Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Gift of Literacy

I'm back from a delightful trip to Eugene, Oregon, to participate in the Springfield Public Schools' Gift of Literacy program. What a terrific community program - I was thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in it. I'll likely, in the coming week, be sharing more details about my visit; but in the meantime, if you'd like to know more about the Gift of Literacy, head over here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Go see "Craftsman Style" at the Muskegon Film Festival

If you'll be in the Muskegon area this weekend, be sure to take in the Muskegon Film Festival, especially on Saturday to see the documentary film Craftsman Style. (Schedule for the Saturday sessions is here.) From the description:

Craftsman Style
54 min (Documentary Session #1)
Filmmaker: Dave Muylle
Craftsman Style tells the story of Dave Muylle, a veteran home-rehabilitation contractor turned citizen-filmmaker, and his two year journey to restore a former drug house in his neighborhood into a new home for his family. Best described as 'This Old House' for regular people, this documentary provides an account of the work done by Dave and his fellow craftsmen.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Lazy Person's Reading Group, First Session -- Debbie's List

As previously announced, I have established and joined a Lazy Person's Reading Group. Full details are available here, but the short version is that you, too, can join the group, simply by nodding at your computer screen.

You get to choose your own reading list (as long as you follow a few criteria) and establish your own timetable; and there are no book group sessions or discussions. If you'd like, you may post your reading list on your blog, or in the comments section here -- and I hope some of you do, because I'd love to see your reading lists! -- but that's completely up to you.

For Session One of the LPRG, the Chief Lazy Person (moi) has decreed that you choose five or more of eleven book options. Here goes with my list. It's mostly grown-up books, but also includes a few chosen from the world of children's lit.

1. A book of fiction you've been looking forward to reading.

So many books could go in this category! But one that I've been meaning to read for a while is Garrison Keillor's Liberty. Now, I'm the first to say that sometimes a little Garrison Keillor goes a long way. But I also do enjoy PHC, and I've read and liked other Garrison Keillor books, so I'm looking forward to reading Liberty.

2. A book of nonfiction you've been looking forward to reading.

Admittedly, the #1 and #2 slots of this LPRG list are the literary equivalent of the bingo free space: you know you were going to read them anyway; why not get the credit? My nonfiction choice is Michael Perry's new book Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting. I had the pleasure of hearing Michael Perry speak recently at a bookstore, and I've read his other books, so I'm looking forward to reading this one.

(Forewarned being forearmed, however, I'll admit that I plan to skip pp. 15-16, and will hold out hope that the paperback bonus materials will include a new essay entitled "Rediscovering the lost art of the hankerchief.")

3. A book by someone whose last name begins with Z.

Oh, I was on the hunt for a Z book! I googled, researched, and contemplated my options. Then a Z book fell in my lap. Over on Books Read by Kat, I found a review of Donut Days by Lara Zielin. Seeing how I love to read Michigan authors, this discovery seemed serendipitous. It's not out until August, but as soon as it's out, it's going onto my summer reading stack. In the meantime, I'll settle for Lara's blog.

4. A book from a genre you rarely, if ever, read.

Regular readers of this blog know that I favor the genre of cozy mysteries. But I have good reason to believe that I will thoroughly enjoy my out-of-genre choice, Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger.

5. A book that was an award-winner or bestseller in the year you were born.

I'll come right out and admit it: 1967.

Yup. That's the year of my birth. Shocking? Well, get over it. We all had to be born some time; and I've been saying "forty-" for long enough now that I'm At Peace With It. As for the award winners of the year, can I admit to resorting to Wikipedia for my overview? But nothing there grabbed me. I briefly considered reading Bernard Malamud's The Fixer, but opted not to.

So instead of "award-winner," I decided to go the "bestseller" route. The #1 NYT bestseller fiction book on the day of my birth was The Arrangement by Elia Kazan; and nonfiction #1 was The New Industrial State by John Kenneth Galbraith. Of the two, the nonfiction title sounds a wee bit, um, er, b-o-r-i-n-g, so I'm going to give The Arrangement a whirl.

6. Your best friend's favorite book. (If you've already read it, then substitute another book that your friend recommends.)

I think I know what my best friend's favorite book is -- but I've yet to confirm this with her; and I suspect she may feed me another title entirely, just to have a little fun with me. More on this one later...

7. A book you figure you probably should read, even though you don't really want to.

People of the blogosphere, this one's up to you. My fate is truly in your hands. You know I don't really want to read a Harry Potter novel, but will yield to the results of the vote tally in the HP poll in the upper right, once it reaches 100 votes.

If you feel strongly about your vote (HP dissenters, I'm looking at you), please spread the word. I'd be glad to come up with another option for this category.

8. A book that has recently received rave reviews.

How could I not be swayed by this Fuse #8 review of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead? I also read about it over on the Educating Alice blog. Mehopes it's as good as it sounds.

