Syllabus by Lynda Barry #BookReview

Book: Syllabus by Lynda Barry
Genre: Creativity
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Publication date: 2014
Pages: 200

Source: Library

Syllabus by Lynda Barry
The physical book feels just like a composition notebook.

Summary: Syllabus looks and feels just like a composition book, the space that Professor Lynda encourages her students to use for awareness and creativity  — expecting them to fill three or four volumes in a semester with drawings and writings. One of the things they do is fill out a formatted daily diary page, a process that takes less than 10 minutes.

The pages of Syllabus are filled with drawings, text (mostly hand-written), and color–inspiring the reader to want to make marks of her own on a page. Although there’s not much of a plot, the look and feel of the classes shine through and between the pages.

Thoughts: More than anything, this book made me want to take one of Lynda Barry’s classes. Barring that, I bought a composition notebook of my own. I wanted one with the traditional marbled cover, but Target didn’t have one of those, so I opted for a bright pink one  instead.

Composition notebook
My composition notebook. Extra credit if you recognize the type of label — I needed a label because the cover proved to be impossible to write on without smearing.

I also wanted to build some of the environment for myself that Professor Lynda creates for her classes — quiet, meditative, listening, drawing for discovery. It’s much harder to do that on my own, but this quote captures why I want it:

On my mind is the question raised by some of my students about what things are worth drawing and writing about — I don’t believe thinking can give you the answer to this though it feels like it can long enough to stop us from trying. We know that athletes, musicians, and actors all have to practice, rehearse, repeat things until it gets into the body, the ‘muscle memory,’ but for some reason, writers and visual artists think they have to be inspired before they make something. Not suspecting the physical act of writing or drawing is what brings that inspiration about. Worrying about its worth and value to others before it exists can keep us immobilized forever. Any story we write or picture we make cannot demonstrate its worth until we write it or draw it. The answer can’t come to us any other way. pp. 162, 163

Of course, given the nature of this book, that quote is even more meaningful with its accompanying comic strip.

One of the techniques Professor Lynda teaches is 4-panel comic strips. She explains Aristotle’s 3-act structure and Freytag’s 5-part dramatic pyramid…

…but comics somehow fit comfortably in 4 panels. There seems to be a need for an extra beat — maybe something like a no-action action — a pause. Practicing drawing things in fours is a good way to understand how this works. p. 124.

So, I drew my first-ever 4-panel comic. But, before I show you that, I want to explain something else that was inspired by Syllabus. Reading about college classes reminded me what many colleges are doing right now — offering 3-week intensive courses to fill the gap between the end of the spring semester and the beginning of the summer session. I had a project that required some short-term intense work, so I adopted that structure.

Unexpectedly, I found myself exploring the concept of intensity in my life. I like it. And, yet, I apparently also fear it. I’m trying to work past the fear to see what’s on the other side. Here’s how that played out in my imagination one day last week.

Intensity -- a 4-panel comic strip

Appeal: Syllabus will appeal to anyone looking for a more creative and visual way of being in the world.

logo for The Sunday SalonChallenges: Syllabus is my 8th book for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge. I’m doing great on that one since I’m half-way to my goal of 16 books and we’re not yet half-way through the year.

I’m also sharing this post with the Sunday Salon crowd since they appreciate the creative and personal sorts of thoughts that Syllabus brought out on me.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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Review-a-thon

Write On Review-a-ThonI’m so behind on my reviews, right now! I either need to read slower or write faster. I’m hoping that a nice, long, holiday Review-a-Thon will help me make some progress. Here are the details from Brianna, The Book Vixen:

The Write On review-a-thon is a monthly event created and hosted by Brianna at The Book Vixen. This time, it’s THREE days dedicated to getting reviews done, whether you have one review to write or 30+. This edition of the review-a-thon takes place all day Friday, May 22nd through Sunday, May 24th. Let’s get those reviews done!

Here is my outstanding list of books to review:

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin
Sundown Towns by James W. Loewen
Two “Elemental Blessings” novels by Sharon Shinn (scheduled for Thursday)
Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown
Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King
Syllabus by Lynda Barry (check out my first attempt at a comic strip!)
Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs

I would love to get all these done, but I don’t know how realistic that is. Monday may be my best day to make progress, so I’m going to hold out hope.

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The Archers #SoapOpera #BriFri

British Isles Friday logoWelcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British-themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!


