

Onyxxx’s loss is our gain. Williams proves himself to be an entertaining writer. He is able to look at his rock and roll past with both insight and humor. He’s self-deprecating and at the same time he is truly proud of almost grabbing the brass ring of stardom. Any rock fan who treasures his or her copy of Appetite for Destruction will get misty-eyed over days gone by. And kids who think of Bret Michaels as a reality TV star, not the lead singer of Poison, will be able to relate to a teenage Williams’ desire for freedom and fun. Williams is a fresh new voice, and has written a very honest book about the music industry. Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants? is a head bangin’ good time.

Book Marks

Julian Lennon writes children’s book on the importance of saving the environment. He’s also considering writing his memoir.

Seven books that deserve sequels.

S.E. Hinton muses on The Outsider’s 50th anniversary.

Amanda Palmer reads feminist poem about the importance of science (and written by her hubby Neil Gaiman).

Sadly, we have lost two talented writers in the past week —Robert Pirsig and Benjamin J. Barber.

Syrian refugee Bana al Abed writing memoir at seven-years-old

In modern Orwellian times, W.H. Auden is very relevant.

Singer/Songwriter Natalie Merchant to release 10 CD box of poems in June.

No, this is not from the Onion. The ultimate rude man, Bill O’Reilly, is set to publish a book on manners for children.

This website is a good source for those of you who want to write for film and TV.

 

Book Review: A Boy Named Shel by Lisa Rogak

As a child I adored Shel Silverstein’s books, The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends, among others having a special place in my heart. In fact, I think I treasure them now more than I did when I was a little girl. I always had an inkling Silverstein did more than write children’s books and my inkling proved true when I read Lisa Rogak’s biography A Boy Named Shel.

To call Silverstein a Renaissance man is putting it mildly. Not only was he a prolific children’s author, he was also a cartoonist, singer/songwriter, screenwriter and playwright. He also led a rather interesting personal life.

Born to a Jewish family and raised in Chicago, Silverstein attended Chicago School of the Fine Arts but was soon drafted into the Army. While in the Army Silverstein began to draw cartoons and later, once he returned to Chicago, he drew and published cartoons for several magazines.

But it is after he began to get his cartoons in Playboy when Silverstein’s multi-layered career really began to shine and lead to greater success. He also began to write songs, mostly of a folk variety and formed his own folk group. But one of his most famous songs is the country/novelty song “A Boy Named Sue,” which became a huge hit for the late Johnny Cash. Silverstein’s songs were also sung by Judy Collins, Dr. Hook, Marianne Faithfull and Emmylou Harris. Silverstein co-wrote many songs with Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings, both remained lifelong friends with Silverstein.

Silverstein also wrote a great deal of scripts for the stage, film and television at times co-writing scripts with others, including David Mamet. One of the most popular television programs Silverstein wrote for is the Generation X classic “Free to Be…You and Me.”

Professional success led to personal success, especially when it came to the ladies. To put it bluntly, Silverstein was a playa, and many of his experiences as a playa were due not only to his success, but to him hanging out a great deal at the Playboy Mansion. Despite being a bit of a man ho, many of his carnal conquests remember him fondly for when he was with a woman he really made her feel special and he was often honest with them, claiming he was not the type to settle down.

Still, Silverstein did have children, a daughter and a son, and though he loved them he wasn’t exactly the ideal father. And as I read A Boy Named Shel, I learned as much as Silverstein was revered by the children who read his books, his relationship with children (both is own and those of his friends) could be described as complicated.

In fact, complicated pretty much sums up Silverstein as a human being and a creative individual. At times he was a total bon vivant, the life of the party. At times, he was very reticent and private. He was meticulous when it came to his writing and drawing, but often dressed like a homeless person. When it came to his children he experienced both tragedy and triumph. He could be both kind and cruel.

And other tidbits I learned about Silverstein included eschewing driving after being in a bad car accident. He was nominated for an Oscar. He wrote travelogues and was quite the globetrotter. And he lived all over the country.

All of this living in one life should have made A Boy Named Shel a scintillating read; but as I kept reading this book, especially as I neared the end, I found myself bored. Rogak writing style is dull and lacks a certain punch that keeps you wanting to learn more and more. She is way too repetitive and dry, which I soon found rather insulting to Silverstein’s legendary legacy and his output as a truly original artist that entertained audiences for decades and continues to entertain nearly twenty years after Silverstein’s death. Perhaps, this book would have served better as an article. In the end I just mourned that Silverstein never wrote his own memoir.  Now that would have been a book.

Still, I am grateful I learned more about Shel Silverstein. I will never stop loving those children’s books that delighted me as a bookish little girl, and am now inspired by Silverstein’s creative output to sharpen myself as a Renaissance woman. Perhaps, if you read A Boy Named Shel and connect with his work
, you, too will feel inspired.

Book Club: Poetry

Several weeks ago I came up with a new idea for this blog I call Book Club. Book Club is where I ask my readers and friends their opinions when it comes to books, writing, authors, and writing. Because April is National Poetry Month I asked a few of my friends to answer a few questions regarding poetry. Here are the initial questions I asked:

  1. What does poetry mean to you?
  2. Who are your favorite poets and why? Name some of you favorite poems and why? (Links or copies of these poems would be greatly appreciated)
  3. Have you ever written poetry? Why or why not? (You can share your original poetry if you want to)
  4. Anything else you would like to add?

The first to answer are my friends Nora and Tari, and here are their very interesting answers in their very own words (nothing edited by me). 

