Book Review: The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree-Words from the Heart edited by Mrs. Fields


Note: Over 10 years ago I reviewed this book for a U2 fansite. In honor of Poetry month, I decided to dust it off, make a few revisions, and publish it here at The Book Self.

U2 fans are not your typical rock and roll fans. Sure, they buy the CDs, download their music, and go to the concerts, but being a U2 fan is so much more than that. U2 fans are motivated. They are inspired to open their minds, learn new things, and get involved in causes bigger than themselves. However, they are also inspired to use own creativity. This is evident in a slim, yet powerful book of poetry and short stories called The Little Red Book of Poet-ee-tree: Words from the Heart.

The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree is a volume containing heartfelt prose by a collection of U2 fans throughout the globe. Their love of U2’s music and the written word lead these fans to The Heart. The Heart was an Internet poetry forum where writers cultivated their writing skills, shared their work with others, and got their creative juices flowing. Sadly, it shut down in 2003, but fortunately for the Heart community, U2 fans, and lovers of good writing, the works created for the Heart are not lost forever. They are compiled into The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree.

All the royalties of The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree went to the African Well Fund, a charity founded in 2002 by a group of U2 fans to provide a clean water sources to many African communities. The African Well Fund has built and supplied clean water and sanitation projects in Uganda, Angola and Zimbabwe. The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree was just one part of the African Well Fund’s comprehensive vision to help others.

The poets published in The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree write about love and loss, heartbreak and joy. They write with clear-eyed optimism and downcast despair. These poems take us on a journey of both the writers’ hearts and souls, and our individual interpretations to their work. Some poems a mere few lines, whereas others nearly tell a story.

Jennifer’s startling “Modern Day Warfare” uses the frightening images of mustard-gas lies and biological-warfare thoughts, along with rat-ta-tat fists to chillingly describe abuse both emotional and physical.

Kel, in the poem “Africa” describes the continent as a living, breathing human female, inhaling her warm earthy air. This poem puts a very personal face on one’s personal journey throughout the African landscape.

Mrs. F. conveys the love a mother has for her children in the poem “Earth and Angels.” Phrases like “He darts in dizzy zig zags…Listens wide-eyed, hoots at the owl” and “Head filled with fairies and music…She skips and sings” give us an intimate look at the special qualities that make our sons and daughters so special to us.

All the poems, whether short or lengthy, are very strong, and open to many interpretations. I don’t know how these poets came to their words. Sometimes a poem just comes to someone and easily flows out onto paper. Sometimes constructing a poem is like throwing a bunch of words into the air, and then constructing a poem using the scattered words. However the poems came to be in this book, they came through what Allen Ginsberg once called, “ordinary magic.”

Several short stories are also collected in The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree. When writing a short story, writers also face challenges. Writers need to grab the reader and tell a complete story in a short amount of words. And these stories have to be engaging, draw the reader in, and achieve a believable conclusion without seeming to be tacked on in haste.

This is expertly done in Laurie CK’s “Pennycake.” In this story, carefree memories of a 1970’s childhood are recalled with its birthday rituals and lazy summer days. The brief mentions of Noxzema, Keith Partridge, and 8-Track tapes give the reader a strong idea of a certain place in time. This story also evokes what it is like to be a child facing real life unexpected grief and a subsequent loss of faith.

The one quibble I do have with this book (and it is a minor one) is the limited amount of writers. I don’t know if this is because only a few writers were accepted or only a few writers chose to submit their work. This could also be because the Heart was a small group to begin with. If anything this book begs for a sequel.

 

Book Review: The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kedzior

When not being ignored by the two coasts, flyover country is being celebrated as where the “real Americans” live, usually by conservative pundits. And to these pundits, real Americans are defined as white and for the most part living in the suburbs or rural areas who define themselves as conservative Christians.

But not so fast, living in flyover country, I know we are a much more diverse bunch and so does Sarah Kedzior, which she sums up in her collection of essays The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America.

