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.

 

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“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: Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions by JR Helton

In his memoir, Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions, JR Helton (who goes by the name Jake in the book), visits his younger years in 1980s Austin, Texas. It’s a time of working shitty barely blue collar gigs that are hardly on the fast track to respectability and career success. And it’s also a time when he found himself on a never ending cycle of crappy decisions, which included a bad marriage, toxic friends and family members, drugs and alcohol and educational aspirations cast to the wayside.

Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions begins with Jake dropping out of the University of Texas-Austin to try his hand making it as a writer. Alas, Jake has to give up his writing ambitions and find himself a “real job.” His first job is a soul-sucking job with Austin Paint and Spray, which morphs into other awful painting jobs working with dangerous chemicals and even more dangerous co-workers and shitty bosses. Helton writes about his co-workers in exquisite detail that they spring to life on every page.

Jake’s personal life is also in shambles. He’s married to his high school sweetheart, Susan, but their marriage proves to be more sour if not outright dysfunctional. The only thing these two lovebirds have going for them is a really hot sex life. Whereas, Jake eeks out a living painting, Susan takes on bunch of lowly office jobs, but soon finds her way into Austin’s growing movie production scene where she often has affairs with her co-workers, throwing it back in Jake’s face every chance she gets.

And it doesn’t help that Susan’s parents make for less than ideal in-laws. Her father is a washed-up football star with serious mental health issues and her mother is a faded, has-been actress.

But don’t feel sorry for Jake just yet. He proves to be less than an ideal husband. He’s sullen and misanthropic. His communication skills are almost non-existent. And he spends most of his time with Susan pissed off and has a strangely flirtatious relationship with her mother.

As for his own family? Well, they don’t come across quite some cuddly and lovable either.

And thus Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions goes on-Jake working one bad job after another and making poor decisions, which hound him in his younger years until he finally realizes it’s time to grow up and get it together when it comes to work, education, his substance abuse and to his too long marriage to Susan.

Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions is a memoir that reads like a novel, a bit similar to Ariel Gore’s We Were Witches. It also reminded me of two other memoirs of poverty and blue collar life-Linda Tirado’s Hand to Mouth and Ben Hamper’s Rivethead. It is a book written with true to life characters, a compelling plot and richly-detailed dialogue.

And though Jake is a bit of an anti-hero, he is one you end up rooting for especially once Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions reaches its satisfying end, which of course, you’ll have to read yourself.

 

 

 

Book Review: Shrill-Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West

I’ve been a fan of writer Lindy West since her Jezebel.com days. Whether she was writing about pop culture or social issues, I found her writing voice to witty and wise,  a welcome relief from tiresome clickbait and lazy listicles.

So it was a thrill to read West’s memoir Shrill: Notes From a Loud woman.

Growing up,  West was nerdy, shy and fat, not exactly a recipe for success. Yet, she was able to find success, both professionally and personally, once she became an adult and found her voice.

And though her voice brought her admirers it also brought her haters,  mostly obnoxious trolls.

You see West is a woman with an opinion. She’s also fat. How dare she!

Through her feature articles and opinion pieces, West expressed her disdain for rape jokes and the struggles with body shaming. In response, she often faced horrific comments telling her she should be raped and ripped her apart for not being a tiny size two.

West fully describes in Shrill what it was like to be caught up in hail storm of hatred. It was a time of loneliness and tears,  vulnerability and anger, but it was also a time where West found support, decency, empathy and a the will to go on as a writer and just person trying to live her life

But in the end West triumphed. She triumphed so much a troll even reached out to her to apologize.

Today, West is having the last laugh. Shrill is gaining lots of praise, including praise from two of my faves, Caitlin Moran and Samantha Irby. Now based in Seattle West now writes for GQ,  The Guardian,, and other assorted highly respected publications. She founded the advice blog for teenagers called I Believe You/It’s Not Your Fault. West is also blessed with a loving family and a happy marriage. Hmm, maybe being shrill isn’t such a bad thing.

Though Shrill is West’s story, it’s also the story of every woman with an opinion and  one who doesn’t fit into our society’s slender notion on how to behave…and look like. I highly recommend it.

On the Books: An Interview With Elizabeth Jahns

For quite a long time I have been very fortunate to have book-related professionals reach out to me to read and review various books among other things. These people have inspired me to start a new series called “On the Books,” a Q & A feature with authors, publicists, editors, publishers, interns among others to tell me about their experiences in the book biz. My first interview is with Elizabeth Jahns, who interned with Beacon Publishing Group. Ms. Jahns was instrumental in getting my interview with Kip Addotta. She impressed me with her professionalism and enthusiasm and I thought she would make for a good interview.

First, can I get some background information on your college education, major and work history.

I attended Sarah Lawrence College and received a Bachelor of Arts degree, concentrating in English and Creative Writing. Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to work with words. However, when I got to college, I wanted to explore different subjects and see what else was out there, just to make sure that books/writing was really what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing, since I’d never really done anything else. I considered majoring in Political Science, in Philosophy, and even (very briefly) going Pre-Med. What I wanted to do, above all, was make the world a better place. Becoming a writer or a literary agent seemed a trivial thing in comparison to following the path of, say, Mother Teresa. I completed internships with Student World Assembly (a now defunct nonprofit whose main goal was to raise global awareness regarding human rights issues and to get college students involved in the process) and the Mary J. Blige Center for Women (a center in Yonkers, NY that offers programs for women that empower them to pursue personal goals and become self-sufficient). However, after a couple years of this, I realized that what I truly wanted to do was work with words, either by writing or in the publishing industry, or both, and that I would strive to make the world a better place by whatever means were available to me through those channels.

