a writer's journey as a reader

A Little Birdie Told Me

One aspect of blogging that is a definite benefit is finding new titles to read. Goldfinch by Donna Tarrt is one of those titles. Considering it received the Pulitzer and had so many varied reviews–Loved it!” “Hated it!” I had to decide for myself. I will never truly know how I might have liked it. It’s been relegated to my rare “didn’t finish” designation on my Goodreads tab.  Why?  Admittedly, it takes quite a bit for me to *gasp* abandon reading a book.



Here are my impressions:

  • Plot interesting although contrived. I work with teenagers and I have yet to come across any who talk like they are fourteen going on thirty-four.  I know. I know. It’s a novel and there are liberties called artistic license.
  • I’ve read BIG books; however, the story needs to justify the length. Melville or Dickens, this is not. Instead, I found myself getting more and more irritated as  Theo, the protagonist, reveled in TMI (too much information). It’s like being caught in a conversation with someone who keeps adding on instead of continuing on with their story.  I didn’t find all the extra detail to be that significant to moving the plot along.
  • I also found the stereotypes disappointing: the out-of-touch adults trying to counsel Theo; the genius, yet nerdy friend; the dysfunctional wealthy family; the unconventional adult who becomes Theo’s island of solace.
  • Here is the real clincher. I could have continued with the reading. There is enough intrigue and character investment that I had a desire to keep giving it a go, then the dreaded birdie kept flipping up unexpectedly. The boid, the random explosion of f-bombs finally annoyed me enough to say “done” and moving on. I understand profanity adds a certain aspect of verisimilitude; however, certain words remind me of pepper–sprinkle too much on and it actually hinders the flavor instead of enhancing.  The random f-bomb turned into a regular blasting zone and I began to wince. Here’s the deal: “Hey, Theo–you’re a nice enough kid, and you have a great vocabulary, so why the potty  mouth?”
  • I also wondered if this wasn’t  really a dressed out YA. A large portion of the book centers on Theo’s teen years. Then again, I didn’t mind reading Hunger Games; on the other hand, that IS considered YA.

Overall, I would have kept going to read the 700+ pages. It takes several elements for me to finally pull my bookmark and move on. I have way too many books I want to read to keep going with one that wears on me.

Twofold commentary requests here:

1. Anyone agree or disagree with my Goldfinch assessment?

2. How do you handle books that don’t live up to your expectations?  Do you continue or do you move on?

Remaining the Orphaned Narrator

It is always exciting to discover a new-to-me author. In this case it’s Kazuo Ishiguro. I know, I know. I’m a bit late in my discovering; however, better late than never in finding an author of mesmerizing style.

I knew the movie Remains of the Day, before finding the novel and didn’t realize the movie was the adaptation.
How could I possibly pass up a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson?
Flash forward five years later and I’m perusing the AP Literature list (“read that one, will never read this one, not reading this one again”), when I recognized the title Remains of the Day and connected it to the movie. Then I read the author’s name and I must admit I expected something like Adrian Smythe or Winston Greene, not Kazuo Ishiguro. After all, the novel is about a very proper English butler and his reflections of what it takes to become the best of English butlers. Wouldn’t one need to be English to understand that sort of nationalistic pride? I’m not getting points here for narrow-minded thinking, am I?

It turns out Ishiguro is quite well-suited to the task of writing about the English since he moved to England when he was around six years old. This gives him the ability to have an insider’s view with a somewhat detached perspective. The result is  basically a stream-of-consciousness narrative concerning the tunnel vision of a man’s quest for the unattainable. Trying to live a life that is beyond reproach, to achieve a status of perfection, requires sacrifice. Can sacrifice be made without regret? This is the hidden truth Stevens, the butler is searching for, except he does not realize it.
A quest novel of notice did not go unnoticed, for Ishiguro’s debut garnered him the Man Booker Prize and set a bar. Would he be a one shot wonder or would this be the first work of a noteworthy word smith?

image: This cover indicates the layers found within the story.

