NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)

Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!


Thursday, April 30, 2009

LLP: April 2009 Wrap Up

So, let's see how I did for my first official month of my Lifetime Learning Project:

Books To Read:

Day by Elie Wiesel (My Thoughts)
Survival In Auschwitz by Primo Levi (My Thoughts)
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Stone
Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac
Blindness by Jose Saragamo
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (My Thoughts)
Managing Your Own Learning by James R. and Adelaide B. Davis
How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch (My Thoughts)
Book III of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spencer
Book IV of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spencer

Listen to Teaching Company Lectures on:

Tristam Shandy
Dangerous Liaisons
Pere Goriot
Wuthering Heights
Moby Dick

Text Chapters To Read:

The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
Chapter 3 (My Thoughts)
Chapter 4 (My Thoughts)
Chapter 5 (My Thoughts)
Chapter 6 (My Thoughts)
Chapter 7 (My Thoughts)

Writing About Literature: Step by Step
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Finish What's In A Name Challenge

Well, I got a lot read in April (see the bottom of this blog for a full list), just not necessarily what was on this list. :-) I got hung up with The Faerie Queene, Tristram Shady, How To Read A Poem, Introduction To Narrative, and Writing About Literature going all at the same time. Consequently, I got no lectures listened to at all. I need to fix that going forward.

On the upside, I got a lot of good reading done in general, made a dent in my Lifetime Learning Plan, started teaching myself about poetry, and rather than the What's In A Name Challenge, I finished the Chunkster Challenge. I'm calling it a success! On to May . . .

Back to 2009 Second Quarter Goals
Back to 2009 General Concepts
Back to Lifetime Learning Project Personal Mission Statement

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Class Notes: Introduction To Narrative

Chapter Six: Narration

This chapter discussed some of the basics of narrator and point of view. Here are a few of my notes regarding definitions that I would like to keep in mind as I study:

About narrative style:

Direct Discourse -- Citing a character's own words as, for example, in quoted conversation.
Indirect Discourse -- Speech or thinking of a character rendered in the narrator's words.

About the narrator specifically:

Voice -- Who we "hear" doing the narration.
Focalization (aka Point of View) -- The lens through which we see characters and events in the narrative.
Distance -- The narrator's degree of involvement in the story he or she tells.
Reliability -- To what extent can we rely on the narrator to give us an accurate rendering of the facts?

The discussion of "distance" put me in mind of the Hemingway novels I have read. I'm beginning to think that one of the things I found so odd about his writing was that the narrators were, in fact, so emotionally distant from the events of the stories. Everything, no matter how sad or happy or horrible, was recounted as if the narrator were reporting there was a Tuesday last week. Hmmmm. Something to keep in the back of my mind when I read more of his work.

Chapter Seven: Interpreting Narrative

"As readers, we exercise a power over narrative text that is arguably as great as their power over us." The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, p. 86.

Finally we begin actual interpretation! This is the part I was really looking forward to! The author walked me through an interpretation of one of Hemingway's short stories, "Now I Lay Me". (Interesting coincidence, considering my thought during the previous chapter.) As he went through the identification of motifs and themes in reaching his conclusion regarding how the main character's war injury fits with his childhood memory of his mother burning his father's collection of Indian artifacts, I began to feel totally inadequate to the task of ever doing this kind of thing for myself. I'm always in awe of how these people can draw parallels between things that look completely random and unrelated to me. (And I must add here that this was not one of those instances where you feel like the analyst was really reaching for meaning. Abbott's connections made a lot of sense once they were pointed out to me.) But that's what I'm doing all this reading for, right? To learn how to think like this, to learn to be more analytical. I have a long way to go, but, to use an already overused cliche, it's not about the destination, it's about the journey.

Coming To My Home Today . . . More Poetry!

After reading How To Read A Poem and Fall In Love With Poetry, it became clear to me that I need some serious assistance with poetry. I have a couple of books that will get me started, but I wanted something else I could pick away at that was more specific than just "poetry". That is a broad topic! I did a little research and here is what I found, Victorian Poetry: An Annotated Anthology.

This book is part of a series of annotated poetry anthologies. I chose this one because I know I like the poetry of Christina Rossetti and her work is included here. It looks like there is biographical information included for each poet and extra information about each poem. Also, there is a section in the Table of Contents that groups the poems by subject in the event a person chose to engage in a topical study of the poems in the book. I'm really excited about this volume, and if it turns out to be as great as it looks I may have to pick up other volumes in this series. I'll keep you posted!

On a side note, as I was researching the direction I wanted to go in with this I have discovered that I seem to have a liking for Victorian Literature in general. I see a potential Knowledge Block forming! :-)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Class Notes: Introduction To Narrative

Chapter 5: Closure

"With regard to expectations, then, there appear to be two imperfectly balanced needs: on the one hand to see them fulfilled, on the other to see them violated." The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, p. 59.