I’ve been listening to The Archers for a full year, now. I know because one of the characters recently said “Can you believe that happened a whole year ago?” And, I remember when it happened! The Archers is the world’s longest-running soap opera which, of course, means that it’s a radio show because that’s where soap operas began.

The Archers runs six days a week for under 15 minutes and is available as a podcast.
The Archers runs six days a week on BBC Radio 4 for under 15 minutes and is available as a podcast.

According to the Wikipedia article, The Archers began with a pilot in 1950 and continued as a regular show starting on the first of January 1951. The show focuses on the farming region around the fictional village of Ambridge and originally had a purpose of educating farmers in modern methods to increase productivity in the United Kingdom during the post-World War II rationing years.

Now, of course, most of the listeners are city dwellers. I enjoy the show as a way to connect with my rural ancestry, even though my ancestors farmed in Indiana, not England. If I were farming today, I would encounter many of the issues that are explored on The Archers: soil conservation, the role of organics, modernization of machinery.

One of the fun aspects of episodes of The Archers is that they take place on the day of broadcast. I enjoy getting little snippets of how the people of Ambridge celebrate holidays. The community is recovering from a devastating flood right now, but they managed to pull off a very British May Day celebration, a holiday that is mostly ignored in the US. The contemporaneous nature of the show also means that big news stories, especially ones that effect farmers like the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, will quickly make an impact on the characters in the show.

Rick on a stile in England
Rick climbing a stile in the English countryside.

We didn’t get to spend much time in the countryside of England, but we did have one memorable day. Our adventurous journey to Crofton Pumping Station included over two miles of walking along a canal, passing pasture and other farmland. That’s when we encountered the British stile, a structure to help walkers get over fences without relying on them to remember to close the gate behind them, thus risking the safety of the livestock. As a farmer’s granddaughter, I know full well that one always leaves a gate the way you found it, but any farmer, including the ones on The Archers, wouldn’t want to depend on the average city dweller knowing that policy. In England, much more than in the US, farmers are expected to allow certain rights of passage for walkers.

How connected do you feel to your rural ancestry?



Readers’ Workouts

Readers' workouts
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Welcome to Readers’ Workouts, the weekly event where book lovers share workout stories, goals, successes, and challenges.

I had an all-day business trip yesterday, but I managed 15 minutes of stretching when I got home. That felt good after spending the day in the car, but I really did it so that I could report that I didn’t miss a day of exercise. I’m on track, or close to it, for all my goals this month — 1300 minutes of exercise, 21 days with 8000 or more steps, and 8 strength-training sessions.

How is your exercise going in May?

For Readers’ Workouts, talk about your fitness activities on your blog (feel free to grab the logo) and link to your post below or join us in the comments! Be sure to visit the other participants to see how we all did.



David Whitehouse ~a Legacy interview~ #30Authors

Legacy: An Anthology
Legacy: An Anthology to benefit PAWS for Reading

As I mentioned yesterday, I have two spots on the tour for the anthology, Legacy, a book published by Velvet Morning Press after being inspired by the 30 Authors project hosted by The Book Wheel. Yesterday, was my review. Today, I’m honored to host an interview with Legacy contributor, David Whitehouse.

David Whitehouse wrote a piece titled “Nagasaki” for Legacy: An Anthology.

How did you come to be involved in the Legacy project?

I had written a short story for the That’s Paris anthology published by Adria Cimino and Vicki Lesage at Velvet Morning Press earlier in 2015. They have done a great job in publishing a variety of fiction in the fairly short time that their publishing house has been running. I was delighted to be asked to contribute again.

David Whitehouse
David Whitehouse

You live in France but write in English about Japan (at least for the piece in Legacy). How did you develop such a wide view on the world?

Like a lot of English speaking graduates in the 1980s and 1990s, I was lucky enough to go to Japan as an assistant teacher of English on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. I was based on Kyushu, the southernmost main island. I got married while there so have kept going back. This has been less conducive to travelling than you might think, as the distances involved mean it’s very hard to ever go anywhere else – I’ve probably travelled a lot less than most people of my age that I know.

As a journalist and nonfiction book author (In Search of Rwanda’s Genocidaires and We Didn’t Start the Fire), what was it like to write a fictional piece for Legacy?

