It doesn't get any better than this!

A new book by Daniel Pinkwater; it's online with myriad fun illustrations (click on the subject line, above); and the blurb on the back of the IRL book is by Neil Gaiman! Who could ask for anything more? Pinky says it's his best book to date, and while I am still partial to Hoboken Nights, if we're talking fiction, he may just be right.

The Neddiad, or How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization is the saga of young shoelace heir Neddie Wentworthstein. Filled with bad guys, trains, turtles, and those wonderful Pinkwater names (Col. Ken Krenwinkle, for example), every page is a delight. Just reading the chapter titles is fun - my favorites so far are "Box of Weasels" and "My Yiddishe Shaman."

I found the book in the library and devoured it. What I really want, though, is to buy it as an audiobook read by the author. This is the best way to savor Pinkwater, I believe: to hear him read his own words. Our family has listened to so many of his books on tape that I can now pick up a new Pinkwater book and practically hear him read it to me - but it's much better to hear the real article.

Three cheers for Neddie! And thrice that for Daniel Manus Pinkwater, who never ceases to surprise and amaze me.



Reviewing for Elle Magazine

One day a couple of months ago, while browsing the discussion forums on PBS, I learned how to apply to be a reviewer for Elle Magazine. It sounded like fun, so I applied (an interesting process in itself) and was accepted. My three books came a few weeks later, and I began reading.

Based on books I told them I'd recently read and enjoyed, they sent me three memoirs. I found this a bit odd since I don't often read memoirs, but they looked mildly interesting; in fact, one of them looked fascinating (if very sad), so I started with that one. Visiting Life - Women Doing Time on the Outside, by Bridget Kinsella, purported to be about the wives and girlfriends of incarcerated men. It sounded very different from anything I'd read before, and since my college has a prison outreach program, I thought it was something I ought to know about.
Actually, the book is about Kinsella's inability to come to grips with her divorce and her ticking biological clock. Although she interviews a few women, the interviews are constantly interrupted with her own whining, and she shows little sympathy for the women except where their experiences intersect her own. The prisoner she interviews becomes her "savior." She depicts him as worshiping her, and at the end of the book (I'm not giving anything away, because I warn you strongly NOT to buy this book, which means you're not going to read it, right?!) he conveniently contracts throat cancer and chooses not to have it treated. In other words, he's around just long enough to function as her "angel" and then disappear so she can get back to life away from the sordid prison setting.

Although the prisoner, "Rory," is supposed to have been the inspiration for the book, and her emotional and spiritual savior, the book isn't dedicated to him. Heck, he's not even mentioned in the acknowledgements, nor are the women who so freely gave of their time and souls to the project. That left a bad taste in my mouth, too.

I believe that she did meet with a few wives and girlfriends, and perhaps she even visited a prison once. But the rest of the book is an obvious fabrication - a framework for her own private whinings. Which, I should add, are poorly written.

Can you tell how much I hated this book?!

Now, Carolyn Jourdan's book Heart in the Right Place was so wonderful that it made up for having had to read Kinsella's! It comes out in June (I believe all three of these books do), and you should immediately run out and buy it! Jourdan is one of those authors who make you wish she were your next-door neighbor, and her book is one of those books you want to buy to give to everybody you care about. She has an honest, straightforward voice that speaks right from the heart - in other words, the title does not disappoint.

Jourdan took a brief vacation from her job as a U.S. Senate counsel when her mother had a massive heart attack, and returned to her rural Tennessee home. Her mother immediately put her to work running her father's family medicine practice for two days until her mother was back on her feet. (Obviously, both Jourdan and her mother were in denial about the severity of her mother's condition.) The time was extended from two days to a week, from a week to two weeks and so on, as Jourdan had to learn to cope not only with making appointments over the phone for people who demanded special services she did not understand ("does the doctor wash out feet?") to dealing with goat emergencies (many of the farmers trusted her father more than they trusted the local veterinarian).

There are similarities to James Herriott's gentle humor, but Jourdan has a crisis all her own: she wants to return to D.C., her exciting, important job, foreign embassy dinners and her mentor, who keeps calling and urging her to come home. Rural Tennessee is no longer her home; she has gone to great lengths to escape a place where she never fit in, and she has no intention of staying any longer than her parents need her. She is homesick for Washington and out of place in her father's office.

It is a good book. Read it!

