Women of Words: A Celebration (aka as My Fantasy Book Discussion Panel)

Not too long ago, the lovely people from Eventbrite burned up some cyberspace and contacted me on writing about my ideal book panel discussion featuring my favorite authors and/or characters. I Googled Eventbrite to see if it was legit or not. Looking pretty darn legit, I quickly contacted them and said I’d love to do it, just give me some time to figure out what authors and/or characters I’d like to have on my panel.

Saying yes to this project was the easy part…coming up with authors and characters was quite another. There are so many authors and characters I adore and nearly worship. I would need a round table as large as Lambeau Field to house them all. What authors and characters do I pick? There are times when just picking out what earrings to wear on a particular day is a monumental task.

First I decided to pick authors only. And then I decided the authors would all be women. This is no slap at the male authors I adore or men in general. It’s just four authors popped into my lady brain and they just happened to be women.

Dorothy Parker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judy Blume
Caitlin Moran
Roxane Gay

What else does a panel discussion need? Well, moderators, of course! We can’t let this discussion run amok, right? Now who would I choose to moderate (well, besides me, of course). I immediately thought of my favorite journalist, Bill Moyers, a lovely gentleman whose curious, thoughtful and empathetic interviewing style would be perfect for this panel and our sure to be scintillating discussion.

Afterward the panel discussion I’d host a post-discussion casual meet and greet for the authors and the audience. I’ll even bring snacks.

Following are the principle players in the Book Self’s First Women of Words: A Celebration (and Potluck).

Writers: Judy Blume, Roxane Gay, Caitlin Moran and Dorothy Parker

Moderators: Bill Moyers-see pic (and me, of course)

Audience: Men and women who love to read (and maybe even write).  I’d pretty much invite fellow bookworms who have a mad love of the written word.

Special VIPs: My mom who got me to read in the first place and introduced me to the wonders of libraries and book stores. My friends, both in my off-line universe, and those I adore via the Internet. They include long-time friends Nora and Elaine Takagi, Jen Locke, Rosie Blythe, Cobalt Stargazer and Tari. I chose these ladies because they are talented writers who have written guest reviews at both my blogs, have blogs themselves and are just incredibly talented writers as a whole.

As for the potluck I’m providing post-discussion and during the meet and greet? Well, I’d offer various types of cookies and brownies, including my treasured sugar mint cookies and dark chocolate brownies with a sea salt caramel glaze, chocolate chip cake, zesty pretzels, various chips and dips including my goat cheese dip, veggie with dill dip, guacamole, hummus and salsa, fruit and veggie platters, a tasty cheese plate with homemade crackers, and various liquid refreshments including my mom’s Brandy Smash.

As I mentioned, I selected four distinct ladies of letters-Judy Blume, Dorothy Parker, Roxane Gay and  Caitlin Moran. The following are reasons why I want them on my panel:

How could I not have my discussion and not feature Judy Blume? When I was a mere lass feeling like a 4th grade nothing, battered by bullying, confused by puberty, and vowing to never name my future male offspring Ralph, Judy was the Man…I mean Woman!!! Whereas other writers wrote about tweens and teens in a way that were both saccharine and unrealistic, Judy wrote about the adolescent experience in realistic ways, which never sugarcoated the issues we faced whether it was getting our periods, sex and masturbation, schoolyard bullying, family strife, religion and social issues. She knew these distinct moments in our lives were of monumental importance and treated the topics and her readers with so much respect.

No panel discussion of mine would be complete with the ghost of Dorothy Parker, whose poetry continues to inspire me. However, I must admit I was initially not a fan of Parker’s. I first heard of Parker when, as an insecure, bespectacled pre-teen, I read her line saying, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Stomping in my Nike sneakers, I thought to myself, “What a mean lady!” But it wasn’t long before I realized the Divine Dorothy was just being snarky and probably pitying those men who didn’t quite get the erotic allure of a girl in glasses. I’m now a huge fan of Parker’s and I consider her to be the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their damn good. How could I not invite her to Women of Words.? You know she’d have plenty to say, and she’d love the Brandy Smash!