A reporter for Al Jazeera America and residing in St. Louis, Missouri, Kedzior’s essays focus on such thorny topics as race, income inequality, the friction among generations, education, foreign policy, the media, women’s issues and so much more.

Kedzior starts off The View from Flyover Country with an introduction rolling out what her collection of essays is all about, giving the reader a clear idea on what to expect among its six parts.

In Part One, Flyover Country, Kedzior defines flyover country and topics such as how expensive cities are killing creatives and hipster economics.

Part Two, Post-Employments, explains issues of survival, how workers are paying a steep price, zilch opportunities and how sometimes these issues make people do extreme things like lighting themselves on fire.

Race and religion define Part Three, where Kedzior writes about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder, Black Lives Matter, and what happened in Ferguson in the wake of Mike Brown being gunned down by police.

In Part Four Kedzior examines the broken promise of a higher education, and how school debt has crippled countless smart, hard-working and talented graduates. She also decries the deplorable pay of adjunct professors who work tirelessly to educate our students.

Part Five is a careful examination of our media and how gaining access seems to be only available to the well-connected elite (don’t I know it!) and the problem of fringe media in the Internet age.

Foreign policy makes up Part Six when it comes to gender, Edward Snowden, the situation in Iraq and basic human rights.

Finally, Kedzior sums things up with a standout essay on the importance of complaining. If people didn’t complain, women wouldn’t have the right to vote, black people would still be at the back of the bus, and gay people wouldn’t be able to marry those they love.

While reading The View Flyover Country, I marked several pages with post-it notes and wrote down some key quotes and passages in my well-worn notebook. Kedzior writes in a down-to-earth way with smarts and clarity. She truly cares about these issues and implores us to also care about them.

The View from Flyover Country is a treasure of a book and is ideal for both the college classroom and book discussion groups everywhere.

“Author! Author!” An Interview with A.R. Geiger

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I first made A.R Geiger’s acquaintance when I joined Twitter. We connected as readers and writers, but I knew I had to follow her because of the inspiring things she writes that urges writers to keep going on no matter what hurdles or challenges they face. So I am very honored to have interviewed Ms. Geiger. She’s an absolute delight.

1. First, give me a brief bio about yourself, where you grew up,  education, where you live now, writing jobs, other jobs, like and dislikes, whatever you want to share.

 

 I’m a Jesus-loving traveler, a reader, and a mythology enthusiast! My bookshelves are always overcrowded. I believe that all books have something to teach us, whether they are truth or fiction, history or myth. My stories are my heart and soul. They stem from places I’ve visited and things I’ve seen. Airplanes are my happy place! I’ve backpacked through Southern Europe, eaten snails in France, bought books in Portugal, and lived in a castle on the beach in Scotland for four months. (I vacuumed the hallways every week. Apparently, this is called ‘hoovering’ in Europe.) I’ve ridden elephants in Cambodia, slept on buses and church floors, and fallen in love with cultures very different from my own. To quote Mary Anne Radmacher, “I am not the same for having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.
The places I’ve seen have
seriously influenced my work and the stories I tell. Words are my art supplies, and I am passionate about painting an honest, accurate picture of life in every sphere of society. I have been writing for five years, but I was making up stories long before I learned to put them down on paper.

 

2. When did you you start writing and why?

I have always been coming up with stories and writing many of them down, but I started writing seriously when I turned eighteen. I was on a trip that turned out to be very boring for me, and I needed a distraction! Thus, my novel was born, packed into the notes section of an iPod touch. Once I started, I was hooked, and I haven’t been able to stop since. I have too many stories in my head to let them all wither and die.


3. How does your Christian faith inspire and influence your writing?
God is very much the center of my writing and the center of my life. Without Him, I would have given up long ago. I pray every morning before I start writing, and He gives me the ideas and creativity that I need to continue! When I get stuck on a problem, my solution is always to take a break, get away, and ask God what He thinks. He always seems to always have a solution for me. When I was still living at home, I had a quote written on my wall next to my computer that read, “Have you asked the Master Storyteller?” It helped remind me who was really the master of my stories.