My literary taste buds curious for more, I trotted down to the library. Grabbing any title of his that caught my eye on the  shelf, I opened up his fifth novel When We Were Orphans. I immersed myself in reading it to the point the MEPA queried, “Still a good book?” Yes, thank you. Prognosis? After reading two novels, indications are Ishiguro is wordsmithing wonder.

Here are some bio facts and  stats:

  • Two novels have been adapted to the screen, Remains of the Day, and the more recent Never Let Me Go. Both have been received well, considering Ishiguro’s stories are mainly first person narratives, making them difficult to translate into a cinematic plot.
  • His novels are historical in nature, with attention to detail.
  • The stylistic viewpoint is that of the unreliable first-person narrator, one who is flawed in outlook.
  • Although born in Japan, he did not return until thirty years later.
  • He has received four Man Booker Prize nominations
  • The Times ranked him 32 on the list of the 50 most influential British writers since 1945.

As for an actual review of When We Were Orphans, I leave it to the more qualified:
New York Times

I plan on continuing my course of exploring Ishiguro’s work and look forward to introducing a contemporary author to my APters, who, I’m sure, would like a break from dead white folk now and then.

Any thoughts on Ishiguro’s writing? Any suggestions for the next title I should read of his?

Why We Say: #9–Bringing On More B

Wait! Wait! We interrupt our regular programming for this late breaking news flash: Mike Allegra is running ANOTHER free doodle contest. This is a not to be missed event. Check out the details at his WordPress site:

We now return to our regular programming…

Last time I spotlighted the B section, concerning “Why We Say”, and I shall continue, since it is an absolute bounty to B-hold.

image: Nothing like a brand new item fresh from the fires of shopping

Brand New
I like to frequent thrift shops; I don’t mind the slightly used, and often  thrill over the serendipitous find. On the other hand, I do appreciate owning the brand new. Rifting through the racks, securing a purchase, and slinging my sack home–MMM, new treasure. This little book has helped me to learn the true meaning of the phrase “brand new” and it gives me pause. I first thought it might refer to the company who makes the product, as in the type, the brand.  It seems “brand” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for “fire.” When blacksmiths forged metal products they would stamp in their mark, their brand. However, over time the mark would fade due to use and the item would no longer be “brand new.” So when my new treasure fades away it’s time for me to fire up my card and search for another brand-new-to-me something, right?

image: “hey man, can you spare some bread?”

“Quit loafing around, and get going on your homework. Get it done and you can go to the movies tomorrow.” Or some such form of bribery is said by Party B to get Party A motivated. Bribery. It’s not necessarily nestled amidst residents of the “nice” or “positive” words list. Officials caught accepting bribes make headlines. People are sometimes insulted if offers (thinly veiled “bribes”) are considered above or beneath them. Yet, you have admit bribes do serve as a motivator. Way back when, Europe perhaps, people hanging out looking for a hand out were a problem needing a solution. Wah La! Credit the French for the fix. “If you move on, you’ll receive a loaf of bread.” The French archaic term for such a form of motivator was “bribe.” So if someone is loafing around slip them some bread, presidential or whole wheat–your call.

image: Whiny brokers, in the original sense, of course, do not rock.

If you watch Hollywood movies, there is an association of stock brokers being well-versed in wining and dining to win over clients. This isn’t too far from the origin of “broker” and again we credit the French. The word “broker” once meant “one who opens wine kegs.” Later that person would sell said wine, and even act as an agent in other transactions. So when people whine to their broker about how their lackluster portfolio is, it’s all relative.

Next time we continue on with another bounty of words and origins.


Linking Up for a New Job

If you’re like me you probably have a handful of social media accounts that you have forgotten about. Such is the case with Linked In. I was told at a writing conference how platforming and networking is essential for self-promotion. Okay. I created an account, plumped up my profile, and there it sits. I ignore this account, yet it keeps poking me for attention. Here some job offer pokes I’ve received lately–should I fluff out my resume?