9. A book by someone who shares your first name.

My dear best friend, whose book recommendation I might take under advisement for category 6, some time ago sent me a magazine clipping titled "Where have all the Debbies gone?" I'll condense the article into this pithy bit: the name "Deborah" has apparently fallen out of favor and is now code for "middle-aged woman. "

I resemble that remark!

But middle-aged or not, Deborahs are a prolific bunch. So I had many, many books to choose from. My pick?

Deborah Ruddell's A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk: A Forest of Poems.

10. A book that pertains in some way to a skill you do not, and never will, have.

Gosh, delusion is a grand thing, is it not? There's no limit to the number of skills I lack; but there's that little corner of my mind that is sure that someday...

Yes, someday I will be able to repair my lawn mower; someday I will learn to knit; someday I will play "Voodoo Child" on the electric guitar; and someday I will learn to write without indulging in overuse of the semicolon.

Given the broad scope of my "someday" delusion, all that's left in the "never will have" Venn circle are those skills that I either: a) have no interest in ever acquiring; or b) have to admit I truly will never achieve. Seeing as I don't really want to read about golf or line-dancing, I'm forced to focus on category B -- where I find such things as brain surgery, quantum physics, and social skills.

My pick? How about...

Brain surgery. I'll give Another Day in the Frontal Lobe by Katrina Firlik a try.

11. A book recommended by your hairdresser or barber.

I am so terribly overdue for a haircut that having a book recommendation from my hairdresser is an impossibility. I thought I'd have to skip this category. But then -- hurrah! -- a little Googling led me to the discovery of... Beauty and The Book: The Only Hair Salon and Bookstore in the Country. How cool is that???

The proprietor, Kathy L. Patrick, has book recommendations on her web site. From those listed, I settled on The Lost Art of Walking by Geoff Nicholson.

So now I've got eleven books to entertain me; and you've got five or more of your own to read. I'll periodically keep you posted on my progress, and I hope you'll do the same, either on your blog or in the comments on mine. (If you do blog about your LPRG reading list, send me the list, so I can link to it.)

Happy reading, everyone!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Lazy Person's Reading Group

So, you're longing to join a reading group. But three things have dissuaded you.

1. Having to attend reading group meetings.
2. Having to read books from someone else's list.
3. Having to read on a timetable.

"Alas," you say, "reader though I am, I'm just not Reading Group material!"

Ah, but that's because you haven't yet encountered my reading group. (Well, seeing as it just formed two minutes ago, that's not surprising; but we'll set that fact aside for a moment.)

The Lazy Person's Reading Group does not meet in person. The LPRG also does not meet virtually. The LPRG does not discuss books. The LPRG does not have a reading list. Here's what the LPRG does.

  • Each person who wants to participate in the LPRG picks a selection of book titles according to criteria set out by the Chief Lazy Person. (The CLP's current criteria list is included at the end of this blog post.)
  • Then each participant reads those books.
That's it!

If participants want to share their reading lists (either in their blogs or in the comments section of this blog) or want to share their reactions to their books (either via blogs or email or through the ancient art of In-Person Conversation) this is permitted. It's also permitted for geographic subsets of the LPRG to meet in person, either to discuss books or just to eat biscotti. But none of this is required.

Sound doable?

OK. Let's do it!

The CLP decrees that your reading list for the current round of the LPRG consist of at least five of the following:

1. A book of fiction you've been looking forward to reading.

2. A book of nonfiction you've been looking forward to reading.

3. A book by someone whose last name begins with Z.

4. A book from a genre you rarely, if ever, read.

5. A book that was an award-winner or bestseller in the year you were born.

6. Your best friend's favorite book. (If you've already read it, then substitute another book that your friend recommends.)

7. A book you figure you probably should read, even though you don't really want to.

8. A book that has recently received rave reviews.

9. A book by someone who shares your first name.

10. A book that pertains in some way to a skill you do not, and never will, have.

11. A book recommended by your hairdresser or barber.

I will share my own list in about a week or so, after I've assembled it. Feel free to put your own list in the comments section of this or the upcoming LPRG post, or on your own blog; but you can also participate without sharing a thing.

Happy reading!

UPDATE: My list is now up. Click here for the titles.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Very Colorful Picture Book Store

In an ALA news email, I ran across a link to information about this intriguing and imaginative Beijing bookstore:

According to what I've read about it, the store opened in 2005 and was designed by Japanese architect Keiichiro Sako.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Is There No Opposition Party?

Granted, the poll is in its early days, but I see that so far, votes are trending to the, "Yes, read Harry Potter" category.

I thought there'd be at least a little dissent?

Whatever your opinion, don't forget to vote. The poll is over in the sidebar of my blog page (

And don't dawdle! You've only got, um, 110 days to go before I make up my mind...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Poetry Speaks to Beltwayians

I think it's pretty neat that the White House had a poetry and music gathering last evening. I hope it will be the first of many.

