Tag Archives: reading recommendations

Little Prayers Poetry: An Interview with Susie Meserve

When it comes to choosing the next book to read, I’ll read anything. I love challenging myself to different genres and diverse authors. I think we learn about our world as readers, and writers, through different mediums and kinds of storytelling.

April is National Poetry Month, and I love exploring this genre because it reaches the reader in a way unlike any other written form. Many of my favorite writers began as poets, and there’s something to recognize about the talent and skill it takes to craft a poem that makes you feel something in a short amount of words and with little filler.

007-KLJ-WEB-Susie-Final-3372Susie Meserve is a poet, memoirist and blogger. Her first collection of poems, Little Prayers, was recently published by Blue Light Press and was the winner of the 2018 Blue Light Book Award.

I’ve followed Susie on twitter and her blog for years, so am happy to welcome her over to the Happiness Project to chat about her new book and why poetry matters today.

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JW: Welcome, Susie! 

Describe Little Prayers in three words. 

SM: Poetry about life.

SM.LittlePrayersFrntCvrWbWhat would you say are the themes in this collection of work? 

Death and rebirth, flight and return, the life of dreams, the fleetingness of time. And maybe, as Michelle Bonczek Evory suggested on my book cover, “the daily mundane.”

Your poems feature detailed captures of moments and objects, how we can find ourselves lost within those fragments. Is that where the title “Little Prayers” comes from, those moments? 

I think so, yes! This book had several other titles before Little Prayers—for a while it was called “Losing Paradise” (and a friend suggested “The Oracle”). When I stepped back and looked at it, though, I realized that while the poems were all very different thematically and structurally, there was this fleeting, temporary quality to almost all of them. I hope that doesn’t mean they’re not memorable, but they do seem to capture somewhat ephemeral snippets of time—a bird flying in the window, waking in the middle of the night, a session doing dishes, a little ruminating on California—in a meditative, quiet sort of way. So then I looked at the poem “Little Prayer” and thought, yeah, that’s my title poem. I just slightly changed it to indicate a multitude of prayers, not just one. I should add: I’m not a religious person, but my poetry chapbook (Finishing Line Press, 2008) is called Faith. I’m not entirely sure why. I think the act of writing poetry feels somewhat spiritual to me. And let’s face it, it requires a lot of faith—in something!—to be a writer in today’s world.

What does writing poetry compared to other forms of writing allow you to do differently? Do you think you can speak your truth, or Truth, more clearly? 

I love that you capitalized Truth, here, like the universal Truth. I don’t know if I believe in that concept, though. I actually think I can speak my own truth more clearly in personal essays like this one  and this one, where I’ve had to be deeply honest to tell the story. In poetry, I can speak multiple truths, in a sense. It’s all very sneaky. Poetry is absolutely my first love, and I think what I love about it is the unexpected. I just begin sometimes, and things surprise me, and then I have a poem (that may or may not be “true”). This can be very freeing—when it’s working.

Your poems include a variety of style and format. How do you decide what is the “right” format for your poem as you’re writing? 

Great question. This book consists of poems from over 15 years of writing, so it represents a lot of different styles as I tried them on over the years. For a while I was really feeling couplets, then these formless, no-stanza, rambling poems, then poems with numbered sections. I think the poem usually tells you what it wants. For me, a poem I want more control over—because it’s got a more intense, precise quality, maybe—will ask for couplets or tercets, whereas one that feels more free and easy—or unwieldy—might not want any stanza breaks at all.

What’s your best piece of advice for someone writing poetry?

I don’t use prompts, really (though I do like the prompts in the book The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, excellent for beginners). My biggest advice is to READ. I think when you start to be able to identify the kinds of surprises other poets incorporate into their work, you start to incorporate your own. So reading a wide variety of styles and voices is just essential.

Why do you think poetry is important today? 

