Category Archives: Reading

She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb: a review

shescomeundone

Note to FTC: In exchange for reviewing this book I received the pleasure of reading the book, nothing more.

One of the best books I’ve ever read, She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb, published in 1992, lands 5+ stars. It was an Oprah’s Book Club choice. Twice. I don’t know what took me so long to discover the book, and the author, but I’m glad I finally did.

As a writer I tend to study the story I’m reading, sometimes unconsciously, (which can make for an unenjoyable experience if I’m not careful to stop studying long enough to just read). The first thing I usually notice, or look for, is foreshadowing. Often I guess correctly where this foreshadowing is and what’s going to happen next because of that event. This is when I know I have an “okay” book in hand, rather than a “knock-em-dead” book. I want to be surprised, shocked even, by the twists and turns in a story, I don’t want to feel so certain I know what the ending will read like.

But with She’s Come Undone the foreshadowing, was not the first thing I noticed, (though I did find it and guessed correctly in a couple of instances but not most). No, the first thing I noticed, as a writer, is that Wally Lamb offers very little in the way of description, and yet we inherently know not only what the characters look like but who they are – they’re 3-D people, they feel real. “How did he do that?” we writers want to know. The good news is it’s easy to discover that he shows us what’s happening by – guess – telling us exactly that: what’s happening, not what color the kitchen counter Dolores throws a towel on is but what she knocks over with that towel. Voilà: there is the picture in our mind, he need go no further with that description, he can simply go on telling us her next action. And the dialogue? You just can’t get any better than this. So, as a writer, I highly recommend reading and studying She’s Come Undone.

I also highly recommend She’s Come Undone as a reader. The story, about a girl/woman, Dolores Price, dealing with depression and repressed feelings, is so eerily like my own (early) life it scared me. (Dolores’s greatest fear, which I won’t tell you so as not to spoil the story), is my greatest fear, and for the very same reason, though it takes her years to recognize the fear (it did me too). The grip Mr. Lamb has on the human psyche is amazing but what astounded me more was the fact that, despite being a man, he got the feelings of this depressed girl/woman down-pat! And I’ve never before paid attention to whether the main character is a man written by a woman or vice-versa, it’s simply either a good story or it isn’t. But with this one I couldn’t help it because…..well, you’ll have to read the book to understand what I mean.

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn about “other things” that happened in the 60s and 70s, things aside from the moon landing and Kennedy’s death. So much news is woven into this story that it could easily be a terrific history book for teenagers.

I don’t want to digress – I believe the main point of She’s Come Undone is to show us the damage that judging others can do, how it can hurt people well beyond the day they were assaulted, verbally or otherwise, by their peers, and even by so-called responsible adults – it can take hold, grow and last for years and years, making everything in the victim’s life a nightmare of fear. It’s sad, yes, very sad, but the book isn’t a depressing one, it’s thoughtful and it’s hopeful, it really made me think about all the kids, and adults, in this world who are constantly picked on, bullied, and how they make it through life without a breakdown. Many of them don’t.

She’s Come Undone also has several gut-busting belly laugh moments sprinkled throughout which greatly helped ease the seriousness of the subject enough to help us, the reader, read on, knowing we weren’t being led to a “bucket-full-of-tears” slaughter.

Run out and get She’s Come Undone today. You’re going to love Dolores, I promise. Click here to go to my bookshelf and read short reviews of other books I’ve read this year.

What book stands out as one of your greatest discoveries? What made it so great?

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A poem a day keeps the wrinkles away #poetry #worldpoetryday #nationalpoetrymonth

Wolrd poetry day

If you’re an avid (or is that obsessive?) reader as I am, you’ve surely encountered those articles that proclaim reading is not only a pleasurable experience, it also helps to preserve many aspects of our minds, even assisting in slowing the aging process. This Friday, the 21st, being World Poetry Day, and with National Poetry Month in April fast approaching, I felt it the perfect time to celebrate the many advantages of reading.