Then there are two of my favorite writers I have recently grown to appreciate who are not only fabulous writers, but who are also very proud to claim the word feminist. These women are Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. Both of these women write about the female experience, with clarity, wisdom and richness fully capturing the beauty and ugliness of what it means to be a female in the 21st century. Both Bay and Caitlin have written non-fiction and fictional books that are near and dear to my heart. Both Gay’s collection of short stories in Difficult Women and Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl received rave reviews by the Book Self. And their individual collection of essays, Bad Feminist and Moranifesto are two feminist-minded must-reads.

This discussion could also be a way for Gay to promote her memoir Hunger, which chronicles her experience as a survivor of a gang rape and how it led her to using food as an escape, comfort and shield. Interestingly enough, in Moranifesto Moran tells men two things they need to know about women one is we fear them, that they will hurt us physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This topic alone could make for a very intriguing and mind-blowing discussion.

However, I want this to be so much more! So even though I want this to be a free floating discussion of writing, I also have some questions Moyers and I could throw out to the panel. They are as follows:

  1. What did they read when they were little girls and why?
  2. When did they start to write and why? What did they write? Who are their favorite authors and books from their girlhood to today? Who are these authors and books and authors their favorites?
  3. When did they realize writing was their vocation?
  4. What inspires them to write?
  5. Describe their version of writer’s block. How do they cope with writer’s block?
  6. Describe the good, bad and the ugly of being writers, especially women writers.
  7. Describe what it is like to write non-fiction, fiction, poetry, journalistic features, and so on, both the similarities and the differences.
  8. What is the one book they wish they wrote?
  9. Discuss their future plans.
  10. Advice for writers.

After the panel discussion we’d have a Q & A session where the audience gets to ask the panel their own questions.

Later, we’d sum up the occasion with a casual meet and greet/potluck. However, we’d have to tell Dorothy Parker she has to smoke outside and keep her from bogarting the Brandy Smash.

I must admit I had fun writing this and I’m so happy Eventbrite asked me to be a part of this. I also realized there is so much I want to discuss with these ladies that it might take up more than one session. We could make this a week-end event!

Eventbrite offers great book-related events all over. If you ‘d like to find a book event near you check out this registration online tool.

Advertisements

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.

Writer’s Block

I hope everyone is having a fun March. I know I am. My birthday was on the second, and I spent my day treating myself. Also, my friends Nora and Elaine treated me to a mini-vacay and it couldn’t have been better. I just adore my friends, and I can’t thank them enough for making my birthday extra special.

I’ve also been dealing with some busyness in my off-line life both professionally and personally. And I also have to brag, my film-related blog, Popcorn In My Bra, is doing well, and I’m gaining followers and fans.

But don’t worry, The Book Self, is still close to my heart, so look for more reviews shortly. I just finished the latest book from Caitlin Moran, Moranifesto, and it is a knock-out! You might remember me reviewing her novel How to Build a Girl a while back.

I’m also in the middle of a delicious novel that I can’t wait to review, too. It’s film-related so I’ll also post my review to Popcorn In My Bra.

Just so happy for great books and great writers!!!

Why Read? by Guest Reviewer NoraTallTree (A Book Review of Sorts)

barbara's+bookstore-01This isn’t a book review. However, it is a review of how a Japanese-American girl raised by a single father in a gritty, pre-gentrified Chicago discovered a love for reading through a small, somewhat anarchic independent book shop called Barbara’s Bookstore. To learn more about NoraTallTree, read her bio below.*

So let me tell you about myself. I’ve officially become “middle-aged” this year. I’m not too sad about it – just stating the facts. I’m accepting of it because 1. I don’t really have a choice, do I? and 2. I don’t want to be any other age. I mean that I don’t want to go back or forward in time or age. I think younger people have it way worse than I do (i.e. look at their bleak future!) and the older generations always seem befuddled and mournful for their lost youth. I’m at the perfect age that I can do both: I can be woeful and relate along with younger people in “real time” and I can wish for the “good ole days” with older folk.