Writer: International AIDS Vaccine Initiative in New York  good cause, umm–I’ll think about it…

Writer/Editor for a company whose projects and tasks may include writing for internal and external audiences (excuse me? whatter those?), serving as media contact and conducting media outreach. And to do said job I would need to have at least a BA from an accredited institution and six to nine years progressive professional experience in journalism, communications, or public relations in a writing or editing function. Okay, I got one out of two on this one

Writer for a national beauty products company in San Francisco: this would work except A)been to San Francisco–didn’t leave my heart there B)my idea of beauty products is my Maybelline mascara C)never written for an agency or client.  This is a pass.

Amazon? seriously

Communications Manager overseeing a Metropolitan School District. The position involves providing communications to departments and schools and (I like this part) to work on creating a culture of transparency and trust. Skills and Experience? I’m an ideal candidate if I’m excellent writer/editor can develop and execute strategic communications plans plus I need to be able to tell a story using various tools like video presentations because I’m innovative and creative. I’ll bookmark this one.

Wait, but there is so much more to choose from–how about:

  • Content Marketing Writer/Chief Storyteller
  • Individual Giving Writer
  • Copywriter/Editor
  • Writer/Editor
  • Editorial Strategist/Writer
  • Warranty Writer
  • Marketing Content Writer

There might be life after retiring from grading papers.  I’ll keep polishing that resume…

Anyone else get pokes of tempting possibilities to switch paychecks?


Road Trip Reflections

It’s been about a week since I’ve been back from my Road Trip. Along the way I jotted notes and here’s what I came up with:

Reader Board: “without ice cream all would be darkness and chaos”

Rest stop bathroom poster: “no one should force you to work”–immigrant worker rights poster

Parking lot: one legged-seagull and a choir of grackles.

Dairy Queen: girl to grandpa–”how do they get the swirl on top of cone?”

Wireless Connect Option:
Drunkengiantgrogshop; dishonestdon–what neighborhood have I stopped in?

Window Shopping: seen on bib–”these fools have turned my super cape backwards.”

Coffee Shoppe: eclectic chairs and tables, tall ceilings, bookcase of children’s books, windowed playroom with dress up clothes, chalkboard walls, train set, kitchenette hutch. A brood of children frolicking while moms and dads read, deviced, paperworked. Lovely chocolate chip cookies too.

At the park: full out barbeques and families on a Saturday night


Any guesses what this deliciousness might be? Oooh, yummers. Dark chocolate wrapped around cheesecake with raspberry crème garnish sauce. Note the in-house signature chocolates decorating the sides. Caloric penance.

At the restaurant: a dessert so beautiful I actually took a photo

In the parking lot: grated fern, a statement of deeper naturalism versus industrialism that Keats, Byron, or any of the Romanticist poets would have found poignant.

Trapped Fern

This can be viewed as either a poignant expression of nature being trapped by encroaching society or how nature finds a way to bloom amidst the trappings of industrialization. Or–isn’t that weirdly cool?

On the highway: no way, amazing, sleek as a Woolworth counter grilled cheese sandwich on a pastel Bakelite plate, a blast from the past–an actual Greyhound bus sporting a “hundred years” sticker to boot.

image: What are your memories of Greyhound?

In the motel room: white noise box with ocean waves, complete with seagulls scree; forest dawn, crickets and birds quite charming,; rain pattering, too close to home; fan, buzzy hum. A novelty never before encountered and even available for purchase. Tried it on first night and grandkiddo, the one who needs a minimum of two-three books, some conversation, and a bit of snuggling was out within two minutes of being lulled by waves.

Return home: a road trip is not complete without road construction delay. At one section the two lane highway is down to one lane and nobody is moving. Not no way. Not no how. Behind a little red car which is behind a huge white truck, yet from strained sneak peeks the road looks clear ahead. The MEPA is quietly muttering for  the car ahead to edge around truck. Finally it does, and like a cork popping from a bottle, traffic started flowing again. The problem? The exit ramp so full it flowed onto road. No flagger directing traffic, construction crew absolutely  clueless to havoc below on highway.