I think poetry asks us to tap into a different part of our brains than prose does. It demands and requires more intangibility. I remember well the time my mom told me she liked my poems but felt like she didn’t understand them. I told her she didn’t need to, that she should just appreciate what she got out of them. She told me later how freeing that was for her, that me giving her permission not to work too hard took away a lot of her anxiety and allowed her to just sit with the lines and enjoy them. I think that’s one of the things that’s hardest about poetry—we don’t always “get it” in the way we might, say, a novel or a memoir, and maybe that’s why people run away from it. We don’t want to feel stupid or like we’re missing something. We want clarity, answers. Because poetry often raises questions. But I think that’s a really good thing! Poetry can open us up to mystery and abstraction, which is good for our brains and our hearts. And the music of poetry—learning to hear it—is essential for anyone wanting to write or appreciate good writing.

What’s next on your writing desk? 

I’m most excited about a new poetry collection I’m working on. I’m writing a series of poems about infertility, pregnancy, and motherhood. They’re deeply personal, much more raw, and all linked thematically. I’m thinking of it a bit like a memoir in verse. It’s going really well. I’m super inspired, and just hoping it’s, you know, good.

I’m sure it will be! Thanks, Susie! 

***

In honor of National Poetry Month, Susie is giving away a free copy of Little Prayers to two lucky people who signs up for her newsletter before Sunday, May 6th! Sign up at Susie’s website to win!

You can catch up with Susie on Twitter @susiemeserve or on her website, www.susiemeserve.com, where she blogs regularly about writing and being More Than a Mother.

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A Year of Reading: The Books I Read for a Monthly Challenge

Gather in, bloggers and readers, I’m going to tell you a secret.

Are you ready? Here goes…

I love reading. 

Ok, that was not a secret at all.

51j4xd2ntcl-_sx355_bo1204203200_I’m actually going to tell you about the books I read for a book challenge I gave myself in 2017. I found this awesome little book on Amazon called A Year of Reading by Elisabeth Ellington and Jane Freimiller.

The book features a different theme each month with five options for what to read. What I loved about using this guide is that it includes diverse authors of various ethnicities as well as a wide variety of genres in its recommendations. Over the course of the year, I read a mix of fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose, and even a few graphic novels.

It also includes discussion and reflection sections and extra credit opportunities with bonus book recommendations, interviews and videos to check out, and more!

Here’s a sample of what my year looked like using this guidebook to switch up my reading! I didn’t finish every book every month, because life gets in the way sometimes. But there were months I read more than one title for the theme too, so in the end, it evened out.

My Year of Reading

January: A Happier You
Book: The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman

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What I liked about it: This book is a collection of the author’s art, sketches, and photography. It includes story snippets and random musings. It’s different than any other book I’ve read. For more info about this book, check out my previous post here.

February: Classic Romance
Book: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

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What I liked about it: A fascinating look at love and relationships across generations, geography, and social media.  

Blog Review: Check out my favorite parts in my full blog review!

March: Focus on Justice
Books: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

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What I liked about it: Easily one of my favorite reads of 2017. Incredibly well written, the book chronicles Stevenson’s journey toward working with wrongfully convicted death row inmates and juveniles who were tried as adults. The book discusses one case in detail throughout, but includes multiple examples of cases Stevenson worked on. From tampering with evidence to racial prejudices, the author and lawyer tackles what’s wrong with our justice system.

Blog Review: Read my full blog review of the book.

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What I liked about it: So powerful. Congressman John Lewis joined with illustrators to tell his story of the civil rights movement to a whole new generation in this graphic novel series. Definitely read all three books! Another favorite that will make you think, make you learn, make you humble, make you crave change, do better, be aware!

April: Creative Spirit
Book: Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

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What I liked about it: Beautiful blend of memoir, prose, and poetry. It’s emotional, artistic, and rhythmic. This one deserves to be read aloud.

Blog Review: Read my full blog review.

May: Families in Fiction
Book: The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi A. Jackson

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What I liked about it: Family dynamics are at full play in this story of sisters who move from Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother. It’s more than a coming of age story, that’s just a small part of the tale. There are family secrets and lessons to learn as the sisters create a new sense of home.

June: Families in Nonfiction
Book: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

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What I liked about it: A humorous and heartfelt graphic novel and memoir about caring for aging parents. As much as you’d think this was a quick, easy read since it’s illustrated, I had to take my time and read this slowly. With older parents of my own, there were parts I could identify with, and the unknown future and potential issues this book brings up made me emotional. It shares real feelings and concerns about what we do with the people we love as they get older.