I can do this, especially the latter, because I sort of remember the “olden days” or at least I remember the wanting for the old days to come back. It seems like ever since Reagan was in office, there has been a standardized American cultural yearning for “olden days” or perceived “simpler times.” I don’t really know if say, the 1950’s, was really a simpler time – in my opinion, no time is simpler if women frequently had to wear girdles and had to defrost meat without a microwave, but so be it! Who am I to argue? There is a definite and palpable perceived impression that these times were the “Golden Age” and the best days of America.

Since I am too young to have really lived through the girdle years and the turbulent 1960’s, I can go right along with my elders missing those years. I don’t have any real memories or regrets because I wasn’t there, so my yearning for simpler times is just a mental entertaining exercise for me. It’s like remembering the best scenes from an episode of your favorite childhood TV show: You remember the best stuff, which describes about 5 minutes’ worth, at the most, and you edit or erase the drivel that represents the majority or the rest of the program!

But what is real and nostalgic for me is my love for books. Love, love, love books and its motherlode flagship – the bricks-and-mortar bookstore! There is no other out-of-body experience for me or as intoxicating as walking those first few steps into a bookstore – the smell of strong coffee (thanks to the modern bookstore with its Starbucks Cafés for wiring this into my sensory brain), bound paper and the smell of, “Is that glue or sugar, paint maybe?”, all mixed in with cold canned air! WOW! Isn’t that the best?!! It my “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” nirvana/heaven, slightly orgasmic moment – POP! It instantly calms me and presses my “happy” button. No one is truly alone or can be unhappy at a bookstore – it’s just not possible!

The love for the bricks-and-mortar bookstore goes back to my childhood. I have memories of growing up in 1970’s urban Chicago’s Lake View area. Instead of going to a proper after-school sports program at the nearest field house like my 10 year old contemporaries did, I would walk a mile or two through an interesting, sketchy neighborhood (considered downright “red light” by today’s standards) to the alternative/gay/radical Barbara’s Bookstore. (Obviously helicopter parenting wasn’t invented just yet).

Lake View, back then was the hosting neighborhood for a wide range of diverse group elements – Latin street gangs, aging hippies (that time’s “hipsters” – the owners of the crafts/ethnic/back-to-the-earth, think lots of macramé); pockets of Jewish-ness, anchored down by their temple; gay forefathers and newly out gay singles and the chase for the latest young hot trade (obviously pre-AIDS); seedy SROs (why are all the tenants missing teeth?) and pay by the half-hour hotels. The random Japanese-American businesse,. leftover from post-WWII Chicago neighborhood segregation made of Japanese-internment-camp- refugees” who weren’t welcomed in any other neighborhood except Lake View where the rents were cheap and they could work at restaurants near Cubs’ ballpark. And no one would rent to the “untrustworthy” Japanese, only except neighborhoods like Lake View. Lake View, in the 1970’s, seemed to be the landing neighborhood that gave respite for all those either going up or down Chicago’s social and economic ladder.

Well back to Barbara’s Bookstore. I would walk past, but more like slink past, the tall cashier’s counter at the front of the store. The male bookstore attendants would ignore me, probably too busy reading their latest socialist/commie/radical rant to look up at me, but there was a woman, I childishly thought she was the actual “Barbara,” who became aware of me and thought I needed adult supervision.

This new bookstore clerk supervision forced me to “slink”. I would wait and go in with other customers, so as to not be seen so much, and go straight to the back. The back-of-the-store is where the magazine section lived, along with its right and left henchmen bookshelves, the self-help/sociology/psychology section and gay/straight/alternative sexuality section. In this little trifecta of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, away from view from the front of the store, I would basically spend about 2-3 hours every school day for years reading the latest periodicals and books.

