Friday, February 29, 2008

Close Encounters of the Gaiman Kind

I am currently on page 100 of American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. In my opinion, there is no better way to introduce this book to someone than chucking a copy at them and telling them to dive in.

This is the first book I've ever read of Neil Gaiman's. I've been very familiar with the author's name for years and had some of his books saved for possible future purchases on my Amazon Wish List. The content sounded right up my alley, as least in the fiction realm. Little did I know I would venture into Gaiman territory and lose myself in a swiftly spiraling, electric dream in the process.

There are some very unsettling moments in the book that you don't anticipate until they're upon you. Without giving away the story, for those of you who have yet to read it, I will say that one such instance involves a deadly wager made during a seemingly harmless game of checkers. Whew, yikes, I didn't see that coming. Talk about getting hit on the head! (little play on words that those of you who have read it will recognize)

I find it difficult to write reviews that are too in-depth. I don't want to influence the individual perception of a reader who comes to the first page, totally unaware of what to expect. It's like watching the movie The Sixth Sense and already knowing the ending. That would be a definite letdown. To experience that movie for the first time and not realize you are missing the little cues to the truth throughout the unfolding of the film is what it's all about.

The funny thing about me reading this book is that I'm not even remotely into fantasy fiction. But Gaiman sucks the reader in immediately, artfully, with a descriptively rich and yet unassuming use of language.

ODD SIDE NOTES: I picked up my copy of American Gods for less than five bucks at my local Daedalus bookstore since I'd always been curious. Sadly, the book then almost met an untimely demise as it sat in the back of my car, because we have no room for my literary outgrowth in our dinky one-bedroom apartment. The wetness trickling down from a snow shovel haphazardly tossed onto the rear floorboard of my car seeped into and throughout my book, rendering it a sopping mess. With hope, I placed it vertically on my dresser, pages spread, where it sat for weeks until it finally dried. Of course, now consisting of mostly warped pages, it's twice as thick and unwieldy as it should be. Otherwise, the words are thankfully intact.

After having become entranced by the stature of Gaiman's writing, I feel sorry I never made the time to read my copy of his novel Neverwhere. Unfortunately, It had to go, along with thousands of others in a collection I was forced to abandon to a friend in Wyoming. There was no way to ship that many by mail or afford to move cross-country anything I couldn't stuff into my already overloaded-to-the-gills Grand Am. Losing those books was quite the heartbreak. I had carefully hand-selected the perfect books that I would "one day" find time to read. Can you imagine?

There are worse compulsions, I guess.


Neil Gaiman's web site

For those of you who don't mind reading in e-book format, I just happened to discover today (synchronicity afoot?) that Neil Gaiman's web site yesterday began to host a link to a FREE copy of American Gods. It will be up through March 28 and appears to just be a version to be read online and not downloaded (although I'm sure crafty people out there will find a way). The book can also be accessed via the image of its cover on the sidebar of my blog.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

DailyLit for the Time-Challenged Bibliophile

If you don't have time to read, check out DailyLit, a website that will send you daily installments of books via e-mail or RSS feeds. There are over 750 books available for FREE, but even the copyrighted titles usually cost well under $10.

A great way to get your daily biblio-fix when you're short on time! For me, I imagine it would get really old stretching out the time spent reading a book over the course of almost a year or less. But, hey, it's better than not reading at all.

Oddest Book Title of the Year

Every year, Bookseller magazine announces the winner of its Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. This year, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Diagram Prize, the magazine is also holding public vote for the "Diagram of Diagrams"--the oddest book title ever.

Here are the illustrious winners, as well as the titles currently on the short list for this year's award and some that narrowly missed out on a place in history.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday Salon: Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Currently I'm reading Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It's one of those philosophical classics I've always had on my list to read and of which I never got around to cracking the cover.

There were parts of this book where the waters turned deeper and darker, and I knew there was more than met the eye at first glance. So, there were some of these paragraphs that I had to return to and pick apart to let the meaning sink in.

I was fine until I reached the part about the narrator having had a previous personality, which was somehow removed and replaced with his current one in the book. I assume that this change was meant figuratively, but so far a better understanding of this has not been revealed.

Anyway, please read more about this book here. Because, let's face it. It's 11:30 at night, and I'm unable to form coherent sentences, while trying to capture an entry before I miss making my official weekly commitment to the Sunday Salon. And, as of now, at page 96 and just getting down a superficial understanding of this book, I'm not qualified to write much more, and even if I could, I'm not so sure I could explain it. It's kind of like one of those "you had to be there" moments. You have to be there reading it to really get the gist of it.

Am I making any sense? Well, right now I feel pretty much like the book makes me feel, like I'm running in circles through my thoughts.

P.S. A Google search on Robert Pirsig produced many results. My favorite was this insightful essay, Cruising Blues and Their Cure.

Monday, February 11, 2008

HarperCollins Will Post Free Books Online

This is pretty cool.

Starting today, readers who log on to HarperCollins will be able to see the entire contents of “The Witch of Portobello” by Paulo Coelho; “Mission: Cook! My Life, My Recipes and Making the Impossible Easy” by Food Network star Robert Irvine; “I Dream in Blue: Life, Death and the New York Giants” by Roger Director; “The Undecided Voter’s Guide to the Next President: Who the Candidates Are, Where They Come from and How You Can Choose” by Mark Halperin; and “Warriors: Into the Wild,” the first volume in a children’s series by Erin Hunter.

