Boo’s Reading: A Dog’s Purpose by W Bruce Cameron

A Dog's Purpose by W Bruce Cameron

On Wednesdays, Berns and I go to several appointments across town. There isn’t time to come home between them, but there is enough time to get some lunch and take a look around in a couple of shops. Sometimes we hit Edgehill Village, and there are other times when we go over to 12 South, but we tend to end up in Hillsboro Village most of all. There are a couple of restaurants we like there, Natural Selections has cats for Berns to pet, and one of the only really real bookstores in Nashville is on that stretch of 21st Street.

Berns hates choosing books. I can’t explain it because I don’t totally understand it. I mean, he reads an entire book just about every single day. I think it has something to do with the executive functioning/frontal lobe skills required to distinguish between choices and narrowing then down to a selection. He has a hard time choosing socks, so a bookstore has to be somewhat overwhelming even if he’d like nothing better than to read something from the shelves. So, when he asks for a book, I’ll go without meals to buy it for him.

W Bruce Cameron’s A Dogs Purpose: A Novel for Humans was such a book. We were at Bookman/Bookwoman in Hillsboro Village digging through the stacks when Bernie asked for this title. I looked it over, not really sure why he wanted it. When I asked him, he couldn’t explain it except to say that he really liked the subtitle — it was funny. So, okay. We bought it.

As is typical, he devoured it in about an afternoon. I tend to wonder if he actually reads the books or just flips pages, but I should know better. I’ve had a book-a-day habit since the 2nd grade. When I would turn in my the summer reading list, I always got a head shake from the librarian.

“Sure,” she thought, “you read 126 books this summer. Yeah right. And I’m the Last Emperor.” Sometimes they would actually say it out loud. Only I had read them and she wasn’t emperor of anything, much less the last one, and, in one of her rare moments of maternal pride, my mother would say, “Ask her anything. She remembers everything about all of those books.” She was right. I did.

So, I know that it’s possible and I’ve quizzed Berns enough to know he remembers what he reads. Getting it out of him is a whole different challenge.

I may have covered this already, but give me a little latitude. I have four kids and a dog and a husband and go to grad school and work and sometimes I repeat myself.

Back to the challenge. We learned through testing and lots of experience that it is just nearly impossible for Bernie to write. He can tell you in incredible detail all sorts of fascinating things, but when you ask him to jot it down you get unintelligible scrawl that, if it were actually words, might be about two and a half sentences worth. Putting him in front of a computer with a keyboard doesn’t help except that you can make out the letters he selected, but can’t really find words unless you are incredibly creative. It isn’t laziness. It isn’t obstinacy. It’s just not something Bernie’s brain is wired to do.

So, how do you get a book report out of a kid who can’t write and who has learned after years of being forced (at times he was actually strapped to the chair — another blog post, but the things *they* do in the name of therapy to kids with disabilities is just appalling) to produce written work that he sucks at it and doesn’t want to do it and can’t do it even if he did want to do it?

He dictates it as you type it into a word processor. You read it back to him. He corrects it orally. You post it to his blog. He tells his family and friends it is there. They respond. He’s thrilled and asks to do it again.

So that’s what we’re doing. Bern’s second review is up. Go take a look. And no worries, Berns avoids spoilers in case your inspired to read something he reviews.

Homeschooling: Literature Appreciation Class

Literature Appreciation Class by Gina Lynette

Gina’s Reading: Graduate Savvy

If it weren’t for the fact that Jeff Green’s Graduate Savvy: Navigating the World of Online Higher Education is a recommended text in my “FirstCourse” at Capella University, I never in a bazillion years would have purchased it. I, further, have to admit that I was more than a little disgusted when it arrived. It is a self-published, double-spaced, graduate-cum-faculty-written piece of work about–wait for it–online learning at Capella. Even the endorsement quote on the front cover is by a fellow Capella graduate.

So, I held my nose and opened it.

In spite of my reticence to read the text, it proved to be a pretty insightful treatment of the process of picking an online school (sort of self-serving since we are already there, but validating in some strange way), getting acclimated to the “campus”, making it through the coursework, attending the colloquia, passing the comps, and writing and defending the dissertation. While not exactly comprehensive, it does a decent job of covering the bases.

