Want to get a preview of some of the new releases coming out next month?
Download or view the October Fiction and October Non-Fiction lists to see if anything interests you. Click on the links for the complete list with titles (in blue) linked to the Minuteman Library catalog. Log into your account and place a reserve. You may also pick up a complete list in the library and ask librarians to request them for you.
I wish I had thought to spend my 60th birthday having as much fun as author Ann Hood has. By the time she turns 60 this December 9, she will have celebrated with 60 cupcakes with 60 different book groups.
Right after it was published, I discovered Ann Hood’s non-fiction memoir Comfort (2008). I read the advance review with interest. Having lost a child myself, I was related to her raw expressions of grief after losing her five-year old daughter in 2002. It was an absolutely hell-ridden journey of only 36 hours, when Grace died of an unthinkably virulent and destructive strep infection. It was a horror that some parents have to endure – the unimaginable sojourn of a losing a child.
Ann Hood and her husband returned from the hospital to tell their living older son, Grace’s older brother Sam, that his sister had died. So unexpectedly and so quickly.
Ann Hood’s raw grief was that which only a parent can feel. The mind-fog. The confusion. The nightmarish realization that life has sped up but left you behind with a child’s clothing left on a hook, her toys left on a shelf, desolate comforters and pillows left on a bed.
Ann Hood and other parents never really recover from the gut-wrenching grief of losing a child. But, they do learn to live again. Deeply, richly, and happily. Comfort speaks to the journey back to life that Ann Hood lived.
Besides reading a few non-fiction essays in books that were edited by Ann Hood, or those that she was included in, I had little experience with her writing before or after 2008. A few years ago, however, my husband gave me Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting in 2013, a compilation of essay written by women who knit (and who happen to write, too.) When her book, Knitting Pearls: Writers Writing about Knitting (2016) hit the library shelf earlier this year, I was one of the first to grab it.
After Grace died in 2002, Ann Hood could not write for several years. Consumed with grief, she sought solace in the comfort of knitting. Two years later, however, The Knitting Circle was published with a familiar theme: a woman who has lost her only child suddenly. In the book, mother Mary Baxter not only learns knitting technique, but that a caring and loving camaraderie can be found in a group of knitters.
Ann Hood did not begin to write about grief only after her daughter Grace died, however. One of her earlier novels, (Ruby, 1998) is the story of a woman who is widowed early in her marriage. Yet, it is not until her own father’s struggles with cancer in the late 1990s does Ann face death head on in her non-fiction memoir, Do Not Go Gentle.
And what does this have to do with 60th birthday parties, cupcakes, and celebration?
Ann’s latest novel, The Book That Matters Most, was published in past August. Her publisher challenged her to visit 60 book groups before her 60th birthday which is coming up on December 9. On her Facebook page, Ann invited herself to any book group – whether it be on Skype or in person. Because Ann lives in Providence, Rhode Island, the staff book group at our library was the perfect venue. I invited Ann and the only stipulation for her visit was that we all read her most recent book and sing happy birthday with a candle and cupcake.
On Friday, September 30, nearly 20 of our staff wished Ann a happy 60th birthday after she shared her stories of writing with us. While she began with questions about The Book That Matters Most, she quickly answered questions about her writing history, writing style, and writing techniques. We learned that Ann has written a young adult novel, biographies for children, and that she teaches writing in an online course through the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. In addition, she has taught in writing programs in New York and Vermont.
Ann began her published writing history when she finished her first novel (Off the Coast of Maine, 1983). She was a flight attendant at the time, attending graduate school, and spending her furloughs feverishly writing the book that would begin her career as a published writer. At the time, she was overcoming the loss of her older brother, Skip, who had died unexpectedly in an accident. When the book was finally published in 1987, Ann had already learned that her person experience in three short stories, was really meant to be a novel.
Shortly after Ann’s career as a flight attendant ended with layoffs due to a TWA strikes, she began writing full time and in earnest. Her second book was followed by a third and within a decade, she had published at least seven novels.
Ann’s recent novels (The Red Thread, 2010; The Obituary Writer, 2013; and The Italian Wife, 2014) join the personal essays she has contributed to compilations. These appear in Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women; Sorrow’s Company: Writers on Loss & Grief; Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up; Every Father’s Daughters: 24 Women Writers Remember Their Fathers; Cook and Stealing; and Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond.
In the essay “Little Audrey” (in Cooking and Stealing, 2004), Ann writes of her personal pilgrimages of helping heal her father of cancer. In “Not the Daughter She Had in Mind” (in Because I Love Her, 2009), Ann looks back on the relationship she had with her mother. “How I Lost Her” (in Dumped, 2015), Ann shares her sadness of a friendship ended with one of her oldest and dearest friends.