HarperCollins also plans to upload a different title by Coelho each month for the rest of the year.

I'm more interested in reading offline books, but, hey, FREE! Who am I to turn that down?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Just For Fun: What Kind of Book Are You Quiz

Errr, I had hoped I was a little more exciting than that! I borrowed this quiz from the blog, Dinosaur Mom Chronicles.

It did hit some things on target. I admit it. I am a spelling nerd. I won first place in the spelling bee for my school in 9th grade in Florida and went on to county level. And I am a useless trivia buff, so I guess that fits.

I shouldn't even tell you this, but as a kid, I used to read the encyclopedia or dictionary when I was bored.

You're The Dictionary!

by Merriam-Webster

You're one of those know-it-all types, with an amazing amount of knowledge at your command. People really enjoy spending time with you in very short spurts, but hanging out with you for a long time tends to bore them. When folks really need an authority to refer to, however, you're the one they seek. You're an exceptional speller and very well organized.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sunday Salon: Girl Clown, by Mary R. Wise

I must admit that I haven't gotten a lot of reading done for today's Sunday Salon. This past week I began Julia Cameron's The Complete Artist's Way, and I've slowly been incorporating that into my life.

I did remain true to my literary core today, however. I interviewed a local author (local, to me, anyway) originally from Takoma Park, Maryland -- Mary R. Wise, who wrote Girl Clown, a memoir of her life working for three years as a clown in the circus.

I plan to elaborate more on that this week. My schedule has been pretty crazy lately, but I'd like to come back to this, as it was both educational for me as a beginning writer and entertaining for the conversational value. I'll soon be posting the details of the interview surrounding this author and her written work.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Complete Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron

Of late, I have begun reading a three-book compilation by author Julia Cameron, The Complete Artist's Way. This includes The Artist's Way, Walking in This World, and Finding Water.

If you're not familiar with Cameron, in The Artist's Way, she advocates two simple concepts as major tools for transcending creative blocks. Doing these activities on a constant basis is meant to unleash the creative soul within each of us - whether we are sculptors, writers, homemakers or business people looking to engage more fully with the artistic aspects of ourselves.

I have never read the second and third books in the set, and the total sum of advice covers over 700 pages. Cameron says that following this model throughout her own multi-faceted career path as a filmmaker, writer and speaker, has paid off.

Slowly, I've begun to chip away at this heaping of inspiration on the train each day. I enjoy how she blends the process of accessing our creative urges with beginning to open up spiritually. Although Cameron uses the word "God," it is not in the sense of linking her teachings to the Christian ideal. She encourages anyone of any faith (or lack thereof) to respond in his or her own way, saying that pure creativity comes about from a combination of this unseen force in collaboration with our own intentions.

The first step recommended for all who wish to seriously pursue this course is to complete "The Morning Pages." This is a "brain dump" of sorts, with a requirement to write three pages daily, no matter what your mood. The goal is to write whatever comes to mind (even if it seems petty, angry or boring, and you hate it -- even if you write three pages that read, "I have nothing to say today.") without stopping to edit or judge its content. The product of this free writing is meant to get you out of your own way. Only then, can you be ready to embrace those first thoughts that spring from the well of your imagination. This will send you onward on the path to developing as an artist.

The second step for those of us who seek to become unblocked creatives is known as "The Artist Date." This involves making time to go out alone and attend an event or take part in a hobby you enjoy. This tool is designed to work in tandem with the Morning Pages. While writing the required three pages per day is akin to sending a request to the Universe (or God, Buddha, whatever) to express your dreams, the Artist Date is how you are to receive inspiration and guidance from the Universe.

The book is filled with well-chosen quotes and numerous practical exercises. Over time, these should allow you to delve into your past and understand what caused you to bury your creative side, to disconnect from the flow of creativity in the first place, hence to aid in your recovery.

As a side note, the Morning Pages can be penned within the plainest of notebooks or in a journal Cameron specially designed to accompany your work. It is up to you. However, it is not recommended that you type your pages. Cameron also states that you shouldn't even read them for at least 8 weeks (so you don't end up critiquing yourself right out of keeping to this goal). Also, it's not advisable to ever show them to other people. The pages are meant to function as a sanctuary for only you, so that you can begin to "rest on the page," as Cameron puts it.

I began my Morning Pages before Thanksgiving, and I lasted about one week. I managed the mighty task of ditching my usual morning nap and disciplined myself to do them. I was really starting to feel my load lighten and my mind grow in clarity, with each day accomplished. Then, my boyfriend and I left to visit his parents in Missouri. Even though I had the best of intentions, and brought my journal with me, I didn't even crack the cover. By the time we returned home, I had veered off in other directions.

So, here I go again.

There seems to be much validity in reading and partaking in the tasks in Cameron's books. Groups in many parts of the world have formed for the purpose of working through the process together.

The one line from Cameron that sums everything up for me is "Leap and the net will appear." Doesn't that say it all? If we can detach ourselves from our fears and find out how to dig deeply, down to the blood that pulses through the center of our lives, our needs will be met. But, in order to do so, we have to take that first step.

PLEASE comment if you have used Cameron's books, and let us know how they worked for you. I've been familiar with her books for years, but only now at 35 years old, do I find that I can sit still long enough to probably hang on to the very end.

I also just came across The Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-Size, and I immediately ordered it. Looks fascinating and unique.