NORA

  1. What does poetry mean to you?

Poetry is very meaningful to me.  It is where all the wordsmiths come together to shine.  It is like the “Auto Show of Literature.”  I call it the Auto Show because basically, you see cars every day, ordinary cars, rusty cars, different brands, these cars are not extraordinary, just useful and functional.  Then you get invited to the “Auto Show”… and the cars there are shiny, luxurious, top- of- the-line in design and function, futuristic, out-of-worldly, gorgeous colors, every detail is amazing and breathtaking!  That is how I view poetry … amazing and breathtaking.

  1. Who are your favorite poets and why? Name some of your favorite poems and why? (Links or copies of these poems would be greatly appreciated)

What I like about most poetry and poets is that there is a very human and urgent need to use words to describe universal feelings and expressions.   Poets are usually ordinary folks who take an extraordinary “look” at what everyone knows and wants.  That’s why the meaning of most poems doesn’t feel dated.

Some of my favorite poets are:

Charles Bukowski:  If you ever wanted to feel “cool” and bask in the sun of “loser-dom” without actually living the pain, Bukowski is your man.  He puts you right there and you see the details of the life of the loner, the drunk, the misfit, the bored, the angry, the sad, and you love his poems for the accuracy and you kinda hate and despise him too.  He’s disgusting to you, but you are grateful to him because you get to live through him without gettingyour hands dirty.  He creates a small beauty in all of his muck.

Here is Bukowski’s poem about his daughter.  It’s called, “Marina.”

Marina

************

majestic, magic

infinite

my little girl is

sun

on the carpet –

out the door

picking a flower, ha!,

an old man,

battle-wrecked,

emerges from his

chair

and she looks at me

but only sees

love,

ha!, and I become

quick with the world

and love right back,

just like I was meant

to do.

Bobby Sands:  (Irish Republican soldier who died in 1981 from hunger in jail after 66 days of starving.  He was protesting against the oppressive British forces who refused to recognize him as a political prisoner, instead of a common criminal).

Bobby Sands is a total romantic character for me.  I used to read his writing when I was a younger girl.  I didn’t really know the particulars or could personally relate to the circumstances of his plight as an IRA soldier, but I could definitely relate to his feelings of being oppressed and confined and written off.  Plus, his need to express himself forced him, in his prison cell, to write on little bits of toilet paper with a pen that he had to hide in one of his personal body cavities.  That is a strong statement on the human need to be heard and what a person would do in order to be heard!

Here is one of my favorite poems of his called “Modern Times”:

It is said we live in modern times,

In the civilized year of ‘seventy-nine,

But when I look around, all I see,

Is modern torture, pain, and hypocrisy.

 

In modern times little children die,

They starve to death, but who dares ask why?

And little girls without attire,

Run screaming, napalmed, through the night alive.

 

And while fat dictators sit upon their thrones,

Young children bury their parents’ bones,

And secret police in the dead of night,

Electrocute the naked woman out of sight.

 

In the gutter lies the black man, dead,

And where the oil flows blackest, the street runs red,

And there was He who was born and came to be,

But lived and died without liberty.

 

As the bureaucrats, speculators and presidents alike,

Pin on their dirty, stinking, happy smiles tonight,

The lonely prisoner will cry out from within his tomb,

And tomorrow’s wretch will leave its mother’s womb!

  1. Have you ever written poetry? Why or why not? (You can share your original poetry if you want to)

Only recently have I tried to write poetry, so it is a brand new skill for me.  I think it never occurred to me to write it before was because of the way it was taught to me as a young student.  I got the impression that poetry could only be written by people who were real writers or English majors, people who were scholarly and knew all the meters and rules of poetry.  And all the poems we read were about love and they rhymed and used Old English or vocabulary that I couldn’t relate to or wrap my mind around.  Poetry felt like calligraphy to me, beautiful to look at, but not necessarily useful for us common folks. Poetry was for those who wanted to impress, not express.

The lack of connection to Poetry pushed me towards the “song.”   Song lyrics became more interesting and relevant to me and they were easier to understand. But lately, since songs to me these days involve instrumentation, musical genres and styles, more about persona and marketing, all this complicates the direct communication of words to ears to meaning.  So with the modern day love of rap music and rappers are becoming modern day wordsmiths, the poem is making a comeback.  Today’s poems have to be impactful, though, pointed, and most of all, socially conscious and reflect part of their listeners’ lives.   Today’s poetry readers have to feel like the poet existed in their minds and said it in the way that they would have said it.

TARI

1) Poetry doesn’t seem to have rules. A poet can evoke any emotion by the fewest words, or the most. Poems are valuable to us in that we don’t necessarily need to understand them to ‘get’ them. They are visceral. Poetry is deeply personal, and can be a full-on attack, or a salve, or anything in-between. Poetry speaks to our singular life experiences, and opens our eyes to other’s. It can be brutally soul-baring, and it can be beautiful, all in the same poem.

2) Charles Bukowski and Emily Dickinson. One is raw like an open wound, the other is genteel, cultured. Both are brilliant, both are honest.

3) I don’t have a favorite from Bukowski. I’m electrified, repulsed, enlightened in some way by most of his work. Emily D never really liked titles, so people gave her poems numbers and used the first line as the title. Poem 314: Hope is the Thing With Feathers is by far my favorite. It’s inspirational and full of that very thing. Hope.

4) I have. Let’s just say I won’t make the mistake of thinking I could maybe ever do that again. So bad.

5) I hold poets, I mean really good poets, in the highest esteem. I believe their ability to cast a naked, unjaded eye and lay bare artifice is unparalleled. I wish I had the ability to turn a phrase like they do, to bend words to their will. As a fiction writer, I use words… poets conduct them.Their social commentary can be, and often is, invaluable and necessary, and it is always deeply rooted in humanity and human emotion, from whatever side they approach. I envy them, even as I celebrate them. I wish I could be them.