If you aren’t a regular reader, but would like to be, I suggest subscribing to The American Academy of Poets’ Poem-a-Day. It’s a fantastic way to initiate reading something each day as most of the time the poems are short and, (for those of you who claim “allergy” to poetry), the older, and usually long, poems are few and far-between. Often they are profound, sometimes silly, even outright hilarious. Plus, you may discover that you absolutely adore poetry, or you may decide one poem each day is not enough and start reading more and more and voila, you’re a reader! You might even be inspired to write your own poetry, something I encourage, even if you don’t know the difference between a sestina and a stanza. No one has to see it if you don’t want them to.

I could go on and on about the many reasons reading, and writing, poetry is so good for our souls, but I believe it’s better to give you a couple of my favorites. These particular two may make it seem I’m morbid but no, I just like the profoundness of both, and I believe, upon reading them, you’ll understand why I love poetry so much.

The Bolt, by Mary Kinzie

That girl so long ago walked, as they all did, shop girls,

Little cousins, and church friends, to the unflattering

Hack of the hem just where the calf begins to swell,

Felt ruchings of the bodice’s stiff panels

Gal the flesh beside the flattening ornate

Armature of underwear (like pads and straps

For livestock, fretted by tooling and bright studs),

So she must yank her knees against

Pounds of rigid drapery in the storm of heat,

 

Trailing through the pestering, gray heads

Of Queen Anne’s lace, wind raveling

Her hair and sweeping through prolific

Jagged-bladed grass – a wind that pressed down

There like God with both His hands, mashing the air,

Darkening the hole where the dry mouth of the wood

Yawned to drink the stumbling travelers already touched

By the heavy sacs of rain that broke and ran

In gouts down saturated pleats of surge…

Here that girl ran last, so long ago, to be run through

By one long lightning thread that entered, through

A slender purple bruise, the creamy skin of her temple,

 

The instant that it happened, nobody remembered

How she looked or spoke, so quickly had she blended

With this evocation of her having been.

 

This was the past: a stroke of imagery stare-

Frozen, finished in suspension.

*

I love how the poem uses two definitions of bolt – a bolt of fabric and a bolt of lightning.

~~~~~~~~

I Felt a Funeral in My Brain, (280) Emily Dickinson (Emily Dickinson’s poems were not titled, only given a number).

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading – treading – till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through –

 

And when they all were seated,

A Service, like a Drum –

Kept beating – beating – till I thought

My mind was going numb –

 

And then I heard them lift a Box

And creak across my Soul

With those same Boots of Lead, again,

Then Space – began to toll,

 

As all the Heavens were a Bell,

And Being, but an Ear,

And I, and Silence, some strange Race,

Wrecked, solitary, here –

 

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,

And I dropped down, and down –

And hit a World, at every plunge,

And Finished knowing – then –

*I love how the ending here is truly as abrupt as “the end” always is.

~~~~~~~~

And here is [the link to] a poem I wrote, She Saw It Comingwhich was originally a flash piece but readers’ comments led me to realize it should’ve been a poem all along.

Who are your favorite poets? What are your favorite poems? Why do you believe you’re attracted to these particular poems and/or poets?

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A proper post…..er, really…..

liebster-blog-award-2

Just before I started This Side….Over Yonder the wonderful Steve Green presented my former fiction blog, The Other Side of Deanna, with a Liebster award and the lovely Estrella Azul gave me both the Liebster and a Sunshine award. I was going through a Major Life Change at the time and neglected to post proper acceptance. Now the talented John Wiswell has graciously given me a Liebster award, a different one, and that prompted me to get with the program. Thank you so much Estrella, Steve, and John, not only for feeling I’m worthy of the blog awards but also for not forgetting about me when I was AWOL for a while there. That means more to me than I can tell you.

So, on with the acceptance. The “official rules” for the Liebster Award are:   

1. Link back to the person who nominated you. 
2. Answer the 10 questions which are given to you by the nominator. 
3. Nominate a few other bloggers who’d enjoy it. 
4. Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer. 

Of course since this is for three awards I have to shake things up a bit. Let’s answer John’s (thought-provoking) questions first.