4. What do you write and why?
I write YA fantasy, most of it centered around Justice and the reality of Human Trafficking. This is an area of passion for me, as I have spent time studying and working with people escaping from it.

5. What challenges do you face as a writer? Describe a typical writing day. 
Time. The hardest challenge I have right now is fitting writing time in between two jobs. Writing has not begun to pay for me quite yet, and so my stories have to fit themselves into the bits and pieces of my day when I’m not working to make ends meet. Sometimes that means waking up early or staying up late, sometimes it means being very intentional with an hour. Somehow I’ve always managed to keep my stories going, even in my hardest seasons.

6. Who are your favorite writers and why?
Cornelia Funke. Her Inkworld series is one of the best fantasy trilogies on the market. Hands down. After that . . . hmmm. J.R.R Tolkien, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, John Flanagan, Brian Jacques, Charlotte Brontë. . . I could send you a list a mile long and still come up with other names. Words are my passion and books are my obsession.

7. What are your future plans? What do you aspire to?
My plans are a little shaky right now! But I would love to be a self-supporting author and do lots of traveling. My passion is to tell people’s stories and give a voice to those who have none. I’ve written one biography already, for a man who was a Vietnam war vet and a missionary. I’d love to do more! Right now, the difficulty is finding the time . . . I’ve got at least two others who would like me to write their stories! Someday.
More on A.R. Geiger

Book Review: The Common Good by Robert B. Reich

Considering I gave Robert B. Reich’s Saving Capitalism a rave review, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of the former secretary of Labor under President Clinton. So I am thrilled to give Reich’s latest book, The Common Good, another rave review.

The Common Good is a call to arms to anyone who cares about the state of our country and all of its citizens.

And when I mention a call to arms I don’t mean guns and ammunition. This book is a call for us to bring a sense of empathy, sensibility and basic human decency when it comes to politics, business, religion, education, media, activism, and our communities as a whole. And The Common Good is written in an enthusiastic and perceptive manner that will connect with a wide audience.

The Common Good is divided into three distinct parts:

1. What Is the Common Good?

2. What Happened to the Common Good?

3. Can the Common Good By Restored?

Part one is a primer on the common good. It starts out using the sheer awfulness of Martin Shrekeli and how he fully encompasses what is not the common good.

As part one moves on Reich explains both the common good most of us share and origins of the common good.

In part two Reich examines what exactly happened to our nation’s common good through a 3-prong dismantling of the common good’s structure. Believe me, it’s not pretty.

But before readers gnash their teeth in despair, Reich wraps things up with a manifesto on how we can restore the common good, which includes leadership we can trust, the use of honor and shame, resurrecting truth and finally but most importantly reviving civic education for all citizens starting in grade school and high school.

Some of ideas may be a bit difficult to implement and others will be quite simple. But all are vital.

The Common Good is written in an audience-friendly style that instructs and inspires and will hold your interest long after you are done reading it.  I can’t recommend it enough. The Common Good is both timely and timeless.

Book Review: Book Review: First Hired, Last Fired- How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market by Anita Agers-Brooks

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In this age of unemployment and underemployment, employees fully engaged in the work place and those seeing new career opportunities are facing countless challenges. They fear losing their jobs or that big promotion. They are dealing with stagnant wages and raises that don’t come through. Sometimes they deal with less than ideal managers, co-workers, subordinates and clients. And we can’t forget dealing the global market.

And then there are the insurmountable odds of finding new employment with obstacles that didn’t seem to exist just a decade ago.

So it is no wonder, people are turning to books to develop the skills to make them stand out and shine as a true asset in the workplace. One book is Anita Agers-Brooks book First Hired, Last Fired- How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market.

In First Hired, Last Fired Agers-Brooks, uses passages from the Bible inspire and help employees of all kinds to make them completely invaluable in the workplace and thrive and grow whether they are the boss or a subordinate.