The take away message is that earning your PhD online is hard, really hard, rigorous, and difficult–take that!, Brick and Mortar Schools–but doable, life-changing, and worth all the suffering if you are persistent, get really good at APA and don’t plagiarize.

The next-to-the-last chapter was a nice carrot–a treatment of all of the cool jobs that open up when you get that terminal degree.

With all of the reading required to get through grad school, I was tempted to shelve this one. I’m actually glad I read and highlighted it. My intention was to refer to it as I hit each phase of my graduate work, but it is gathering dust on my shelves as I slog through focus on my 3rd year of online studies.

Send coffee.

Gina’s Reading: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

I wanted to love this book.

I’ve carried Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto around for nearly a decade, giving it prime shelf and bedside-table space, and at least a half-dozen starts. In my most recent attempt I made it 72 pages before flinging it across the room. People I typically share book-love with have raved about it. It’s the book they compare other books to, as in, “It’s not a Bel Canto, but it’s worth a read.” It’s won about a bazillion awards — the Pen/Faulkner, The Orange Prize — and even feels like a book I’d like. I gobbled up Truth and Beauty — Ann’s nonfiction work about her friendship with Lucy Grealy — and love, love, loved it.


I just can’t read it.

So, in spite of the fact that I try to follow that adage of “if you can’t say something nice…” I’m going to say something here.

It may not be revelatory, but I’ve come to feel that books are very, very personal in spite of the fact that lots of people read them. They get under your skin and in your psyche and, much like an organ transplant, put a piece of the author somewhere inside your very self. My body is rejecting this title for some reason even medical science can’t explain. I read a ton of books, not all of them great, and I typically finish them. I don’t know what compels me to give a full reading to books best categorized as Literary Cheez Wiz, but whatever it is holds me practically captive when it comes to more serious efforts. Let’s just blame it on my wanting approval from my English teachers and move on.

At any rate, I’ve only decisively given up on a book — as in made the conscious decision to stop reading a book with no intention of ever picking it back up — twice that I can recall. Once was the day I threw Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell across the room after slogging through some 600 pages of it. The second time was today when I officially declared an end to my 10-year intention of completing Bel Canto.  I just don’t like it and I don’t want to read any more of it and I may even donate it to the library. So there. I said it. I’m done.

I’m so sorry, Ann. I feel like I’ve berated your child in public. I’ll make it up to you somehow. Forgive me?

The Hardest Part of Abundance

Bedside Books

I have a confession. My name is Gina and I’m addicted to printed matter.

Yes, I have an eReader and a cell phone with a reading app and spend an inordinate amount of time reading online, but I still love to encounter words attached to actual paper. I love books — no doubt — and have amassed quite the collection over the years. I’m also very fond of well-written magazines like Bitch and O and the ones that come with my Sunday New York Times.

Yes, I’ll confess to that, too. I take the paper. The paper paper. I read the daily Times electronically, but I can’t give up my Sunday ritual of coffee and the paper. I won’t. I savor them, flipping the crisp pages and map-folding them to the size and shape that allows me to read with one hand free for that cuppa.



The trouble with books is that they are so much easier to buy than to read.


I wish I could remember where I read this quote. Well, I remember where I read it. I was in my studio. But I can’t narrow it down any further than that. And looking to see what’s on top of the pile doesn’t help because there are more piles of books and magazines than would make that practical.

Anyway, the point.

I finished reading Truth & Beauty: A Friendship last night. It was heartbreaking and wonderful and I’ll review it soon. But finishing it left me with a conundrum.  What to pick up next? It isn’t like I don’t have any choices. I have too many choices.

I have at least 20 books in process. I do that — start a book and then see something shiny and then start that, too. I often pick a book back up and finish it months after dropping it for something else. So, is there something in that pile I want to revisit?

There are stacks of books that are the “and this too” group. When I get going with a favorite author or subject, I’ll be at the bookstore and see something interesting in the same vein and will grab it to read … next? … later? … ?

Then there are the new, new, new books from my most recent trip to The Bookloft, where I inevitably purchase a dozen titles. There must be something about being away from home and out of my regular routine that deceives me into believing that I have endless time to read.

There are the guilt books, too. I have a knack for being friends with folks who write and always, always, always buy a copy when they publish something. Oftentimes, I love them and read them pretty quickly, but there are a handful that I feel obligated to read that keep staring back at me from the shelf.