1. What is the hardest you’ve laughed in the last year? It may be that I laughed harder at some point this past year but the one that’s fresh in my mind is when, about a week ago my youngest son, Noah was playing some game on his phone as I drove. He was making these maddening rackets – “arg! ah! Ack!” – so much that my oldest son, Jimmy, finally asked what the problem was. Noah was playing a game called Flappy Bird, he said, and he commenced to explaining how supposedly simple but truly hard it was. When Jimmy, who, at 16-years-old is developing his own software, held out his hand and asked if he could play, Noah, still playing the game, told Jimmy he wouldn’t like it and went on to tell him that the graphics were crummy and there was really no point and yada, yada, yada. Jimmy just looked at him and Noah said, “It’s just for fun, Jimmy, it’s not like a real game.” As if “real games” aren’t supposed to be fun. I cracked up it was so funny but truly it’s not funny at all because he’s right – the computer games kids play today are so advanced and so life-like that it becomes more, well, like life, to them and takes all the fun out of it……and, okay, now maybe you know a small reason why I’m a writer.  🙂

2. What theme do you wish more fiction tackled? I’m a literary fiction fan and a ghost story fan, so what I’d like to see is more supernatural themes crossing over into the literary genre. Maybe there is more like this out there than I’m aware of (because the stories are labeled so specifically I’m overlooking them – ?) simply because I wouldn’t pick up a book in the “aliens invade Earth” genre. One author who weaves ghost stories into literary fiction superbly is Joyce Carol Oates. Hmmm, maybe I just wish more authors wrote like JCO.

3. What was the last time you envied another writer’s work? First, let me state the obvious: there is a fine line between envy and admiration…..yet, when I got to the ending of A Fair Maiden, by Joyce Carol Oates, where there was twist after twist after twist, and within just a few pages mind you, I found myself thinking “Why can’t I do that?” Indeed, most all her work leaves me with this sort of reaction – the stories are exactly what I want [from reading] yet they also plant that little rotten worm of jealousy in my gut.

4. What’s the next book you’re planning to read and why? Right now I’m reading The Big Book of Ghost Stories, edited by Otto Penzler and I am loving it! There are tons of not only classic but also modern spine-tingling tales by some of the greats and some I’ve never heard of. Reading these has led to a couple of (thankfully inexpensive) Kindle purchases so I’ll be sticking with the ghost/horror kick for a while with my next read being Voodoo Tales: The Ghost Stories of Henry S. Whitehead. (Check out my bookshelf for short reviews of other recent reads).

5. Does anything in fiction routinely scare you or creep you out? Whether it’s werewolves or doctor visits. What gives me a great fright more than anything is when the writer describes the dark and gloomy atmosphere so perfectly that I can feel the absolute hush about the character who is walking through total darkness all alone just before we discover that he’s been watched for the last several pages. Great chills!

6. If you could spend an afternoon hanging out with any villain, who would it be? Definitely Count Olaf from Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, just because he’s so darn funny!

7. If you could delete any character from all of fiction, such that no one would remember it had ever existed, what character would it be? Easy one – Edgar Sawtelle. Never have I had a more violent reaction to a book than I did to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I had heard so many great things about it that I felt, even though I was bored to tears with the painful turn of each page, I had to finish it. When I finally became halfway interested, (about 95% in), the ending was horrible; in fact it was the ending that made me throw the heavy tome against the wall.

8. What’s your favorite nickname you’ve ever been given? Slim – as a child I was so skinny if I turned sideways I disappeared. My dad called me Slim from the cradle until I was about six months pregnant with my first son. He still calls me Slim now and then but, unfortunately, it’s more out of habit than anything that defines my physical attributes.

9. Do the last ten books you read have anything in common? At least eight of the last books I read had something to do with the supernatural. [See question #4].

10. By a unique snafu of publishing, you are legally obligated to write a crossover between two popular franchises of your choosing. Which two are they? Batman (with the Joker) and Toy Story, hands down.