It makes a refreshing change to write (short) fiction as opposed to (long) non-fiction. There are more readers! Most of them are women for some reason. I don’t have to worry about gaps in research, write an index or constantly worry about libel – not that fiction writers should forget about libel, of course. I can see that longer fiction means you’re much more on your own and relying on your own creativity, whereas non-fiction tends to have its own patterns and structures which are there whoever happens to be writing.

Thanks for stopping by, David!

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Legacy: An Anthology #BookReview #30Authors

Book: Legacy: An Anthology from Velvet Morning Press
Genre: mostly short stories, some essays
Publisher: Velvet Morning Press
Publication date: 2015
Pages: 175

Source: e-ARC from publisher for participation in blog tour

Legacy: An Anthology from Velvet Morning Press
Short stories and essays exploring Legacy

Summary: Legacy: An Anthology was born from a blog event! Allison Hiltz of The Book Wheel blog set up #30Authors last year, where authors guest-posted on book blogs, telling us about a book they liked. I was honored to host Tayari Jones who told us about Into the Go-Slow by Bridgett Davis. All this author / blogger book love got the attention of Velvet Morning Press who worked with Allison to produce this anthology of stories and essays exploring the theme of “legacy.”

Thoughts: I usually don’t read short pieces, preferring a deep dive into a novel or the long exploration of a nonfiction book. The anthology Legacy reminded me what short pieces do so well, experimenting with interesting structures that would get tiresome in a novel but are just perfect in a small dose.

A short story can sound like a news report, consist completely of “found” letters (in English and in French!), or be told backwards in time. Short stories can give us characters too terrible or too precious to live with for the length of a novel but a delight to encounter in a shorter form. A short essay can give us the gem of an idea.

Check back tomorrow for an interview with one of the Legacy contributors, David Whitehouse.

Paws for ReadingProceeds and Tour: According to Velvet Morning Press:

Author proceeds from anthology sales will be donated to PAWS for Reading, a program that allows children to read aloud to a therapy dog (or cat, or bunny!) in order to improve reading and communication skills. Thanks for reading and for supporting the cause!

Check out the other stops on the Legacy Tour with more reviews and author interviews.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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Paddington #FilmReview #BriFri

British Isles Friday logoWelcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British-themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!


Paddington Movie Poster
Paddington (the movie)

I somehow missed Paddington Bear as a child. He was originally featured in a series of British children’s books by Michael Bond. My childhood literature exposure was distinctly American, it seems. Since then, of course, he’s been around as a stuffed animal. I’ve been aware of him as an adult — fun name, cute hat, great coat.

I requested the film Paddington from Netflix not to relive a childhood memory but to relive our time in London. The movie is set in modern times so the adventure includes the same sites in London that we saw last fall. I recommend playing “spot the London Eye” while watching.

One of our favorite days of our vacation, a day trip out to Crofton Pumping Station, took us through Paddington Station. We took just a moment to appreciate the architecture and snap a photo while we focused on making sure that we got on the right train at the right time. It’s on our wish list to visit Paddington Station for a more leisurely look at the architecture and to appreciate the history and the continued bustle of the station.

Paddington Station
I love that clock — so I got a kick out of seeing it when Paddington Bear was at Paddington Station.

The story in the film is predictable, once we’ve met the villain, but try to watch it with the eyes of the 8-year-old encountering this plot for the first time. There’s plenty of humor, fun story-telling techniques (I loved summaries done with a doll house version of the Brown’s home), and a great CGI bear. Hugh Bonneville as someone other than the Earl of Grantham from Downtown Abbey was fun, too. I always guessed he had more of a sense of humor than we normally get to see.

Were you a Paddington Bear fan as a child? Have you seen the movie?



Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal #BookReview

Book: Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: The Penguin Press
Publication date: 2011
Pages: 388

Source: Library

Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal
Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change The World by Jane McGonigal

Summary: The subtitle is a great summary: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World — especially if you include happier in your concept of better, as Jane does:

Games make us happy because they are hard work that we choose for ourselves, and it turns out that almost nothing makes us happier than good, hard work. p. 28

On the same page, she quotes psychologist Brian Sutton-Smith (possibly my favorite quote of all time):

The opposite of play isn’t work. It’s depression.