July: Journeys
Book: In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta Ahmed

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What I liked about it: I didn’t know a lot about the Muslim faith before reading this and it was interesting to have a woman’s point of view on the religion and its practices both in Saudi Arabia and the western world. Despite faith-based and gender barriers, the author and doctor was able to show the reader her deep love for the religion, the women who are making progress in unique ways, and how to be a strong, professional woman.

August: Starting Over
Book: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord (did not finish)

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September: This Digital Life
Book: The Circle by Dave Eggers

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What I liked about it: Um, I didn’t care for this one personally. The storyline is interesting and brings up issues about social media, safety, and security. However, I was disappointed with the lead character and felt the author did not represent her very realistically. I think if a writer is going to write a main character that is a different gender or ethnicty than themself, they should make that character as real as possible. The numerous sex scenes that take place in public bathrooms did not do anything to move the story forward or seem true to the character. They very much felt written by a male for a male. This made my interest in the book lessen.

October: Reading About Reading
Book: The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe by Ann Morgan (did not finish)

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November: Comfort Food, Comfort Reading
Books: Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

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What I liked about it: Sasha Martin had a very difficult childhood, and despite moving around and many unstable moments, she’s created a memoir that revolves around food. From the unique, makeshift meals her mother made to family recipes to attending cooking school, Martin finds meaning in them all.

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What I liked about it: Another graphic novel for my list! Knisley shares short stories of food memories in this graphic novel. From learning how to cook mushrooms with her mother to traveling the world and surviving on pastries, her passion for food will be felt.

December: Heartwarming Classics
Book: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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What I liked about it: I completed this one on audiobook and highly recommend the BBC radio production recording if you can get it. Excellent narrator and the story is infused with additional sound effects like the chains, the chimes of the clock striking the hour, and some instrumental music. I really enjoyed this classic and would read it again.

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What reading challenges did you do or are you currently doing?
Do you think reading diverse books is important?
What do you want to read more of this year? 

 

 

 

A Year of Reading: Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”

— Max de Pree

I’ve been selecting a book to read each month from A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.

February featured comedian, Aziz Ansari, and his take on Modern Romance

March was a particular favorite read of mine on the topic of justice with Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy

Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from April: Creative Spirit.

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

I am at my core, a lover of memoir. I am in awe of fiction writers as I personally find it difficult to write fiction. I often think the truth is stranger than fiction and many of the craziest scenes or details in fiction books come from truth. For example, in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, there’s a bit about a dead hippo the ringmaster keeps parading about during the circus, pretending the hippo is swimming in its tank. The hippo was in formaldehyde, and Gruen learned about the trick from a past employee of a real, traveling circus.

What Harjo has done with her memoir, Crazy Brave, is phenomenal, and as A Year of Reading suggests, it should be read aloud.

A well recognized poet, Harjo’s memoir encompasses story, lyric, and poem.

Overview from Goodreads:

In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary. 

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IMG_2217I’m discovering more and more lyric novels lately. Books that tell a story, but do so partially, or completely, in poetry format. Rising authors like Jason Reynolds are doing so, using spoken word to communicate his tale. And in my own neck of the woods, artist and author Mai Chao shared the story of her Hmoob parents fleeing the Secret War, living in a refugee camp, and immigrating to America, in her beautiful lyric novel, Gathering Fireflies. 

Harjo’s work is partially written in verse, and part traditional storytelling. It is beautifully oriented around directions (north, south, east, west), and place (her home of Oklahoma).

This book was a decadent treat for the wordsmith in me. Harjo’s writing comes from a place of loss, misdirection, and unknowing followed by the grace of time, perspective, and truth. In her own words:

A story matrix connects all of us.
There are rules, processes, and circles of responsibility in this world. And the story begins exactly where it is supposed to begin. We cannot skip any part.
― Joy HarjoCrazy Brave

I recommend Crazy Brave for any artists out there. Harjo’s story, and her work, is utmost about resilience, and it inspired me. And for bookworms, if you haven’t yet checked out a lyric novel or memoir, consider this a jewel of an introduction to the craft.