Dinner stop: connection with youngest progeny for dinner. Roadside grazing produces guilt to eat lightly–salad bar. Yet when it’s $12.00 though all one can eat, I strive to get my  monetary satisfaction. It is possible to overdose on greenery, especially when artichoke hearts and curried chicken salad are involved.

Rolling in late to home some 6 hours later than the Google Maps prediction: truly there is no place like home


Just Another Smalltown Fourth of July



image: I don’t live in New Jersey, but a small town parade sings across America

Another perk of living in a small town is the Fourth of July celebration. The day starts off with the town parade. It starts at 9 am, rain or shine, and concludes around 10 am, depending on where you are sitting. There are options with this  parade: watch or participate. I’ve done both several times. Both forms are fun. The past couple of years though, watching is much more my style.

In the past, I’ve hauled the kids and bikes to participate in our church’s parade theme entry. I think that year was patriotic. We dressed up in red, white, and blue and I attached the tandem bike trailer so the youngest progeny could ride with his mum. Flag waving, crepe paper streaming, and cycling along made for a great Kodak moment.

Another time (actually a couple of times) I marched with a group of teachers with our signs signifying our thanks to the community. I am blessed to live in a school district where parents and the school board actually love teachers. When I march along with my compadres I usually bring along my bubble wands and make a spectacle of myself. True, I am not the usual English teacher.

After the parade it’s breaking out the BBQ. Past years involve family or church get togethers. Since we are now empty-nesters and the chickadees have flown, a twosome BBQ just doesn’t hold the fun factor like a full out group gaggle. And we admittedly have become rather hermitish in our ways and avoid the big organized ta-dos. I do try to make a special supper, even if it means hauling the plates outside to eat al fresco.

I do love a good pyrotechnics extravaganza so I drag the MEPA out at night for the fireworks down at the beach. Looonnngg ago we would grab our blanket, chairs, and snacks and huddle with our group among the masses. Now as E-nesters we skulk among the secret backsides of buildings and empty lots to feast on the fireworks from afar so we can scoot out before the crowd disperses. The fireworks traffic tangle afterwards always lasts twice as long as the show so making a clean getaway involves strategy.

Somehow once the Fourth of July hits it seems like summer has really begun.

How about y’all? What are your memorable aspects for the Fourth?

Blog Spotlight : Eagle-Eyed Editor


Here begins a series of spotlights about blogs I follow. Maybe you’ll become a follower too!

When I first began blogging about two years ago I noticed a trio of bloggers who often stopped by my posts and left chatty comment bits. Quite encouraging and fun, actually. Think about it–we tip tap out our words, launch them out, and hope to spark some kind of response. Often off-the-cuff comments lead into revelations and further discussions.

Eagle- Eyed Editor has always encouraged me to dig a bit deeper by providing both thought provoking, as well as, humorous posts. Recipient of Freshly Pressed. Twice.  Many of 3E’s posts concern the impact of social media. Try out this post.

I mentioned I would show the “Look Up” video to my students and pass on the response:

I decided not to show my freshmen the video since I didn’t think they would get or receive the message as well as my seniors; plus,  I was rather annoyed with my freshmen by the end of the year with their constant need to peek at their phones during class. Confiscating phones became a sideline to teaching at a point.  I should have asked for commission. Maybe that was their response: they have such an addiction to texting, snap chatting, and twittering that they can’t stop themselves even when the consequences are dear. In fact, some freshmen students are so addicted to their iDevices they can’t bear to be parted. This came to light when we were practicing our monthly required fire drill in May. We file out, I lock the door, we stand on the edge of the parking lot, wait for the all clear. Ten or fifteen minutes later, it’s a checklist item for admin. Purses, backpacks, coats, etc are all left behind. Not phones. “The room’s locked. We’ll be back in a couple of minutes.” A look of indecision and then a shake of the head, accompanied by clutching. “No, I must have my phone with me. I have to.” Is there a twelve step program for technology addiction?