I’m so late in accepting the awards that I dare say these folks may have already received them, but I want them to know I think they’re terrific anyway:

The Liebster Award goes to:

Eric J. Krause 

Sonia Lai

Adam Byatt 

I’m shaking things up with the questions for Eric and Adam by incorporating (okay, stealing), some of Steve and Estrella’s original questions. My questions for you, Eric and Adam, (and don’t worry if it takes months to post acceptance, I’ll be in good company):

  1. What year should you have been born? Why?
  2. What will you be doing in seven years?
  3. Does the description of your astrological sun sign match your personality? If not, what sun sign should you have been born under?
  4. What odd fact about you would people be most surprised to learn?
  5. If you could come back in another life as an animal, which one would you choose to be?
  6. Where is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?
  7. Which do you prefer, the quiet of the countryside, or the hustle-bustle of the city?
  8. If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
  9. Have you ever had an experience with ghosts/spirits? (We’d love to hear about it!)
  10. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Join in the fun! Anyone who’d like to answer the questions in a comment please do – we’d love to hear it! (Do all writers say that or is it just me?)

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The Accursed world of MaddAddam forced Doctor Sleep to embark upon a Transatlantic journey of The Hot Country to deliver Life After Life to The Woman Upstairs OR The Best Reads of 2013

Best of 2013
Image by Deanna Schrayer

The New York Times recently published their annual Most Notable Books of the year. I must say they chose well. 2013 has been a fantastic year for reading! Of course perusing their list resulted in too many more “to be read” titles added to my reading list.

At least half the books I read this year were actually published in 2013 (usually I tend to read more classics or older books). Here are twenty of my favorite reads of 2013, (in no particular order), most, but not all, published this year. Be sure to browse my bookshelf for short reviews of these and others.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? What was your favorite read this year?   

MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood 

Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King 

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson 

The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud 

Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann 

Transatlantic, by Colum McCann 

This Side of Brightness, by Colum McCann

The Accursed, by Joyce Carol Oates 

Ghosting, by Kirby Gann

The Liar’s Club, a memoir, by Mary Karr 

Lit, a memoir, by Mary Karr 

Live by Night, by Dennis Lehane 

Deadlock, by James Scott Bell 

Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson; indeed, her whole series on Jackson Brodie 

The House of the Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne 

The Hot Country, by Robert Olen Butler 

Just Kids, a memoir by Patti Smith 

The Night in Question: Stories, by Tobias Wolff 

The Best American Short Stories of 2012  ~ about halfway with this one now, excellent stories!

The Invisibles, by Hugh Sheehy ~ also about halfway with this one, outstanding work!

Whew, that’s a lot of links! 🙂 

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Got books? Time to celebrate! #reading #book lovers day

book love 1

If you’re a habitual reader, (like I am), then today is your day to celebrate – it’s Book Lovers Day! If you don’t read much but wish you did, today is the perfect day to curl up with a good book and start forming the healthy habit of becoming a regular reader. Reading is known to not only improve brain function but also help us in even more positive ways.

Many people claim they have no time to read; this is something I’ve never understood. What about all those minutes, (which build into hours), you’re sitting at a red light and wishing it would hurry up and turn green? What’s your rush anyway? And those of you who use public transportation have even greater opportunity for time to read. You aren’t going to get to your destination any faster, so why not use that blessing of time [to yourself] to read? Just keep a book, or, if you’re an eBook reader, your tablet, with you at all times and you’re set! And that’s just one chance. Be aware of how you spend your free time and you’ll soon find ample opportunities to read, read, read.

“My Alma mater was books, a good library… I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.”  Malcolm X

Although I have been lazy about updating my bookshelf lately, I have read several books since the last update in August. Here are a few of the best:

The Hot Country, Robert Olen Butler ~ Rated 5 There is a reason Robert Olen Butler’s work has won the Pulitzer Prize. The Hot Country, a Christopher Marlow Cobb thriller, is one of his best yet!

This Side of Brightness, by Colum McCann ~ Rated 4.5 I love how McCann takes us into a world most people never even get a glimpse of, and he shows us precisely how “full” that world is. The characters here are especially compelling.

Odd Apocalypse, Dean Koontz ~ Rated 5 It’s Dean Koontz, it’s Odd Thomas, what more could you ask for? Superb work!

I would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite read from 2013 as I’ve had the pleasure of reading several great stories. Check out my bookshelf for short reviews. What is the best book you’ve read this year? Do you have any helpful hints for those who are having difficulty finding time to read? I hope you’ll share your secrets with us! Have a beautiful and blessed Book Lovers Day!

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