I find Ann’s essays particularly poignant and relevant to my own life. She has found both comfort and joy in life lost and in life found.
Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the October 13, 2016 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.
Many years ago my Grandmother and Great Auntie Babe decided to take my cousin and me for a hike up the Blue Hills. We were seven or eight years old. It was one of those memorable days, not because of the weather (hot and sticky) or the prediction (a warning to watch out for rattlers). No, it is engrained in my memory because of the silly conversation we had along the way.
My cousin and I sounded more senior citizens than the seniors who were taking us up the hill. We hadn’t progressed very far when I let everyone know how I was feeling.
“My legs are killing me,” I said.
“You can say that again,” my cousin chimed in.
With that my grandmother and aunt howled with laughter. They thought we were far too young to be complaining about aches and pains. Needless to say this became one of the legendary stories that we would retell at family gatherings. I am still surprised they didn’t lose complete faith in the younger generation at that point.
That said, getting up that hill did take some effort. We had our sneakers and our walking sticks. We were young and energetic, not to mention confident that we could beat our older relatives to the top. No problem. Boy, did we have a few things to learn.
So too with writing, and more so with publishing. Since grade school writing had come easily to me, unlike chemistry, which was a natural disaster in high school, or economics, which ruined my first semester in college. Give me an article to write, a short story to create, and I was in my element. Or so I thought, until I submitted my first piece of poetry for publication on a cold day in 1999. Then I got a reality check.
My first rejection letter appeared in the mail (back in the old days). Soon I was keeping a pin cushion by my desk. I stuck red pins in for all of my rejections. Now and then I would add a green pin to represent a meager acceptance. I was starting to realize this publication gig took leg work, and my legs were killing me.
“You can say that again!”
It wasn’t as easy as whipping out a poem one night and seeing it in The New Yorker the next month. This was a climb and I was going to need some assistance. Turns out the best guidance came from my critique groups. I can’t recommend this enough. Allowing your work to be workshopped and critiqued is never easy but, for most of us, it is one of the best ways to perfect your art.
Other advice came in the form of books. A few of my favorites can be found in our library. While I haven’t read one of Stephen King’s works of fiction (too scary), I love his book On Writing. Through memoir and inspiration, King inspires his readers to better their craft.
Another book that tackles the nuts and bolts of writing is Words Fail Me by Patricia T. O’Conner (also the author of Woe Is I). The byline for the book is “what everyone who writes should know about writing” and this former New York Times Book Review editor hasn’t failed me yet.
For those who loved Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, I would recommend her latest work called The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language. This book is intended to light a spark and to inspire authors to pick up a pen, long before you invite the criticism in.
If you decide to submit your work to a publisher, however, you must be ready for the possibility of rejection and more criticism. The effort that goes into each revision is never easy. I have revised for editors and agents, changed my characters from boys to ducks. I have added words, subtracted metaphors, and editors have claimed to love the story. Still, the Big Kahuna editor who sits on the top of Blue Hills may decide it’s not quirky enough or it’s too quiet. So I rework it, and send it out again.
As authors the question we continually ask ourselves is “when will this thing be finished?” I have two answers. Ellen Bryant Voigt is famous for telling one poetry student, “Honey, it’s all draft until you die.” Certainly this is one thought. Maybe we will be revising until the day we die. However, there is another thought. Perhaps we are finished when we reach the top of the hill, i.e. when we have finished the climb.
Case in point, I received a phone call from Writer’s Digest when I was literally on a mountain. They wanted to let me know I had won the grand prize for my poem, White Birch. At the time I was attending the Frost Festival of Poetry in Franconia, New Hampshire. That very poem was being critiqued when I received that prize-winning call. Some people in that workshop had no idea what my poem was about. Others suggested a variety of edits. And, irony of ironies, in the middle of that the editors at Writer’s Digest thought it deserved a grand prize out of 18,000 entries. Sometimes success is a complete surprise.
My point? Hike those hills. Work hard. Write, and rewrite some more. At some point your work may be a winner in some editor’s mind, even if “it’s all draft until you die.” Someone will always have another criticism to add to the pile. Only you, the author, can decide when it’s done. All in all, it’s worth the back-breaking climb and then some. Don’t forget, “you can say that again!”
Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library and an author. Read Nancy’s column in the October 6th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.
Want to get a preview of some of the new releases coming out next month?
Download or view the September Fiction and September Non-Fiction lists to see if anything interests you. Click on the links for the complete list with titles (in blue) linked to the Minuteman Library catalog. Log into your account and place a reserve. You may also pick up a complete list in the library and ask librarians to request them for you.