Let me tell you about how books were arranged back then. First of all, there was no ordained, real order to shelving and “facing” incoming books. I mean after a while the bookstore owners would get lazy and not want to move sections around – at this particular store, there was very heavy art and photography books in the front. You know the kind – the heavy book that costs a lot of money and if it fell off of its high shelf it could kill someone. Plus there were naked people on its cover, seen by giggling kids from the street view. No marketing/sales consultant/child advocate around to tell bookstore owners how to pander to the general public’s taste. No marketer or sales space consultant to shudder in revulsion or gasp at the lack of consideration for big sales. No big box bookstore list to tell you a strategic schema as to where to put which books.

Anyways, for the customers, though, once you were in the store, you were basically left on your own to explore. Even book covers didn’t call out to you with any eye catching or visually stimulating designs, only the titles and authors’ names. (That’s what made romance novels back then really stand apart from real literature, the outlandishly colored covers. They were cheap-looking and garish.) Real literature was bookish and library-ish, not just meant for entertainment like romance novels, but prized for its true meanings and love for words. The “truth” behind its simple cover – that was what was going to sell the book.

(A sidenote: There was also no advertising or posters for any events or books or anything. That was considered “gauche” and commercial…)

So in this maze and forestry of book discovery and word luxuriousness, I flourished and grew up. Books filled in all my missing childhood gaps and taught me how to live in and deal with the general world. Having no mother since I was almost 2 years old, being a latch-key kid (kids ask your moms and dads what that is), and having older siblings who were busy doing their own extracurricular activities, I had no real direction or guidance (maybe “Barbara” at the front was right to worry about me!).

My siblings were extremely smart; I was too, and I had an immense curiosity. After the mags and periodicals became stale, since the sellers would change them only monthly (yes, monthly! and that’s if they felt like it), I would venture to the henchmen bookshelves and end up reading self-help books, religion books, and spiritual books. New Age books before they were deemed “New Age” and sociology and psychology books (yes, folks, there are sections in a bookstore called “sociology and psychology” and they weren’t just all about aberrant crime or anything catastrophic). These books would explain why regular folks are “who they are” and “why they do things” – either as individuals or as groups.

Books gave me the vocabulary and some semblance of social awareness that was lacking in my lonely and singular sphere. I mean what’s a “woman, living in the post-feminist movement” should be thinking or feeling about her world? (Granted I was 10 years old but I wanted to know about “my body, myself”). Who would teach me how to be woman? My old-fashioned Japanese father? The one who grew up in post-WWI Japan? The one indoctrinated and marinated in “bushido code”? (What is bushido code, by the way? A book in the sociology section would know and be available to read!).

A free-roaming, disorganized bookstore would have something on any subject and topic. Since the bookstore is kind of organically random, I had to learn to use word association and thought siphoning to help me field my way through. Exploring all kinds of books gave me some pretty good highly educated guesses and theories that were tailor-made for me by me. I learned how to find out how to “find out” answers, ask questions, explore feelings, describe emotions, learned what was normal, what wasn’t, what works, what doesn’t and why it doesn’t, and most of all – the beauty of words and its power when it clicks and resonates with you. Reading books allow you to test your theories without having to risk living them out, experience cultures you’ll never meet in real life (like an African tribe who shuns all technology and outsiders) and learn about events you’ll never know anyone personally who was involved, like reading a book about Tibetan Monks who were deposed from their homeland in the 1950’s. Reading novels can put the words in your mouth and help you clearly define your thoughts, even if the stories are from a couple of centuries ago and from the other side of the world!

Books also keep you company, distract you from your daily worries and anxieties, broaden your world in taste and beauty – self-discovery at your fingertips. It’s one of the greatest pleasures this world has to offer, having been made solely from and of this world, and helps you create your own world within the world.

Hi, I’m NoraTallTree. I’m a person stuck in the middle: In-between Baby Boom I and Baby Boom II, punk or hippie principles, both groups simultaneously exciting me and also get on my nerves; stuck between Christianity passion & Buddhist calmness; stuck between American boldness & Japanese subtlety; I’m even stuck in the Midwest, between both coasts. Sounds kind of mixed-up, doesn’t it?!! Oh, well, it’s just me.