Now, a lot of advice in this book is just plain common sense (or at least should be) to a majority of people no matter their religious leanings. Agers-Brooks is a conservative Christian and I’m a liberal who was raised Roman Catholic but now a church-going Unitarian Universalist. But I definitely agree with the author we should have such characteristics like a strong work ethic, integrity, a mostly positive attitude and sense of reliability and responsibility. I also appreciate what I call the 4 Cs-Compassion, Creativity, Curiosity, and Common Sense.

First Hired, Last Fired is laid out in several chapters with characters as both employees and managers dealing with not only work challenges but also facing challenges at home. In one part, Agers-Brooks shows these characters in less than ideal lot. In the second part, Agers-Brooks shows these characters in more positive way using passages from the Bible on how to make their work and personal lives better, therefore, making them also irreplaceable in the workplace of their choice.

As I read this book I found the stories rather fantastical and Agers-Brooks writing style verges a bit over the top. She really loads on the purple prose. She tries a bit too hard to fit various people from the Bible to fit her characters’ situations. For the most part, it’s all about God being the sole way of making things work out to sheer perfection in any and all workplace situations. It was as if God (especially from the conservative Christian viewpoint) is a fairy Godfather who will grant everyone’s wish, not bringing in the challenges we face in that have nothing to do with the real world of sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, and all kinds of bigotry, not to mention a corporate culture where selfishness and greed are considered virtues, not vices.

I hate to come across like a hater. I truly believe Agers-Brooks means well. Furthermore, she’s been an employee and as someone who has her own business, she’s spent time dealing with challenges as a boss and leader. She does know her stuff. I’ve been an employee, but I’ve also acted as a manager and a leader, and at times I’ve often looked to my faith to guide me in certain work situations. But I also know some things can’t worked out using religious teachings whether one is using the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, or other faith-based ideas.

Now, without a doubt, I’m probably not the ideal audience for First Hired, Last Hired considering my more liberal and progressive leanings. But to those who share Agers-Brooks more religious and right winged POV, First Hired, Last Fired might make for ideal reading.

Book Review: Summoning Grace by Samsara Saj

Late last year, thanks to my presence on the website BookBloggerList, several authors have reached out to me to read and review their books. Many of these authors are fledgling writers and these books (some of them self-published) are their “babies” and as with any baby, I want to handle them with thoughtfulness and care. So I have to keep this in mind in my review of Samasara Saj’s novel Summoning Grace.

The back jacket of Summoning Grace is as follows:

“Bridget McKenna, a lawyer practicing for more than twenty-five years, has disturbing recollections from her childhood after a family birthday party. As she tries to handle the impact of these revelations, she turns to Jack Cassidy, the only man she ever loved, with whom she has not been in touch for three years. Being with Jack helps her connect the dots regarding the work she does as an attorney, where the corruption of politics and the ugliness of domestic violence reveal to Bridget the sexual shoals a woman must navigate. By contacting Jack, she starts the process of reaching into her soul for the reckoning that awaits her.

Once she reconciles herself to the darkness of her painful past, through the grace of God, she finds the strength to summon all the faith, courage, and grace that she can, to deal with professional obstacles, family loss, and her greatest challenge, rescuing her only brother, Joe.

Told in eighteen chapters, Summoning Grace explores the deepest self-examination a woman can undertake, providing her the wisdom and understanding to help those she loves with kindness and dignity.”

This summary is a bit of a bait and switch. Little of this book focuses on Cassidy and domestic violence. Nor does Summoning Grace focus on Bridget’s past. Also the book jacket classifies this novel as a romance, but it is more of a family story. Therefore the second and third paragraphs are a better description of this novel over-all.

Bridget’s family, the McKennas, are a loving and close-knit family who join forces when only son Joe gets seriously ill. The McKennas decide to work together to help Joe and his family in a very trying time. I liked the idea of a family being functional and totally messed up. It comforted me like a bowl of chicken soup.