The third book they sent me was a real surprise. I hadn't expected to enjoy it, but the first paragraph grabbed me and from there on I couldn't set it down. Lindeen has the comedic timing of P.G. Wodehouse - yes, she is that good! I'd never heard of her, or of Zuzu's Petals, or of most of the punk rock bands in the book, but the experiences and the time about which she writes, oh yes, they ring lots of bells for me! Of the three books, this was the most laugh-out-loud fun to read, but in some ways also the most painful, as I'd shared some similar situations (Lindeen is about 2 years younger than I am, so we grew up in the same era, and it was a tough one). You don't have to have wanted to break into the music scene to love this book - it's about dreams, and growing up, and friendships, and finding yourself. But it's also about the music scene in Minneapolis, and that part is really interesting!

And did I mention how marvelous the writing is? ;-) Do get it when it comes out. It was the last of the three that I read, but ranks very high on my enjoyment meter. C will be reading it next - he's not into punk, but he recognized Lindeen's husband's band (The Replacements) and, of course, he's interested in books like this anyway.



Student Mandalas

The semester is over - and the summer session has begun. Spring semester's mandala project was a huge success! Despite the entire class blanching when I announced it, every single student pronounced it the best project of their semester - not just of this course, but of all the courses they had that semester. And they created some truly lovely, inspired work (which I will show you, below).

So I decided that it was time to try it out in my online sections this summer. We'll see what happens. It means that students will need to use either a digital camera or a scanner, but since last term several students scanned things for me, and since they have plenty of lead-time in which to locate the equipment, I am not concerned about it.

So let's get to the mandalas. The students voted; here's the one that won first place:
(Ignore the dates on these; I am still fighting with my camera about this.) Surrounding the mandala is twisted stereo wire, representing Christ's crown of thorns. Danielle used fabric, fabric paint and tissue paper to make this large mandala, and it was indeed beautiful.

Second place went to this one.
I particularly like this one. It is a stepping stone for a garden, embedded with bits of colored glass and then painted. Knowing Erin, it is very much an expression straight from her heart. What a great medium! Can't you just picture it in her garden?

Third place went to Laridys, a very quiet student with quite a talent for drawing:
I was thrilled for her to win a prize, since she is so shy and self-effacing.

One of my very favorite mandalas was done by Luan. I greatly admire his ability to draw hands - having seen C&Z work on hands, I know how difficult they are to master.
He explained that he comes from a Buddhist background, but has left most religion for Secular Humanism, which he finds far more compatible, after studying many other religions in our course. I like the way he depicted "letting go" of religions.

Another very interesting drawing was done by one of the two honors students in the class:
Unfortunately, although I remember that his artist's statement explained the image and made a lot of sense, I can't remember even the gist of it. Still, it's a cool image.

This one didn't come out very well digitally, but it was very nice IRL. My Wiccan student depicted the Lady Gaia, using beads to color each of the jewels above her head. Very pretty. N, who came in with me that day, admired it so much that Katie gave it to her to bring home. Made N very happy, and it's now hanging in her room.

This was one of my very favorites. Alex barely got to class before N&I left, and most of the other students had already gone. As you can see, it's a "Jesus fish," and she's even colored the rim to look metallic - that alone took her a couple of hours with grey markers of three shades. The scales are individually cut and glued circles, each with a different religious symbol - if you click on the image itself, it will open in a different window and allow you to view it up close. You should really do that, it's worth the examination. WOW. I continue to be impressed by this one, and by what it represents.

This one was interesting because each side opened into a two-page booklet. I wasn't crazy about the content; for one thing, the books had an awful lot of text, and for another, I'm not into bloody nails. Nevertheless, it was quite a creative concept, turning the poster into a double book.

Scott, who is a musician, took photos from the insert of his cd, and turned them into a tower.
I didn't get the whole thing in, but I was able to get a picture of his artist's statement, which you can read if you click on it:

He's an interesting fellow, a good musician, and a good person. And a creative one, too - this is the first vertical piece I've received!

Last, my favorite piece from this class - favorite because it is interactive. It did not receive any votes at all; it's not flashy, and I think perhaps some of the students found it hard to understand. It may not have looked as showy as some of the others - but the thought that went into it was profound. I wish I had asked the students to give me copies of their artist's statements, because hers was very good. (So next time I will know to do that!) She is a Taoist and a free-thinker, so it makes sense to me that her mandala was created on a mirror:

Nada used tissue paper and ink on top of the mirror; when you look into it, you can still see a colored, shadowy image of part of your face through the tissue paper, which is a very interesting effect indeed.

So there you have the most intriguing of my students' work from last semester.

Cool, huh?