The final stack is from our library. I currently have 5 — five — not-small books from our glorious local library. If pressed, I’ll admit that there’s absolutely no way I’ll read all of them before they are due. Truth be told, I’ll likely only start one, get super-involved in it just as it’s time to turn it in, and then order my own copy. By the time it comes, I’ll have moved on to something else and it will end up in the “in process” pile.

So, fie on you, abundance! Choosing reading material is easy, but choosing what to read now is a mix of excitement, dread, anticipation, and overwhelm. Sigh.

Books, books everywhere and not a word to read.

I suppose I’ll head to the bookstore.

Gina’s Reading: Broken for You

Broken for You by Stephanie KallosI picked up a copy of Kallos’ debut novel on the dual recommendation of Ev at the Bookloft in Great Barrington, MA and Sue Monk Kidd’s endorsement on the cover. This may seem insignificant, but without those two women promising I would be glad I’d read this, I wouldn’t have made it through the first half. Frankly, some of the situations and literary tactics were downright silly.

Starting with Part II, Kallos found her literary legs. I was finally interested in the characters–perhaps because she introduces a couple of folks who were believable–and the story started to make more sense. She also found her hook and finally gave you the piece of information that helped explain quite a bit that was out-of-place in the first half of her novel.

Where Kallos finally made it worth reading the 360 pages was in her weaving the global hurt of the Holocaust with the private hurts of her individual characters and giving a space for cathartic exploration of roads to healing. Not unlike the significance of the art created by her characters being more about the materials than the product–Kallos’ work gains its value, not from the creation of a well-executed novel, but from her exploration of themes that resonate with a searching reader.

Of course, it always helps to have a personal connection to the subject matter in a book. As luck(?) would have it, I’m sitting in my in-laws’ home in the Berkshires surrounded by my Jewish father-in-law’s gorgeous found-object collages. As I prepared to head out to the Bookloft this afternoon for a stack of new recommendations from Ev, this book called back to me.

I’ll leave the analogies for you to discover, but will be thinking lots about histories and family of origin and chosen family and finding a way to make something beautiful out of the tatters of another chapter.

Donald Solomon's Collages

Ned Andrew's father, Donald Solomon, made hundreds of these collages from every type of found object.


Gina’s Reading: 5: Where Will You Be Five Years from Today?

5: Where Will You Be Five Years from Today?I am a chart-the-course junkie, so Dan Zadra’s book is right up my alley. 5: Where Will You Be Five Years from Today is very similar in nature to other coaching-by-book volumes (see: Martha Beck and Stephen Covey) in that it asks you to identify those things that are important to you and points you in the direction of achieving them.

The one thing going for this version of that well-known exercise is that it is presented workbook style in about 60 colorful, big-print pages. If you are not one to slog though theory and background, and just like to get to the point and get moving, this might be the format for you.

The downside of many self-coaching books is the lack of accountability to another person. No matter how gorgeous and worth-while the exercises, many people do better with someone to hold them to their promises. Zadra attempts to overcome this inertia by creating a volume that is visually pleasing as well as chock-full of encouragement in small bites.

Zadra’s graphically-exciting book may also be a useful volume for coaches and therapists to share with clients as “homework” as they go through the process of looking at Values, Mission Statement, Life Balance, Goal Setting, and Stretching.

As someone who enjoys the theory behind the go-get-em, this wouldn’t be my only goal-setting book on the shelf. But for folks who love to collect them or who would like a straight-forward workbook for inking their visions, this work is worth a look.

Gina’s Reading: The Adventures of Johnny Bunko

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko by Daniel H PinkAre you ready for a confession?

I’m a career guide junkie. Seriously. I think I was in 3rd grade when I first read What Color is Your Parachute for the first time. So, I only paused a moment before I grabbed Daniel Pink’s The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need.

I love this book. Dan Pink is a right-on author when it comes to spotting the trends that will define work in the coming years. His A Whole New Mind is still ping-ponging in my head 3 years after I read it. In Johnny Bunko he has managed to take those big ideas and distill them into 6 basic tenets–Manga Style. Rob Ten Pas offers the genius behind the illustrations.