Seniors were more blatant about their phone usage, but they were more compliant if I said “This is a no-device portion of class.” They understood time and place I blithely thought. Most of them used their phones and pads to actually look up meaningful additions to the learning process. Others didn’t. Really? Clash of Clans? From our saluatorian? Actually, I guess I was rather annoyed with my seniors by the end of the year as well. Perhaps this is why the “Look Up” video sparked the discussion that it did–they recognized the message because it was directed at many of them.

“Yet another example of how bad technology is for society,” one student stated, with thinly veiled sarcasm.

From across the room came the reply, “But if the technology weren’t there as a temptation people wouldn’t be tempted.

Across the room discussions rarely go well. Fortunately the bell rang, with the discussion still lingering as students trailed out, I would safely say there rang a truth some of my students were uncomfortable with: technology is an increasing demand on their lives, more than they care to admit.

So perhaps this generation, the one born with a device in one hand and a pacifier in the other, will swing the other way with their own children, like mine did concerning the tolerance of cigarettes and television, and decide “technology is detrimental to our well being.” I wonder will there be tech free zones established in the future? “No tech usage within 25 feet of building entrance.” “We’d like the tech-free section, please.” “I’ll have the tech-lite, please.”

Thanks again to Eagle Eyed Editor for providing blog posts which stimulate classroom discussions. I hope you will check out 3E’s blog–you won’t be disappointed.

Blue Skies,
C. Muse

The Wonderful World of Seven

The grandkiddo turned seven this year, part of the reason of the yearly sojourn.  You see, my birthday is one day before hers. Someday this will take on greater significance, and I envision an annual midnight call between us to celebrate our birthday at the same moment.

While A.A. Milne celebrated being six

image: Wikipedia. Six has its tricks, yet seven is heaven-ly

I delight in finding so much changed after one year:

  • she can read to me!–”Please read me a book” is now a give and take opportunity for sharing the delights of reading
  • she is more reasonable–melt downs are infrequent now that logic is not such a foreign concept
  • she can ride a bike–tips and spills and “I’m tired!” aren’t even part of the lexcicon (perhaps one spill)
  • she can tolerate outings much better–”Are we there yet?” doesn’t much occur due to being occupied with a book
  • she is much more content to answers to questions involving “How come?” and “Why does?” because her understanding of the world is more complete
  • she likes jokes and riddles–a shared sense of humor is definitely a bonding bonus
  • she can carry on a conversation–there is actual dialogue instead of answering a stream of questions
  • she enjoys classic cartoons as much as I–Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny rock
  • she can go to bed a bit later–9 pm vacation bedtime doesn’t involve cranky kid syndrome the next day


Seven is not quite a perfect number, although it is perfection in the making I notice these glitches:

  • loud and not-so-loud are not volume options: it’s pretty much tuned to loud
  • cause and effect aren’t quite connected synapses yet: such as jumping on the bed with possible breakables in the vicinity, like my headphones
  • full and empty are only relative terms when it comes to hunger
  • bored and engaged entail thinking and non-thinking strategies: iPads are handy but guilt-inducing babysitters
  • tone is important and attitude is quickly mimicked: in other words speak to them as I want to be spoken to
  • sarcasm is a learned nuance as is teasing: “Do you mean that for reals?”
  • sleeping in past 6:30 am is a foreign concept: okay, to be honest she at least waits for me to make a movement of waking up before pouncing on me with conversation (“DO you KNoW TIGERS haVe StRIPeS?”)

I project eight will be much different. Eight seems to be the new thirteen these days as I watch kids with iPads and iPhones in hand wander about. There is a savvy that is a bit disconcerting. I remain hopeful since the grandkiddo lives in a TV free household (amazing, I know) and has been mostly homeschooled so far.