It really should be read aloud.

Have you ever checked out a lyric piece of work?
What did you think of the genre? 

What other books for artists, or on creativity, do you recommend? 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Books On My Spring To Be Read List

What books are on your to read list right now?

The recent signs of spring have me extra energized to tackle my To Be Read Pile. I’m a pretty avid reader, and I recently discovered the blog, The Broke and the Bookish, who hosts a Top Ten list every Tuesday focused on various book themes. Today we’re talking about the Top Ten Books On Our Spring To Be Read List. I don’t know about you, but I have the hardest time whittling down what book to read next because I want to read All. The. Books!!^$?!

worlds largest latteIf I drink All. The. Coffee. I will never have to sleep again!
I can just read and read and read and read…

Hmm, maybe not.

But here are the Top Ten Books on my Spring To Be Read List: 

1. Persuasion by Jane Austen

The last of Jane Austen’s six novels I have yet to read. Once I finish the story of Anne Eliot I will have completed her most well known works and can move on to some of her novellas like Sandition and Lady Susan. Judging from the film versions I’ve seen (many times), Captain Wentworth is indeed worth waiting for.

2. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Claimed as the new Eleanor & Park meets The Fault in our Stars, I’ve been hungry to read this book for awhile but busy finishing up some other titles. I even bought this one in hardcover. I don’t even really like hardcover. I’m a paperback girl. I just wanted to read this one that badly. It’s the story of two teens – one a total loner who contemplates death and looks to the future with a strict eye, the other a free spirit who lives in the moment and sees life as an adventure. Their worlds are about to collide. I want to find out what happens!

3. Cress by Marissa Meyer

The third book in The Lunar Chronicles; I’m committed now. I absolutely loved the first book, Cinder. I thought the second book, Scarlet, was ok. But friends assure me that Cress is worth the read. A futuristic spinoff of classic fairytales, this is the continuing adventure of a cyborg named Cinder who is on the run after the evil Lunar Queen, Levana, has a call out for her head and plans to marry the good-intentioned Emperor Kai. With the help of some fellow misfits, will Cinder overtake Levana before the Queen takes over their world?

4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

It’s been too long since I’ve read any Neil Gaiman and I must remedy that. What’s more intriguing than a pond that becomes an ocean? As a middle-aged man returns home for a funeral, he is reminded of the people he grew up with and the stories they each told.

5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Bestseller in the early 2000’s, all my friends read this one, but I didn’t. I was afraid I couldn’t handle the subject matter. But this winter I happened upon the book in a Little Free Library near my house and decided it was time I checked it out. Despite its serious subject matter, I’m really looking forward to reading this one.

6. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Long before there was Christian Grey, the leading man with the wealth and power was Dorian Gray. A favorite old film of mine, the black and white version of course, I’m excited to read the novel for the first time. This title was selected by my book club as our classic this year and I’m really looking forward to our discussion.

7. The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless

Another book I had to get in hardcover because I couldn’t wait. I’m a huge fan of author Jon Krakauer, who wrote Into the Wild, the story of Chris McCandless. Now, Chris’s sister, Carine, has written her own telling of her family’s history and the days leading up to her brother’s nomadic life.

8. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

A few years ago I had a year of comedy, where half of the books I read were humorous memoirs. I think this year may be my year of YA. I’ve got so many young adult books on my list. And one of them is Eleanor & Park. Even the colored pencil sketch cover looks like spring to me. How could I possibly say no to a love story between two misfit teens when the leading lady has red hair?

9. Wildalone by Krassi Zourkova

I’m not shy about admitting the fact that I disliked Jane Eyre. I know, I know, such sacrilege from an English major! What can I say? I’m more of a Heathcliffe/Wuthering Heights kinda girl. However, I really enjoyed This House is Haunted which is an adaptation of Jane Eyre, and Wildalone has some notes of Eyre as well. I do enjoy a good paranormal read and this one seems intriguing!