That statement is so true! We don't want our read to be too predictable, but we have a certain set of "rules" in our heads and if the narrative doesn't follow those rules, we can get a little uncomfortable. For instance, I read a book a few years ago in which the heroine of the story is murdered by the serial killer in the end. That was weird. On the other hand, some of the best books are unforgettable precisely because they violated our rules.

When we're engaged in a narrative, be it in the form of a book, movie, or something else, what drives us to continue to pay attention are expectations and questions. We want expectations resolved in one form or another, and we want questions answered. In short, we want closure. But what if the narrative doesn't provide that closure? What if the end is ambiguous? What if questions are still lingering? Does that bother you? Or do you enjoy spending time pondering the unknown?

Sunday, April 26, 2009


by Edward Hirsch

Edward Hirsch's love of poetry is undeniable. His enthusiasm shows all through How to Read a Poem And Fall in Love with Poetry. The only problem for me was that he didn't quite bring it down to the beginner level I was hoping for. As I read, I felt as if I was assumed to have a certain amount of knowledge regarding poets and poetry already, not to mention a fabulous library of poetry to which I could just wander over and pluck up the text in question. I didn't understand some of the references he threw out there with no explanations.

Rather than irritating me, it made me curious. Maybe his point was not only to remind people of things they might already know but also to fan the flames of inquisitiveness. (I almost said "fan the flames of inquisition", but that was not a pleasant image.)

My favorite parts were when a complete poem or section of a poem was printed out and he went on to analyze it in detail. I inevitably had those great "A-ha!" moments when I went back, reread, and thought about his comments. Unfortunately there are only a handful of those sections included. That's not a fault of the book, only of my understanding of what was in it.

I need to find a better "beginner" poetry book, but I will be keeping this one around not only for the excellent reading list at the back of the book, but to return to later once my knowledge is at a greater level to take in and better understand its content. In the meantime, I have a literature textbook that seems to have a very good poetry section, and I recently purchased The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms. Those should move me a little further down the knowledge path!

Saturday, April 25, 2009


by David Baldacci

"In this fourth of the Camel Club series, two bullets silence Oliver Stone's foes. Those assassinations set off a manhunt of enormous proportions by some of the highest officials in government. The Camel Club must fend for itself, all the while protecting their elusive leader, Stone, as he avoids capture by the sometimes uninformed Joe Knox, the man in charge of the hunt." (From the CD container)

There is nothing like a good dose of thriller "man lit" to empty the brain of deep thoughts endlessly swirling from an overdose of thinking books. I forget how fun it is to have nothing to "get" and just go with the flow. And the bullets. And the explosions. And the harrowing escapes from death. And the awesome climactic revenge scenes that I always feel a little guilty about loving. ("But it's not right to beat people senseless and shoot them in the head." "But he soooo deserved it!" "Still. . .")

The Camel Club is a wonderful series, and Divine Justice is a great addition. It started out a little silly, but once Stone got mired in the conundrum that is the town of Divine, I was in. I couldn't quit listening. Just to top it off, this is the second time this series has made me cry. Who'd have thought it? Man lit making me cry. Strange.

Friday, April 24, 2009


by Ariana Franklin

In Grave Goods, the third in Ariana Franklin's "Mistress of the Art of Death" series, King Henry II sends Adelia to the recently burned Glastonbury Abbey to prove the skeletons discovered there are in fact the bones of the legendary King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. Angry at once again being dragged into Henry's schemes, Adelia makes the trip to the seemingly magical place, but what she and her friends find when they get there is a very different and dangerous mystery.

I just love Adelia and company! It's not just that the stories are entertaining, but the characters are so outstanding they keep me interested even if I feel the storyline losing me. While I find the legend of King Arthur intriguing, I'm not a big fan (yet), so that thread of the plot in this installment of the series slowed it down for me a couple of times. However, Frankin was quickly able to reel me right back in with other story elements and, of course, the marvelous cast.

The only real problem with these books is that I read them right away, then it's a year before I get to see what happens next. And judging by the end of this one, there will be a next, for Adelia's new nemesis is out there waiting. . . .

You can find my thoughts on the second book in the series, The Serpent's Tale, here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

New Reading Challenge

Rose City Reader is hosting her first Challenge! Here is the general description:

This challenge pits winners of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction against the winners of the National Book Award. Does one prize have higher standards than the other? Pick better winners? Provide more reading entertainment or educational value? Maybe challenge participants will be able to answer these and more questions – maybe they will simply read three great books!


