The Sunday Salon: Pondering Periodicals

When I was little, it was the glossy pages that appealed to me.

And the smell -perhaps I should call it the aroma, because that sounds so much sweeter – and the aroma of fresh ink on smooth glossy paper is sweet indeed.

So I sort of understand the mystique Travis Kurkowski is writing about in his essay (Dreaming about the Past: Is Online Publishing Permanent Enough?, Creative Nonfiction, Spring 2012), which discusses whether online publishing (i.e., blogging) is as satisfying as print publication (i.e., magazines/journals).

“A blog is not a magazine,” Kurkowski writes. “The online world is not the print world. The online world is loose, informal and constantly revisable; print is hard, largely formal and inherently static.”

I’ve been pondering the differences between the two, knowing for sure there are differences. Not that one is bad and the other is good – no such thing at all.

They are just different.

Reading blogs for me is like shopping at art fairs. I  meander all around first and then maybe I’ll go back to some of the more interesting booths and poke around in the jewelry or photography or hand-painted tiles with cute sayings on them. I never spend more than a few minutes, because most everything I need to see is right there within the tiny square footage of the artist’s tent. Perhaps the artist is hovering around, and we exchange a few words (a “comment”).

“So interesting!” I might say. “Very creative.” “Lovely.”

But magazines – at least the ones I regularly read – require more lengthy perusal. I fold my Newsweek in half and tuck it into my oversized purse to read while I linger over coffee at Panera, or to pass the time between classes when I’m accompanying at the middle school. During the summer, I keep a basket for magazines under my comfy chair on the back porch, and sometimes spend a hour with a glass of iced tea and an essay or short story from The Sun. I save up the More and Oprah magazines for plane rides, because they occupy me for the whole of those times when electronic devices are not permitted and provide just enough distraction from the noisy, cramped quarters.

Occasionally I might underline a particularly interesting sentence or passage. Save one to pass along to a friend. Tear out a page I want to keep in my idea file.

These are things you can do with magazines.

I think what Kurkowski is trying to remind us of is that print has a sense of permanence while digital is transient. Once those words are placed on the magazine page, they aren’t going anywhere. But online content can be eradicated from existence with the ease of an administrator’s key stroke.

Online publishing is certainly here to stay, and I’m glad about it. I enjoy my daily forays through the art fairs of the digital world.

But I still like the feel of those glossy pages under my fingers, the stunning photos in living color, and the sweet aroma of printer’s ink.

How about you? Do you think there’s an important difference between online periodicals and print?



The Sunday Salon: In Celebration of the Ordinary

I’m celebrating an ordinary day on this summer Sunday.

Girl in a Hammock, Winslow Homer

With nothing on my calendar this weekend, I’m happily languishing in my leisure like I would a hot bubble bath on a cold winter day. I spent much of yesterday morning on the back porch, finishing Nicole Bernier’s novel, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. After lunch, with the mercury hovering near 90 degrees, I traded the back porch chair for the living room sofa, where I spent a good part of the afternoon with the latest Bess Crawford mystery, An Unmarked Grave.

I love an ordinary day above all else. Puttering around the house, reading, playing with the dogs, trying a new recipe for dinner  – that’s my idea of a good time. Sounds boring to some, but for me it’s heaven on earth. Simple, ordinary pleasures. I don’t take them for granted, because I don’t always have time to indulge in them or appreciate them.

There has been some recent media coverage in celebration of the ordinary, especially in terms of the expectations we place on our young people. Earlier this week I read an article in Newsweek by David McCullough Jr., whose recent commencement speech to the graduates of Wellsley High School has caused something of a kerfluffle. “You’re not that special,” he told those high school seniors who were all poised to take the world by the tail and shake it.

You see, if everyone is special, than no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another – which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality – we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.

What McCullough was trying to say is that no one of us is more “special” than the next. We each have gifts to offer, and they don’t all have to revolve around the highest SAT scores or the championship trophy. It’s perfectly okay to live an ordinary life, have an ordinary family, raise ordinary children. He’s right when he says that “loving accolades more than genuine achievement” is detrimental to the welfare of our society. Our ultimate achievement lies not in honors or awards – monetary or otherwise – but in fulfilling our own measure of happiness with a spirit of selflessness and empathy.