After college, my husband and I moved to Columbia, Missouri, where I got a job as a barista and wrote during my free time. I am currently working as a Financial Associate at a bank here in Columbia. We are planning to relocate to Kansas City within the next few months, where I believe that more publishing opportunities will be available to me.

How did you get your internship and why Beacon? What were your duties? Describe a typical day. What challenges did you face and what was the best thing your internship? What advice would you give to other interns?

This is the very first publishing internship I’ve done. I had been searching for a remote internship on Indeed.com, as I was eager to gain experience in publishing and build my skill set, and I saw that Beacon Publishing Group had posted a position that would allow me to do just that. My duties so far have been to query book bloggers and reviewers who may be interested in reviewing our recent publications and/or interviewing our authors. Since I am completing this internship remotely, I can’t really say what a typical day looks like. Usually, I’m sitting at my laptop sending out these queries on my lunch hour at work or after I get home in the evening.

The best thing about my internship has been the experience I’ve gained by seeing how a small publishing house gets their publications in the public eye. Media coverage and bestsellers don’t just happen; a lot of work goes into it behind the scenes.

As far as pieces of advice for other interns, I have two that I think are important. Number one: do your best. This may sound trite, but it is something that will set you apart from others. If you are consistently pleasant and upbeat, while delivering impeccable work that you’ve obviously spent valuable time working on, you are going to catch someone’s eye. Number two: keep in touch with your internship supervisor(s) after the internship is over. Add them on LinkedIn and other social media, and regularly like/comment on their posts. Send them articles that you think they would enjoy. Keep on their radar. Building relationships like this is crucial in any industry. No one can get to the top alone.

 What are your future plans?

My future plans are to move with my husband to Kansas City within the next few months, where I hope that I’ll find more opportunities to pursue a career in publishing. I want to continue gaining experience by completing remote internships, eventually transitioning to paid online work, such as freelance writing. I would love to get back to New York City at some point, although this is more of a long-term goal right now.

Favorite books and why?

My two favorite books in the world are The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I read them over and over again. The sense of disillusionment and loss that permeates The Great Gatsby is something that I relate to more and more as I grow older. I don’t mean that that’s all my life is–definitely not! But those are sensations that I think many people feel at some point in their lives. The characters in the novel are also larger than life (as were F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald themselves), which is why I think it has translated so well into film, and which is something that I enjoy in general. My friends would not hesitate to describe me as “extra,” an adjective that I proudly embrace, so it’s not surprising that this is the kind of novel toward which I gravitate.

As for The Bell Jar. When I first read it in high school, I couldn’t believe that Sylvia Plath, a woman who had died over a quarter century before my birth, had somehow reached into my consciousness and plucked out these secret feelings and thoughts that I thought were just mine. It was a realization that I wasn’t alone in my particular darkness. (Like Plath, I also dropped out of college temporarily due to my declining mental health.) Each time I read it, I feel the same way. I’m comforted by the fact that I’m not imagining this patriarchal oppression (even now, 55 years after the novel’s original publication), and by the fact that another female head has housed these same dark and self-destructive thoughts. And, most of all, I’m consoled by the fact that this well-educated, twenty-something young protagonist, with whom I seem to have a lot in common, also struggled with anxiety and doubt on her journey toward selfhood and fulfillment.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions!

 

 

 

“Author! Author!” Writers in Their Own Words

I’ve been very fortunate to read and review some wonderful books. But I’ve never had the chance to interview any authors…until now. Thanks to the lovely Elizabeth Jahns from Beacon Publishing Group, I was able to interview the iconic comedian Kip Addotta about his memoir “Confessions of a Comedian.”

According to his website‘s bio, Mr. Addotta has appeared on such classic programs like “The Tonight Show” and the syndicated show “Make Me Laugh.”  He was also featured on “The Larry Sanders Show.” Not only a stand up comedian, Mr. Addotta is also a talented songwriter who wrote songs such as “Wet Dream,” “Big Cock Roach,” “Life in the Slaw Lane,” and “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus.” Some of these songs were featured on the the Dr. Demento radio program. In 1995, Addotta released the DVD “Live From Maximum Security!”

What inspired you to write a book?

I thought it was time to write the story of my life and help other comedians become better at the art of stand-up comedy.

Who inspired you to write your “Confessions of a Comedian”?

Steve Martin’s book, “Born Standing Up.”

How did you prepare to write this book?

I simply began putting down my memories:

“From the first interactions with “The Mob” in his early childhood, his nightmarish life with his father until he was on his own at 15 years of age, through his marriages, and how he became one of the best and most famous stand-up comedians of his time, Kip Addotta tells all. He names names and details the how-to and fine-tuning of comedy.”

Is your memoir arranged in a time?  If not, how and why?

It starts from when I was eighteen months old and ends at the present time!

What are the similarities and differences between writing a book and stand-up comedy?

They are two totally different things and it was difficult to write both!

What challenges/difficulties did you face when writing your book?

Remembering the order in which things happened and making my point without being ponderous!

What experiences do you feel were significant for you? (personally or career wise)

Meeting Jack Benny and trying to find my mother!

What difficulties did you overcome writing this memoir?

It gave me the opportunity to explain my behavior to my family and friends.

Did you include photographs? Do any of them hold any significance to you?

Yes I did and the ones of my grandmother, who raised me and my uncle Victor who were both Made members of Bonanno crime family!

What else should people know about “Confessions of a Comedian”?

That it is a true story!

What are your future plans? Will you continue to write?

I have another book in mind, but can’t divulge any information now so as not to impair the sales of my current book “Confessions of a Comedian.”

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am amazed at the response to my current book and the fact that people are finding it so entertaining!

For more information on Kip Addotta, his comedic work and his memoir “Confessions of a Comedian visit the following links:

Kip Addotta’s Website

Amazon

Good Reads

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.