Chose three books that you have not read before:

1) One that won both the Pulitzer and the National;
2) One that won the Pulitzer but not the National; and
3) One that won the National but not the Pulitzer.

OPTION: For those who have already read all six of the double-dippers, or otherwise do not want to read one of those six, pick two Pulitzer winners and two National winners for a total of four books.

Read all books between May Day and Labor Day. Overlap with other challenges is allowed -- and encouraged! The Pulitzer Project and The National Book Award Project are logical crossovers. The great thing is, for those working on both these lists, completing the challenge means reading three books, but crossing four items off the lists.

She's got lists for all the categories and a few more details on the official announcement post. Head on over and sign up! And I'll make it easy for you. Click here. :-)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Creepy Poetry Weirdness

I never expected to run across a Minneapolis connection in a book about poetry, but I was reading the other night from How to Read a Poem And Fall in Love with Poetry and ran across this:

"I think of a bitterly cold Minneapolis morning in January 1972, when John Berryman climbed onto the metal railing of the Washington Avenue Bridge and made a gesture as if waving before plunging into the river to his death." (p. 46, emphasis in original.)

John Berryman, I've since learned, "was a major figure in American poetry in the second half of the 20th century and often considered one of the founders of the Confessional school of poetry" (Wikipedia), the river referred to is the Mississippi, and the Washington Avenue Bridge is only about a mile downriver from the 35W bridge that infamously collapsed. It's part of a popular marathon training route, and we drive by it every time we come home from a Timberwolves game. Here's a pic of the bridge Mr. Berryman chose to throw himself off of:

Now envision that same bridge in the middle of a Minnesota winter. I can't even imagine being that depressed. And, yes, I will now be buying one of his books, because that's just the sort of sick individual I am.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fun With The Dewey Decimal System

My car needed some work yesterday. I say "some" like it was no big deal, but the fact is that it was enough to make me pretty sure that pizza was the only thing that would ever make me smile again. Pizza and the library. So Peter, bless his heart, came to pick me up and took me out for pizza and to the library while we waited for my car to get done.

Left to my own devices, my reading choices are overwhelmingly fiction. For this library trip, I decided to use my time to explore some potential reads for the Dewey Decimal System Reading Challenge. I wanted to randomly wander the numbers, see what I'd been missing and what might look interesting in the categories I still need to fill in.

I realize I am a product of a misspent youth and an irresponsible young adulthood. I know I have a lot of intellectual catching up to do, and the library is a great place to do just that. But I had no idea that just casually browsing the non-fiction shelves of that educational mecca could literally cause anxiety attacks in a naturally curious mind! Believe it or not, I had never done that before. My forays into that area were specifically directed. I was looking for a particular topic. Random exploration opened up a thousand new doors that I never knew I wanted to go through. How will I possibly get to them all?!?! I must try to find a way! I was so excited when I left there, the ugly final bill for my car repairs hardly phased me at all. Just pay it already! I need my vehicle to get back to the library! :-)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Reading Notes

Alrighty then. I have too many books going. The Faerie Queene, Tristram Shandy, Introduction To Narrative, Writing About Literature, How To Read A Poem, plus my two audiobooks. That's what happens when I want to read everything at the same time. Nothing gets finished! :-)

Now that the Timberwolves' season is officially over and I don't have a show for another four weeks, hopefully I can buckle down and clear some this from the schedule. On the upside, I've slipped in some books that I hadn't planned on and I'm way ahead of where I thought I'd be on my reading challenges. Score! When I make my May plan, some of the April plan is going to be spilling over and I'll be giving myself some extra wiggle room for spontaneous reading. I'm figuring out that some of the Teaching Company course reads are more time consuming than I expected them to be. Tristram Shandy, for example. I'm enjoying it, but I need mental breaks. Going forward, my Learning Project schedules will need to anticipate that kind of thing or I'll get all rebellious on myself. :-)

OK. Deep breath. Temporarily put aside my new fascination with Chuck Palahniuk, work some of his books into the Countdown Challenge over the next couple months, size up all the books I'm in the middle of, prioritize, and get to work. Let's see what I can get done before the end of April update!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


by Philip Roth

"Growing up, Seymore has to deal with the violent history of his country's background. Being a laid-back, local sports star and all-around great guy, he is unhappy when the war sweeps him and his family into complete chaos." (From the CD container)

American Pastoral has so many themes running through it that what the reader takes from this book will be highly influenced by what is going on in his or her life at the time it is read. At this moment in time, what I kept thinking about was our celebrity-worshipping society and how we idolize and expect so much from them. Then, when their lives are exposed as less than perfect, or worse, we're nearly giddy with excitement watching their fall from grace in every form of media we can get our sensation-loving paws on.