McCullough’s remarks at that commencement have made him rather famous. I wonder if parents are getting tired of this relentless responsibility they’ve undertaken in recent generations, this unceasing process of making sure their offspring’s “specialness” is rewarded. This demand to insure that children are poised to achieve their ultimate best leads families into all sorts of frantic activities, almost from the time a child is born. It’s not enough now to make sure kids are fed, clothed, healthy and well mannered. Nope,  they also have to be in the 95% percentile in every subject, all while learning soccer, improvisational dance, horseback riding, and Chinese. That’s a huge burden for parents who are embroiled in their own version of the 21st Century Ultimate Achievers Pageant.

Makes me exhausted just thinking about it.

It’s so much nicer to lay back in the summer sun with a good book and a glass of lemonade. I may not get famous doing it, but that’s alright. I’ll just revel in my ordinary old happiness.

That’s plenty special enough for me.

* For Further Reading:

Redefining Success and Celebrating the Unremarkable, New York Times, Business Day, June 29, 2012

The ‘Busy Trap,” by Tim Kreider, an OpEd piece in The New York Times, July 1, 2012

My friend Beth Kephart talks about extricating herself from the busy-ness trap today, too

The Sunday

The Sunday Salon: Books By the Bed

Confession time: I sleep around.

Just around my house, that is. Our guest room doubles as my office/reading room, and contains a very comfy full sized bed where I retreat when the combined snoring of my middle-aged husband and our two snub-nosed dogs becomes unbearable.

But back to Books By the Bed* – beside each of my beds there is small table, and heaped on the table are stacks of books. One can never have too many books at hand, so I’m well prepared to read myself into dreamland wherever the need arises.

The books on my regular bedroom night table are always the most current volume (or volumes) on the go. Right now that includes an ancient pocket book edition of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, by Anne Tyler, which I pulled out the other day after finishing a re-read of Digging to America. I wasn’t sure if I was going to re-read  Homesick Restaurant clear through, or just pick around in it, sampling juicy bites here and there as I reacquainted myself with the Tull family and all their dysfunctions. I’ve never put a bookmark in it, but just leave this yellowed and battered volume lying splayed open on its belly. I’m now 20 pages from the end, so I did end up munching my way through the whole book. Underneath lies Ninepins, a new book by Rosy Thornton, whose previous three novels I’ve loved. I’m waiting eagerly to start that..maybe tonight in fact.

On the table in my other bedroom are two journals – one where I write snippets of poems, quotes, or passages from novels  that have particular meaning for me – sort of a Commonplace book, if you’re familiar with that concept. Also piled there are a couple of books about writing that I often poke through for inspiration: Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones are usually among them. Not the best bedtime reading, perhaps, because reading other writers on writing always makes me want to write myself, and that is an activity best left for the morning if you want to get any decent sleep.

I’ve always kept books by my bed, and even in my bed, hiding a paperback and a flashlight under my pillow when I was a little girl so I could read under the covers long after lights were meant to be out.

Nothing’s changed very much at all in the last 50 years.

What books are by YOUR bed?

**This post was prompted by a feature section entitled Books By the Bed, located at We Wanted to be Writers blog.**

The Sunday

The Sunday Salon: My Just Deserts

No, I did not misspell the word.

I really meant “desert,” as in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona.

That’s where I’m headed – well, not really the desert itself, but to Scottsdale where I’ll be spending the week with a good friend. We’ll be reading, eating, reading, drinking, reading, walking, reading, shopping, reading, talking…

You get the idea.

My friend has been there for the past three weeks, and she told me yesterday she’s read 12 books.

Good thing I loaded up the Sony reader.

And speaking of reading, my son tells me that he and Connor are already on their second reading of Winnie the Pooh – that’s the original A.A. Milne version, by the way. That little boy loves his stories already, and he’s only just four months old. I foresee a future as a great thinker for him – but then I’m his grandmother, so that’s my job 🙂

At any rate, I know he’ll be going to college, and I’ve just learned of a great program to help parents save. It’s called Mission Tuition, and a percentage of every purchase from a wide network of vendors goes into a special savings program for tuition. Check it out.

Getting a good education is something every kid deserves.

Have a great week, folks.

I’ll have much to tell you about on my return.

The Monday Salon – Kindle Singles and Shopping for a Cause

With apologies for my tardiness at the Salon this week, but Sunday was appropriated by outstanding presence of the actual SUN. It was a day of uncommon perfection  climatically speaking and I spent my normal Sunday afternoon writing time outdoors. After all, how often does one get an opportunity to sit in shirtsleeves, basking in warm sunshine in the early days of March?

It’s a rare gift for us midwesterners.

But since it’s raining buckets today, I’ve come inside to share with you some of the interesting things I read and learned last week.