The Washington Post has an article about the event here.

Incidentally, according to Scott Horsley's NPR story, guest reader James Earl Jones considered a selection from Green Eggs and Ham, but read instead from Othello. I say invite him back for the next one, and let him do the Seuss! Wouldn't that be grand to hear? What a voice.

Any of my blog readers six or fewer degrees of separation from any of the poetry gathering performers or attendees? Do tell.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Writing Things Off

On an editor's blog, I found reference to this coming Saturday, May 16, 2009 being "Write Your A** Off Day."

(This being a children's book author's blog, I'm assuming "a**" stands for "arm," or maybe "abs"; or perhaps it's an esoteric reference to plot development: "write your arc off." I'll leave it to you to decide).

I have to admit, I have a certain knee-jerk disdain for arbitrarily-declared writing effort events, which is why I was tempted to post this summary of my participation in last week's National Picture Book Writing Week...

(...but that would have been smart-alecky, so of course I refrained.)

Nonetheless, I'm well aware that the #1 rule of writing is "Honor Thy Process." And sometimes an arbitrary writing event can be just the inspiration needed to kick your writing back into gear.

So this Saturday, I encourage any of you who are writers to write earnestly, creatively, and with abandon, for as much of the day as you can.

In short: Write your asterisks off!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The #1 Mom is....

The maternal polls have closed.
The votes have been tabulated.
And the #1 Mom is officially....

Wilma Diesen.
My Mom.

To all the rest of you, who came in second, don't despair: you were up against stiff competition.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Friday, May 8, 2009

My Fate is in Your Hands

This is perhaps not something I should admit to in public, but I, um, er...

...have not read a single Harry Potter novel.

Nor do I even have a basic working knowledge of the whole Harry Potter storyline. I am, in short, a Harry Potter ignoramus.

And proud of it, I might add.

What began as simple disinterest (not my genre of reading ; my "To Be Read" stack is overflowing as it is; and they're so long) morphed over the years into the same sort of stubbornness that has me hoping I'll make it through my natural born life without ever learning to do a Power Point presentation. Anything that becomes so popular and ubiquitous must, by definition, be overrated - right?

Yet there's a small part of me that thinks stubbornness can occasionally become an end in and of itself. And maybe, just maybe, it's time to scrutinize my anti-Harry Potter bent.

So. I put to to all of you to decide. If you're reading this on a feed, you won't see this (you'll have to come to the post at; but the rest of you will notice there's a poll over in the right sidebar, up top, wherein you can decide if I'm going to actually break down and finally read a Harry Potter novel. Vote Yes, or vote No, but do vote.

(There are subcategories of Yes and No, but all yeses will be tallied together, as will all no votes, before the final vote count is reached.)

The poll is open through the end of the summer, and I'm hoping to get a fair amount of input. This isn't the sort of decision I want to make based on, say, seven votes. While it's a rare day that I get triple digit blog readership ("rare" in this case being a word that means "hasn't yet happened, but theoretically could"), I'm hoping for 100+ votes before I make up my mind.

So please, vote, and then pass on the link to this page so that others may vote, too. My fate is in your hands. Vote at:

Poetry Friday

In my continued quest to neglect my blog, I have no poem to offer you today.

But there are, as usual, lots of great poetry contributions out there. The round up is on Anastasia Suen's blog.

Better blogging habits on my part to resume, eventually.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What A Coincidence: I'm Chocolate-Fueled, Too!

Yes, this falls under the heading of "Make a blog post out of a news link because you've been too lazy to write a proper blog entry lately," but here goes anyway: today I ran across an intriguing headline, "Scientists unveil chocolate-fueled race car."

Sounds like a great innovation. However, I fear if I had one of those, it would never leave the garage, its fuel-tank being perpetually depleted to E...

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Eyeballing Game

I can't remember where I ran across this, but it's a fun diversion that tests your ability to "eyeball" angles and whatnot:

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Michael Perry in Lansing May 17

Michael Perry writes personal essay/memoir books that I very much enjoy reading. He's got a new book out, Coop, this spring. Those of you in the Lansing area might like to know that he'll be at the Eastwood Schuler Books later this month, on Sunday, May 17. Details here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Poetry Friday


is the start of May

but April

isn’t over.

Such a glorious month.

Usher of spring. In April,

plants reawaken

and push with strength

through thick dark dirt.

See the plants stretch tall.
See the buds.
See the blossoms.
See flowers on sturdy stalks
survive the unrelenting rain
to lift their faces to the sun.

Every crocus

every tulip

every daffodil

is April.

So forget your calendar.

Forget everything you thought you knew.

Just look to the garden --

the riotously resplendent and enduring garden --

squint your eyes a bit,

and it's almost as if April...

... has just begun.