I'm going to stop there, because I feel a soapbox rant coming on if I continue with that thought. However, that is certainly not all this book as to offer. It forces thoughts about war and caring what happens to people and places far from you. It wants to know who is responsible when a child turns out bad and if we can make other people happy or if true happiness is really only found within ourselves. Not enough to think about? Good. Because there is more. A lot more. This is a thinker's novel, and it will keep you busy with philosophical questions for days.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

We Are Spinal Tap

So, I was at the bar last night waiting for Tony to show up for our gig. Peter and I had been there for an hour, Tony had all the equipment and was no where to be found. It was fifteen minutes before we were supposed to start when he finally pulled into the parking lot. As we were loading in the gear he told me, "Sorry I'm late, but I went to the wrong bar. I had to look on our website to see where we were really playing tonight."

I'm here to tell you everything you ever heard about musicians is true, and Spinal Tap might as well have been a real documentary. :-)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Good Luck, Read A Thon Participants!

I have a show tonight, so I won't be participating in tomorrow's Read-A-Thon. I don't recover as quickly as I used to when I was a young pup. Four hours on platform-booted feet singing corny but wildly fun pop songs wears out a forty-four year old body in a way that my twenty-something brain can't understand. :-) I'll be checking in, however, and cheering on all you folks who are busily ingesting coffee and Mountain Dew trying to make the full 24.

Go get some rest. You have a long, great day of reading tomorrow!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009


by Chuck Palahniuk

"Victor Mancini, a medical school dropout, finds a way to pay for his mother's medical care. He pretends to choke on food at high class restaurants, allowing other customers to save him. He then convinces his rescuers to send support money to him. When he's not unleashing his scam, he goes to sexual addiction recovery meetings in search of his next conquest. It's all a far cry from his day job at a theme park." (From the CD container)

Excellent isn't the right word, but it's the first word that comes to mind. The problem is that I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone. Choke is ridiculous, crude, highly offensive, and hilarious. This book will flat-out disgust a lot of readers, and I'm not sure what it says about me that I enjoyed it so much. The only other book I've read by Palahniuk is Snuff so I'm not sure if all his books are loaded with repulsive sex references and foul language, but the two I read were. And I liked them both quite a bit! Weird. Maybe when you're bombarded with it from the opening scenes, it becomes transparent and you focus on the emotional desperation and absurdity of the situations rather than what is actually being done and said.

What gave the book extra depth was an explanation from the author regarding how he came up with the idea for the book. This section is not in the print version I have but is on the audiobook. Listening to the story of his sex addicted sister-in-law, the murder of his father and his search for reason in the aftermath, I saw Choke in a completely different light. I'm surprised Palahniuk writes at all, scandalously or otherwise, and is not an inmate with a padded room somewhere.

I will without doubt be reading more Chuck Palahniuk in the future. I would tell you to read him, too, but I don't want to be responsible for the outcome. Go ahead and give Choke a shot it you're feeling crazy and don't offend easily, but don't say I didn't warn you! ;-)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


by William K. Zinsser

"Reduce your discipline -- whatever it is -- to a logical sequence of clearly thought sentences. You will thereby make it clear not only to other people but to yourself. You will find out whether you know your subject as well as you thought you did. If you don't, writing will show you where the holes are in your knowledge or your reasoning." (p. 198)

I wrote about this find a couple days ago, but now I've finished it. I loved this book! Writing To Learn is not so much a how-to book as it is a book of examples of good non-fiction writing. There are excerpts from books and papers on a wide range of topics, many of which I never would have thought I would have found interesting. Why would I want to read about water snakes in Missouri? Or chemistry's periodic table? Or the theory of relativity? Because there are people out there who can make those subjects the most fascinating thing you've ever heard in your life, that's why! I'm devastated that my library doesn't carry An Excellent Fishe by Archie Carr, a book about sea turtles. I've already put in my request for The Insect World of J. Henri Fabre because of his description of ant behavior. Ants! Seriously. It was amazing!

Whether or not I actually read the books or writings that this little book brought to my attention is irrelevant. The point is that written with inspiration, enthusiasm, and most importantly, clarity, any topic is worth reading and writing about. And writing about what you learn is the best way to organize and reinforce your new scholarship!

One of my favorite sections was where Zinsser talked about keeping writing simple and concise. Pompous or ambiguous writing is hiding the author's lack of reasoning ability or knowledge on a subject, or they are writing for their own ego. (Writing aimed at specialists in a field are not included in that generalization.) If you're writing to inform, then make it accessible to the everyday person. The ability to educate one's self should not be limited to those who are already in the know.

I found this book to be tremendously inspiring to both my self-education and writing goals. I wasted no time in ordering another of Zinsser's books, On Writing Well, The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. I feel like I'm on my way!