First up, thanks to a mention by my friend Beth Kephart, I downloaded a Kindle “single” by Ann Patchett. If you’re not familiar with this genre, it’s a new series of mini e-books, designed to be read in one sitting. Most of them cost between .99 and 2.99, so it’s easy to grab up a handful.

Many well known authors are jumping on this bandwagon, and I have to say I do like the idea. The Patchett entry is entitled The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life.  Patchett talks about her process, about what she’s learned about the writer’s life, about how she got from there (a young woman with an active imagination)  to here (a bestselling author). This short format – an elongated essay of about 10,000 words – requires the author to think and plan carefully in order to say what needs to be said.

Which Patchett did, and did it admirably. I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in this writer, or the writing life in general.

From my inbox last week came news of a very interesting website for readers. Called Gone Reading, the site purveys reading paraphenalia (t-shirts, journals, reading lights, etc.). The interesting thing is that 100% of the company’s after-tax profits is used to provide funding to libraries and reading centered non-profit organizations.  “We believe that when people have open access to great reading materials, life always changes for the better,” says Gone Reading’s founder Brad Wirz.  “When libraries and reading materials are made available, people and their communities thrive through increased opportunity and self-empowerment.”

I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why I’m happy to promote this worthy endeavor. I hope you’ll check out the site, maybe even get the cute t-shirt I just ordered for myself. Plus, you can use the code BOOKSTACK25 at checkout, and you’ll receive a 25% discount on your purchase! How about that!

And with that news, I’ll wrap up this Sunday Salon on Monday afternoon.

It’s time to Go Reading.

The Sunday Salon – Impressions from a Readers Week

There’s been no rhyme or reason to this week, at least in terms of my reading. It’s been a week of novels, that’s the one constant, and each one of them has been impressive in it’s own way.

The week started with Kristen Hannah’s Firefly Lane, one of this very popular authors most popular books. It’s the story of a friendship, one that begins with two teenagers in the 1970’s and extends through time into the present day, with many ups and downs along the way. Reading it reminded me of my own life in so many ways – Hannah really gets to the heart of women’s relationships in a way I connect with every time.

I raced through all 400 odd pages of that one in no time, and turned to Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld’s microcosmic look at prep school life through the eyes of one very introspective, but cannily observant young woman. I thoroughly enjoy Sittenfeld’s writing style – loved American Wife, and love this one too. She sees deep into the internal workings of each character and their situation, and takes the reader there with her. Prep is taking me back to my high school years, but making me very happy I’m no longer a teenager!

This morning I found myself totally engaged in an unexpected reading pleasure. I stumbled upon a digital reading app for iPad called Subtext, which allows you to download books and engage in discussion with other readers and the author as you read. You can write comments on your reading (which you may choose to keep private or publish for others to read), and you’ll find links to other resources imbedded directly in the margin comments. You purchase books via Google Books or Kobo, and can get nice lengthy samples of every book in their digital library.

I spent the entire morning playing with this – which is quite something for me, since you all know I’m not a fan of eReading. But I actually think Subtext could change my opinion. It didn’t hurt that the book I downloaded is completely amazing. The Lotus Eaters, by Tatjana Soli, a novel about an American photographer in Saigon during the Vietnam war, is a stunning historical novel, and the author’s comments and additional resource material made reading the first chapter even more intriguing. Highly recommended. I encourage my reading friends to look into this app – it’s free to download, and extends the reading experience into a new dimension.

So with that, I’m back to reading. The weather here in Dallas is very strange – cold, dark, windy, and rainy. Perfect for curling up with a baby and a good book.

How about you? Has your reading impressed you this week?

The Sunday

The Sunday Salon

It’s quite amazing how much reading one can accomplish while rocking a baby to sleep. In fact, earlier this week I exhausted the supply of books I brought with me to Dallas, all while sitting in the rocking chair with a sleepy baby.

So a trip to replenish the library was in order. An odious task, I know, but one that must be done nevertheless!

I was pleased to discover a Half Price Books just a few minutes away from my son’s home. We don’t have these stores in Michigan, so it was doubly exciting to have an opportunity to shop in one.

The Ravenous Reader was not disappointed.

There was an amazing array of books on all subjects, most of them used, but all of them at least half-off the cover price. They were neatly arranged by topic, with the hardcovers, trade paperbacks, and regular pocket paperbacks separated according to genre. I quickly grabbed up half a dozen, which I finally winnowed down to three, deciding to leave myself open for a return visit.

Here’s what I bought:

Firefly Lane, by Kristin Hannah

Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld

The Writing Circle, by Corrine Demas

In addition to books of all kinds, I enjoyed perusing the vast selection of note cards and literary journals.