For now I relish the nearly perfect age of seven. She still finds blowing bubbles a delight. I shall not worry yet when my love of parks and playgrounds and bubbles and cartoons become passe in her eyes.

Penthouse Ponders

image: Looking out over the world from my penthouse view…

This week I am on my yearly sojourn of eldest progeny visitation. She now lives in a third floor apartment with a view of the neighborhood park–well, sideways squint from the bathroom window. There is no elevator. This is an o-l-d building. If I were a realtor I would employ the words “charming,” “has character,” “a link to the city’s past.” In other words, the stairs are steep and the hallways long, and the foyer smell is a bit aromatic. The apartment itself is charming with lots of light from the east, west, and southern exposure. Her last place was a basement studio. The window and light were practically non-existent. The landlords seem to be trying to update the building. There are mock wood floors, cream-colored stucco walls, deadbolts, and newish windows. They don’t quite close all the way but there is hope for a fix in the works.

After the fourth night of staying in a third floor walk up having lived in relatively ground level dwellings all my life, I have the following observations:

  • Costco shopping hauls are ludicrous because all that is bought can only be hauled if held in each hand
  • Always think about if you have everything before leaving the apartment
  • Should I take the garbage down?
  • Looking at life from a bird’s-eye view lends a pleasant start to the morning
  • Going outside for some fresh air takes on deeper meaning
  • The opportunity to develop voyeurism is tempting
  • Less is more when it comes to gathering possessions, since it all has to be moved down eventually
  • Having neighbors below makes one more sensitive to noise being made since we were once the neighbor below
  • Streetside parking involves intuition and strategy
  • Buns of steel and stamina are a bonus to the view

These observations might be different if the building had an elevator–then again the rent would probably be higher. There seems to be an irony here: most places charge more for the tippy-top real estate, then again elevators must be part of the equation.

Perhaps if I were in my formative years of twentyish ,a walk-up domicile with windows would be exciting. At present, I am learning an appreciation for my yard, driveway, and ability to amass belongings without too much consequence.



Unexpected Bits of Wisdom

Lately I’ve been noticing more and more products are sporting bits of wisdom as part of the package.

Halls Defense Multi-Blend Supplement Drops, Harvest Cherry

The first notice came with my occasional binges on Dove Dark Chocolate Bites.  It took me a wrapper or two to realize pithy little “promises” hid within. For instance, “Encourage Your Sense of Daring” and “Smile Before Bed. You’ll Sleep Better” are two gems.  I started calling these my chocolate fortune cookies and began collecting them.  If you are trying to cut down on chocolate–I know I need to– *GaSp* did I really just say that?–you can unwrap a few calorie free promises at

Recently I discovered Honest Tea and upon popping open the cap I found some great quotes.  What I really like is the variety:

“Now I know the secret of making the best persons; it is grow in the open air and eat and sleep with the earth.”–Walt Whitman

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”–Albert Einstein

“The truth is a beautiful and terrible things, and should therefore be treated with caution.”–J.K. Rowling

“The world is moved along not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.”–Helen Keller

“A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”–Douglas Noel Adams

“In order to a realist you must believe in miracles.”–David Ben-Gurion

“You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt.” –Samuel Ullman

Finding bits of wisdom on drink caps probably isn’t too unusual, after all you can often find prizes and such depending on the drink.  But what really surprised me was finding “A Pep Talk in Every Drop” as I popped a cough drop.  I’m not much in the habit of caring about getting inspired when my throat’s scratchy. Although it probably isn’t so bad to make people feel good when they are feeling bad.  Would these words cheer you up once your cough in under control:

“March forward!”  “Keep your chin up.” “Now you get it in you.” “Elicit a few “wows” today.”

I think when I’m done teachering I will look into wrangling up a job for some company supplying these pity bits of wisdom.  Hmm, I wonder how I find that listing at Linked In–”Wisdom generator available–light and deep bits created upon request.”

Any other bits or promises hiding out there?







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