In 2005, I worked as a library director by day and renovated a haunted Victorian home by night and on the weekends. I was single, lived alone and craved a companion – the four-legged kind. On Labor Day weekend, eleven years ago, an adorable 3-1/2 month old Boxer came to live with me.
I was a bit naïve about the Boxer breed, I admit. I didn’t realize that this cute puppy with her uplifted nose and chronic under bite possessed an inbred desire to protect me above all else. Boxers are considered a personal-protection breed in the AKC working dog category. And she took her work very seriously. Any two or four-legged creature coming within sight of our car or our home was simply there to kill us. Or so she instinctively believed.
This became a problem, of course, when I brought anyone to my home or wanted to give them a ride in my car (if she was sharing it with us.) I worked continually on teaching her that my friends were her friends. But, she would have none of it and rarely understood.
However, when I met my husband Gerry and his grandson Colin, she amazingly and immediately figured out that they were to be tolerated. In fact, she came to love and protect them as much as she adored me – with her complete heart and soul. She never once barked at them or approached them with aggression. As a matter of fact, Colin at 8 years old could be extremely annoying but she simply looked the other way. His friends, however, were another matter entirely. She terrorized each and every one of them. One friend even crossed the street when he was passing our house. He didn’t trust the closed door or the expanse of lawn. Only the street-width gave him any confidence he would have a running start.
The Boxer was bred in Europe from a strain of dog originally used for fighting. It is a cousin to the Bulldog, is extremely courageous, and has a built-in desire to please and protect his or her owner(s). He or she is solid and muscular with a very short coat that can be velvety soft on the underbelly and face. Traditionally, a Boxer’s ears are cropped and its tail is bobbed. Today many countries actually prohibit the practice; the purpose for cropping and bobbing was to give the Boxer an inapproachable demeanor. No friendly feeling could be given away – the ears stood stern and the shortened tail could be seen wagging only from behind. Germans perfected the Boxer’s temperament for personal protection and immense love of its master(s). When trained for protection, no one will get between a Boxer and his charge.
The American Kennel Club describes the Boxer as “fun-loving, bright, active and loyal.” Certainly, many people who have come to our front door would not have described our protective Boxer as fun-loving. Her mission in life was to protect her loved ones and the postal worker and UPS driver were suspect enemies. Eventually, our Boxer came to understand who was okay and who wasn’t. We fine-tuned the meet and greet process and trained her to be calm and reserved before approaching new friends. Astoundingly, she was gentle and patient with each and every young grandchild born to us in the past three years.
Our Boxer’s life was filled with love and fun. When possible, she traveled with us and spent many hours in the car on the way New Jersey, New Hampshire or Maine. We rented houses on the Cape or the coast of Maine that allowed for her presence. We had to spell the word R-I-D-E when we discussed any potential that she would accompany one of us to the dump or the store. Her excitement, her high-arching jump, and her absolute joy were worth the inconvenience of short needle-like hair on the seats and in every nook and cranny of the car.
Due to a bout of Boxer Colitis as a young pup, she enjoyed a homemade diet, rich in sweet potatoes and meat broth all of her life. She was as active as a Boxer can be, racing around and across any large grassy expanse with wild abandon. Couches were her favorite sleeping spot and she never understood why some furniture was off-limits.
She snuck off into the tick-laden woods behind our Marion home as often as she could, although she was never out of our sight and she was admonished severely for leaving it. Once I mistook a deer for her. As it munched on some plants on the dip of land outside my kitchen window, it resembled our graceful fawn-colored Boxer with splashes of the whitest white on her neck and head.
While some do live longer, Boxers generally live only 8-10 years. They are susceptible to bloat (a fatal twisting of their elongated stomach) and to cancers of all types. They are playful, loving, loyal and comical as elderly dogs in their final years, however. We know this to be true.
Our beloved Boxer passed away this week after Labor Day, eleven years after she first came home with me. She had spent her first years riding shotgun in my VW Cabrio convertible (always belted in) everywhere I went. Her floppy ears flew in the breeze and people in passing cars could not help but smile. She often slept in my bed (soon enough sharing it with my new husband, Gerry) on cold winter nights. She crept on her belly to very bottom underneath piles of blankets and stayed until she was too hot to breathe. She sat still and erect, waiting for cheese sticks for lunch where Gerry visited her at lunch every weekday in our Norwood home. She took one last long ride to visit our grandson, Colin who had left for college just the week before.
And she passed away on her own terms with me beside her. She was a woman’s best friend.
Read about the Boxer in one of the many books in the Minuteman Library Network such as The Boxer Handbook by Joan Hustace Walker. Or share the joys of this breed with a young child by reading Boxers Are the Best by Elaine Landau.
Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the September 22, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.