10. The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry 

I’m embarrassed to admit how long this beautiful book has sat on my TBR shelf. It’s been an alternate in the TBR Challenge for 2 years and since I never had to use my alternates I didn’t get to it. This year I made it part of my challenge, determined to finally read it. I love the idea that the lead character can see ghosts by cooking up recipes from them. And this is what sets her off on a journey of family secrets.

*****

That’s my Top 10 books to read this spring.
What titles are on your spring list? 

55 Things To Do in Fall

Fall is my favorite season of the year. It’s one of the few things that make living in the Northern states worthwhile and putting up with snow – our autumn is completely and utterly GORGEOUS!

Let’s go enjoy it!

55 Things To Do in Fall

1.  Make soup.

2.  Decorate for Halloween

Halloween Collage

3.  Drink apple cider.

4.  Write a poem about the beauty of autumn.

5.  Snuggle under the covers.

6.  Visit a pumpkin patch.

100_23507.  Change over your closets – delight in a new wardrobe.

8. Start reading a really thick book.

9.  Learn to make a great cup of tea.

10.  Deal with having to wear socks again.

11.  Buy fun socks.

12.  Watch monster movies.

Why yes, that is a picture of me attending Jurassic Park 3D while wearing a Dinosaur hat.  Jealous?!

Why yes, that is a picture of me attending Jurassic Park 3D while wearing a Dinosaur hat. Jealous?!

13.  Wear a cozy sweater.

14.  Cheer for Football Season.

15.  Carve pumpkins.

16.  Drink red wine.

17.  Go apple picking.

Apple collage18.  Tune in for your favorite TV show’s fall premiere.

19.  Rake your neighbor’s yard, invite them to jump in the leaf piles with you.

20.  Make and then devour pumpkin bars.

21.  Light a candle or 20.

22.  Take a long, relaxing bath.

23.  Delight in the absurd weather changes that allow for mittens and flip flops at the same time.

24.  Go hiking and enjoy the fall colors.

100_170125.  Spider web your house…at your own risk.

26.  Make leaf rubbings – use them as stationary.

27.  Wear slippers on your day off.

28.  Enjoy a mug of hot cocoa – and as many marshmallows as your heart desires.

29.  Host a Halloween party.

100_057330.  Eat only orange and black foods for a day.

31.  Have a campfire.

32.  Put flannel sheets on your bed.

33.  Watch or read The Walking Dead.

Walking Dead Decision Making34.  Attend a live theater performance or concert.

35.  Drink a pumpkin spice latte.

36.  Have a Sunday Funday.

37.  Marathon watch horror movies on AMC’s Fear Fest.

38.  Participate in the wacky holidays.

  • October 11th:  Take Your Teddy Bear to Work Day
  • October 12th:  Moment of Frustration Day
  • October 14th:  Be Bald and Free Day
  • October 17th:  Wear Something Gaudy Day
  • October 21st:  Count Your Buttons Day
  • October 21st:  National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day
  • October 25th:  Punk for a Day Day
  • October 29th:  National Frankenstein Day
  • October 30th:  National Candy Corn Day
  • October 31st:  Increase Your Psychic Powers Day

39.  Watch your favorite trilogies.

40.  Keep warm with a steamy romance novel.

41.  Hold a pint of beer with fingerless gloves.

42.  Plan your Halloween costume.

Halloween Costumes43.  Write a long letter to a friend.

44.  Plan your Thanksgiving menu.

45.  Try to avoid getting a cold.

46.  Name your pumpkins.

PumpkinsMeet Ezekiel, Clay Matthews, Penelope, Rex,

Constantine, Goliath, and Niles.

Missing:  Paco and Abendego

47.  Experience the bizarre horror musical that is Repo!:  The Genetic Opera.

48.  Buy in-season vegetables. SQUASH!!!

49.  Eat apple pie.

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50.  Go for a hayride.

51.  Have a chili cook off.

52.  Visit a haunted house, graveyard, or corn maze.

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53.  Hand out candy for Trick or Treat.

54.  Spend time with family.  No social media/phones/computers allowed.

55.  Get Thankful with a gratitude journal.

What are your favorite things about fall season?

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