However, when dealing with Joe’s illness Bridget is convinced she is the only one who can handle his care, even more so than the hospital staff. Not only did I find this to be a slap in the face to the people who work in the medical field, I also thought it gave short shrift to Joe’s wife, children and the other McKenna siblings.

Bridget is also a rather off-putting in her law career. Only she can handle the profession and everyone from her colleagues to her clients are incompetent losers.

To add to Bridget’s “Mary Sue” perfection, she is a diva in the kitchen, a true Julia Child reincarnated. And when it comes to family get togethers and holidays, she always brings masterful dishes. Considering she’s busy with Joe and her career, I found this element a bit implausible.

Ultimately by making Bridget an ideal person—loving sister, top notch attorney and fabulous chef—Saj has given us a character who is really insufferable and without complex layers. I like characters who have their share of flaws and who are multi-dimensional. These characters are more relatable and interesting to read.

Still I must commend Saj for at least writing a book. She’s technically proficient and I respect her deep faith. I believe she has the ability to write a better book and I believe she wants to express herself with love and hope in her heart. These are noble ideas and much needed in our challenging world.

So though I can’t recommend Summoning Grace, I can encourage Samsara Saj to keep on writing. Don’t let my review deter you.

Book Review: Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community

I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with self-help books, whether it comes to the personal, professional, romantic, and so on. I’ve read my share of self-help books in my life time and I’ve acquired quite a list of the good, bad, and downright ugly.

I can happily proclaim C. Paul Schroeder’s Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community belongs in the good category.

In Practice Makes Purpose, Schroeder takes six ancient ideas and updates for our modern age, which let’s face it, my readers, is often confusing, frightening and downright overwhelming.

What are the six practices you ask? Quite simply they break down to the following:

  1. Compassionate Seeing
  2. Heartfelt Listening
  3. Intentional Welcoming
  4. Joyful Sharing
  5. Grateful Receiving
  6. Cooperative Building

Each of these six spiritual practices starts with a singular issue and ends with an actual practice. Between these two points includes steps Schroeder lays out at as the fix, the deep dive, the mantra, and the challenge, which are fully described in all six of these practices.

For instance, in compassionate seeing, Schroeder asks the reader to view ourselves and others with complete and unconditional acceptance. Now, this does not mean you condone someone’s behavior. Some people are just awful but get the “story behind the story” to find out why they are awful before you completely write them off. Compassionate seeing helps us connect with others and realize how we are all interconnected in various ways. Without compassionate seeing we are in danger of unraveling, which depletes us as individuals and depletes our communities.

As Practice Makes Purpose goes through all its parts, Schroeder describes in full the barriers we may face as well as the triumphs we can achieve. He does this with a clear and concise writing style that is practical, empathetic and audience-friendly. Once a Greek Orthodox Priest, Schroeder is wise enough to realize not every reader is a Christian, so he refrains from strict religious terms that may be off-putting. Nor is this book some odd bit of new age fluff that may turn off readers of more traditional religious orders.

While reading Practice Makes Purpose, I was struck how practical and easy I could use this advice in my own life when dealing with challenging people and predicaments. His advice is healthy in it respects our need to be open to others (his advice when it comes to heartfelt listening, “Tell me more” appeals to the writer in me and I also appreciate how he discusses the boundaries we may need to use in other situations. Yes, be open but don’t get steamrolled by others. I also deserve compassion.

What else do I like Practice Makes Purpose? This book is less than two hundred pages. It can be read in day during a binge read. It can be read piecemeal if you are dealing with a situation or person that requires reflection on only one or two of the six practices. You can easily carry this book in a handbag or knapsack, and its practices can be interwoven in one’s home and workplace. I would love to see all six practices used in our children’s schooling (especially in the wake of the horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida).

As for my life? I am now using Practice Makes Purpose when it comes to my self-care, especially when it comes to my mental health issues. I recently took up meditation and six one-sentence mantras Schroeder provide within this book is now part of my meditation practice.

At this point, Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community are thee right words, in the right book, at the right time.