Why the aforementioned pause? I am not a Manga Fan–so some of the lingo/shorthand of this format may have been lost on me–but I certainly walked away with enough meat to appreciate this effort. I also had to take a moment to laugh at the title. Last Career Guide? Ha! Great marketing! But it’s hardly going to cure my insatiable appetite for the genre. I may, however, be the rare bird that keeps reading career guides long after she’s established hers.

In an age where workers are faced with outsourcing and the end of the 40 years to a Gold Watch Plan, we have to be lighter on our feet–sure–but we also have a strong desire to make a difference, to use our gifts, and to (gasp) enjoy our work. Pink touches on all of these concepts in his story/guide. If you pay close attention, you may get to skip a downer gig or even leap ahead to something truly satisfying as you make your way along the career path.

Gina’s Reading: The Abstinence Teacher

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom PerrottaMy husband, a writer in his own right, loved The Abstinence Teacher so much that he started an email exchange with Tom Perotta about it. That’s incredibly rare esteem from him. So, I read it immediately.

I will agree with Ned Andrew that the prose is flawless and the dialogue is incredibly crisp. Most of the characters are sensitively drawn and multi-dimensional–especially the males. Perrotta does a wonderful and sensitive job of exploring difficult relationship and community issues without making anyone out to be the villain.

I appreciated that there wasn’t a neat and tidy wrap up–one of my pet peeves–and that the pace was maintained throughout the book. The movement between the two main characters was seamless.

There was one aspect that left me a little flat. Of the two main characters, Perrotta may have short-changed Ruth a bit. While we get all sorts of depth when we watch Tom make his choices and understand why he does some of the things he does–even when we wouldn’t choose those paths–Ruth is less a protagonist than she is a reactionary. I kept wanting her to do something instead of just bouncing off of everyone else’s choices.

I did really enjoy reading the book. Perrotta is laugh-out-loud funny at times–admittedly more often for Ned than for me–and can break your heart with dead-on dialogue. I can’t give it all 10 (5? I need to get a rating system worked out.) gold stars simply because I wanted a little more development of Ruth’s character–but I am really being picky here.

If you enjoy deep characters, the exploration of difficult subjects, and incredible dialogue, Perrotta has written a book that’s worth the read.

Gina’s Reading: Nice to Come Home To

Nice To Come Home To -- Rebecca Flowers

When Ned Andrew and I visit Great Barrington, MA we make a beeline to The Book Loft. We can’t quite put our finger on why this little store some thousand miles away from home calls to us. But it does.

It isn’t like they have books you can’t find elsewhere. In the age of Amazon and Alibris is there such a thing as that? And their staff picks — I tend to agree with Ev — are published online along with links to purchase them without airfare to the Berkshires.

Even so, we manage to buy three times what we can ever pack in our suitcases and make lists of titles to purchase later. It’s like it’s the only book store on Earth. Maybe it’s because I never would have found Rebecca Flowers’ Nice to Come Home To if Ev hadn’t displayed it along with about 40 other delicious titles and handwritten reviews on note cards urging me to buy them all.

You know. That’s probably it. I like going into a book store, talking with folks I’ve enjoyed knowing for years, and being certain that I’m going to walk out with a book or two that I’ll absolutely love. This trip was no different.

I loved this book from the cover to the conclusion.

Seriously–the sweet cover with the pretty dresses and the lovely girl holding the perfectly-engraved sign was a pleasure to carry around. Unfortunately, I finished the book in about a day, so I didn’t get to carry it for long.

The story behind the cover was a delight. Pru and her collection of relatives and friends and more-or-less-than-friends kept me entertained, laughing and crying the entire 230+ pages. The story — set in DC without sounding like a tourist guide — was absolutely believable while also gently transcending my expectations.

Pru’s struggle with well-worn themes such as ticking biological clocks, authentic and fulfilling work, boys, and family were somehow freshened up for this telling. And our protagonist is worthy of that title. She actually grows and changes over the course of the story in meaningful ways and none of it feels pressured or contrived.

Flowers’ writing is flawless — dialogue, situations, and pace. The ending was absolutely satisfying and avoided all of my pet peeves. You know the ones: rushed wrap-ups, sappy happy after miles of sadness, and really bad exposition.

Nice to Come Home To is a truly great book marketed as Chick Lit. I am looking forward to Flowers’ next offering, but I won’t be forgetting this one anytime soon.

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