It turns out that rewards that come from outside of us (pay, praise, etc), don’t make us happy — even though we’re conditioned to believe they will. Instead, what makes us happy are:

“…intrinsic rewards — the positive emotions, personal strengths, and social connections that we build by engaging intensely with the world around us.” p. 45

After making the case for playing games to make us better, Jane turns to how to make the world better. Some of the material for the book also appeared in her TED Talk, Gaming Can Make a Better World:

I made a SketchNote of my favorite idea from that talk:

How to Save the World with Games -- a SketchNote
How to Save the World with Games

Thoughts: I heard about Reality is Broken, indirectly, from Belle Wong (aka Ms. Bookish). In a Wednesday Inspiration post last month, she recommended Sharon Ann Lee’s talk for Creative Morning:

LosAngeles/CreativeMornings – Sharon Ann Lee from CreativeMornings/LosAngeles on Vimeo.

In that video,  talking about how to redefine success, Sharon Ann advised that we “add a game layer” to our work and recommended Reality is Broken as inspiration for that. From that, I kind of expected Reality is Broken to be a bit more “how-to.” But, this book is a manifesto, not a manual.

I hope someone makes a mash-up of Reality is Broken and Your Playlist Can Change Your Life. Games are the perfect topic for a book for teens that sneaks in a little science along the way, plus some advice about how teens (and the rest of us) can get real work done by adding some game play to the plan.

When I started reading this book, I was dealing with allergy-induced blahs. When I finished, I still had my allergy symptoms, but I was feeling better — and I just completed Level 130 of IndyCat!

One of the most successful games designed by Jane McGonigal is SuperBetter, a game she used to help herself recover from a concussion.  The game can be used for any sort of life improvement, especially related to health and well-being. I threw my weight loss project into it last night. I’m looking for allies, so let me know if you want to play, too!

Appeal: I’ve been telling everyone about this book! Reality is Broken will appeal to anyone interested in positive psychology, the future of kids these days, or (of course) gaming.

Healthy Lifestyle Books Reading Challenge 2015Challenges: I’m counting this as book 3 for my Healthy Lifestyle Books Challenge, even though health improvement is not what I expected of the book when I started — it’s really made a difference!

Reality is Broken is my 7th book for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Signature of Joy Weese Moll

Dead Trees and Deadlifts #ReadersWorkouts

Readers' workouts
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Welcome to Readers’ Workouts, the weekly event where book lovers share workout stories, goals, successes, and challenges.

I had an unusual and unexpected workout yesterday. A tree from our yard fell into our disabled neighbor’s driveway. We wanted to get that cleaned up as quickly as possible! I ended up with 45 minutes of squats, deadlifts, and carries for my exercise. Those are the days that I’m glad that I incorporate just a little strength-training into my routine each month.

I had a couple of short exercise days last week, but made up for them over the weekend so I’m back on track. Today’s my birthday! My celebration will include a nice walk and/or some work in the yard.

For Readers’ Workouts, talk about your fitness activities on your blog (feel free to grab the logo) and link to your post below or join us in the comments! Be sure to visit the other participants to see how we all did.



Seniors Sleuth by J.J. Chow #BookReview

Book: Seniors Sleuth by J.J. Chow
Genre: Cozy mystery
Publisher:
Publication date: 2015
Pages: 221

Source: e-ARC provided by the author

Seniors Sleuth by J.J. Chow
Seniors Sleuth is a cozy mystery that will be released on Saturday

Summary: Winston Wong’s first case looks like an easy one. The beautiful Carmen Solstice requests that he investigate the death of an old man in a senior living home in order to convince her demented grandmother what everyone else already knows: Joseph Sawyer died of natural causes.

But, Sweet Breeze Residential Care Facility houses more secrets than seniors. As Winston uncovers hidden tools and encounters people with untapped talents and treasures, he needs every ability he developed as a gamer and game tester as he embarks on his new career as a sleuth.

Thoughts: Seniors Sleuth is a cozy mystery that offers the quirky characters, fun plot twists, and intriguing settings that I love in that genre. In this case, the plot joins two environments that we don’t normally see together — elder care and video gaming. Neither are particularly familiar to me, but I loved the juxtaposition and the opportunity to learn about both.

Appeal: Seniors Sleuth will delight cozy mystery readers with a setting that is a bit out of the ordinary realm for the genre.

Diversity on the Shelf 2015Challenges: Seniors Sleuth, featuring an Asian-American protagonist, is my third book for the Diversity on the Shelf Challenge.

Today is the book birthday for Seniors Sleuth. Congratulations, J.J.! Don’t miss my interview with the author from earlier this week.

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a librarian writes about books