Plus -as promised on the sign outside the building – there were indeed RECORDS for sale. I did not purchase any, but it was fun to see them.

All in all, a great way to get my hands on some new books at a very reasonable price.

Now, back to reading and rocking.

What are you doing this Sunday afternoon?

The Sunday

The Sunday Salon – Milking It

For the past 30 minutes my new baby grandson has been dawdling over his dinner, sucking ferociously for a few seconds and then slowing down to savor the experience of this sweet substance in his mouth and the texture and shape of the nipple. He occasionally hums softly to himself, rolls his dark baby blue eyes, and then, with a deep sigh, takes a few more gulps.

He’s milking this meal for all it’s worth.

I’ve been doing that with my reading today, on a dreary afternoon here in suburban Dallas. Like Connor, I’m rather lethargic – I’ve been reading a page or two in Winter Garden, an emotionally spell-binding novel by Kristin Hannah, and then setting it down to close my eyes for a quick forty twenty winks.

But there’s more than laziness accounting for the milking of this novel. The novel contains a story within the story in which one the main characters recalls her experiences during the siege of Leningrad during WWII.  Hannah has done a fabulous job of recreating a horrific historic occurrence, so fabulous in fact, that there’s only so much I can bear to read at one sitting even though I’m panting to find out what’s going to happen next.

Additionally, at less than 100 pages from the end, I hate to finish it late on a Sunday night when I have no other books available. (I know, if I’d just learn to read in the eReader, I wouldn’t have this problem.) So I’m happy to eke every morsel out of these last few pages.

How about you? Do you ever “milk” your current read to make it last longer? 

The Sunday

The Sunday Salon – Cooking Away

The Sunday

There are cook books, and there are cooking books. I’m in the mood for cooking books.

The difference? Cook Books are focused on recipes, page after page, and if you’re lucky there are color pictures of the completed dish so you know what it’s supposed to look like and whether your own creation compares favorably.

Cooking books elevate food preparation and consumption to an art. They are mainly narrative, where the author waxes rhapsodical about foods they have known and loved. They artistically describe the lushness of ripe fruit, the mellow smoothness of good cheese, the sharp tang of spice on the tongue. They invite the reader to sit at the table and sup, to partake of the delicious bounty and savor every morsel.

I trace my newfound interest in cooking books directly to a recent read of  A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway’s classic memoir of Paris in the 1920’s, a book where food becomes symbolic of the expat lifestyle. Hemingway, Fitzgerald,  Stein, imbibing the sweet life in their favorite cafe while they wrote furiously and carried on fervent discussions about literature and the world. Cafe life seems so romantic and exciting and intellectually stimulating. Somehow, no matter how much time I spend in Starbucks or Panera, my laptop open on the table before me, I can’t quite capture the stimulating atmosphere Steinbeck conveys in this book.

Still, it’s made me very interested in cooking books. So I’m on the hunt for more memoirs about food. Ruth Reichl, I know about. Laurie Colwin, I know about.

Now tell me, Sunday Saloners, who else should I be feasting upon?

The Sunday Salon: Magical Reading

 The Sunday

Magic has been on my mind, probably because this morning my husband and I are flying off to Walt Disney World to enjoy the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.  Disney World is a magical place for us – we’ve had so many happy family times there in the last 20 years, and we’re already gleefully planning lots more magic to come since we’ll have a little grandson to share the fun with in the years ahead.

I rarely read books about magic, or fantasy novels to use the proper term for the genre. I guess I’m just a realist at heart. I enjoy reading about people and places that are within my own realm of  experience, things that could happen in my own life and times.

The book I started last night seems to merge the two quite nicely, so it was a perfect choice to take for reading material on this trip.
Before Ever After, by Samantha Sotto, is a romance about Shelly, a young widow visited by a handsome man who looks exactly like Max, her dead husband, and claims to be his grandson.  Not only that, it seems that Max is alive and well and living another life.

The magical element in this whole story is that Max appears to be everlasting.  He has already lived numerous lifetimes, although he never ages beyond his 30’s. This kind of magical realism appeals to me, especially when it’s as beautifully written as this one is. It’s the kind of thing that just might happen in a world where unexplainable things occur and where dreams really do come true.

Hmm, I’m already thinking in Disney vernacular.

So I’m definitely taking this book with me, because I’m eager to find out what happened Before Ever After, and to see if Shelly can really find a way to live happily ever after.


How about you? Do you like to read fantasy or magical tales? Is anything magical happening in your life right now?