House of Day, House of Night, by Olga Tokarczuk: A Review

I have been excited to read this award-winning book by Polish author Olga Tokarczuk (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) since House of Day, House of Night joined my 2018 Reading Challenge list as #44, a book tied to your ancestry. I’m an American, and like many Americans, my ancestry traces back to a number of European roots, Polish being one.

I wasn’t entirely sure where I wanted to go with this prompt, so I decided to start by investigating Polish authors. I found a couple of intriguing possibilities. Ultimately, I think it was this book’s description that appealed to me:

Nowa Ruda is a small town in Silesia, a region that has at times been part of Poland, Germany, and the former Czechoslovakia. When the narrator of Olga Tokarczuk’s House of Day, House of Night moves into the area, she discovers that everyone—and everything—has a story. With the help of Marta, her enigmatic neighbor, she collects these stories, and what emerges is the message that the history of any place—no matter how humble—is limitless and universal.

Tokarczuk’s richly imagined novel is an epic of a small place. A best-seller in Poland, House of Day, House of Night is the English-language debut of one of Europe’s best young writers. (from the back cover)

There is a very deep sense of place throughout this book, something that I think many Americans have never experienced. There are things that in the world of this place just are, like the ravages of war that trampled through multiple times as this particular territory changed political hands more than once. Things such as unexploded bombs and treasures buried and left behind by evacuees ever hopeful of returning.

The language in this book is absolutely beautiful. There are segments that are truly stunning. One of my favorites is this passage where the narrator decides she wants to be a mushroom:

If I weren’t a person, I’d be a mushroom. An indifferent, insensitive mushroom with a cold, slimy skin, hard and soft at the same time. I would grow on fallen trees; I’d be murky and sinister, ever silent, and with my creeping mushroomy fingers I would suck the last drop of sunlight out of them.

It’s hard to say why I loved this book. It’s a slow read, meandering and without a clear plot line. It is made up of little vignettes that at first glance lack any sort of cohesion. But they cycle back again and again with recurring themes and characters. Though not my usual sort of read by any stretch, I really enjoyed this book.

Unlock the Muse – April 11, 2018

It’s week two of April and I am barely keeping up with my Camp NaNoWriMo goal. I chose what I thought was a low goal of 25,000 words, but it has proven more challenging than I had hoped it would be. My hope is to have a completed first draft of a middle grade adventure story that takes place on a spaceship. I’ve had a lot of fun learning about spacecraft, space travel and all things robotic. And my story is beginning to take shape. There is still hope.

Your writing exercise for this week is:

Take a decorative calendar, and pick an image from one of the months. Create a setting based on the image you select. Choose randomly, or do this exercise for each month.

I love this prompt. For the last several years I have sought out a new calendar by the artist Ciruelo. His work includes a lot of dragons and fantasy artwork, and it is stunning. Many of the pictures evoke a story, and would work well for this prompt. Whatever calendar you choose, have fun, and be creative!

I think the essay “Write Anyplace” from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones just might be my favorite. In it she says:

Okay. Your kids are climbing into the cereal box. You have $1.25 left in your checking account. Your husband can’t find his shoes, your car won’t start, you know you have lived a life of unfulfilled dreams. There is the threat of nuclear holocaust, there is apartheid in South Africa, it is twenty degrees below zero outside, your nose itches, and you don’t have even three plates that match to serve dinner on. Your feet are swollen, you need to make a dentist appointment, the dog needs to be let out, you need to defrost the chicken and make a phone call to your cousin in Boston, you’re worried about your mother’s glaucoma, you forgot to put film in the camera, Safeway has a sale on solid white tuna, you are waiting for a job offer, you just bought a computer and you have to unpack it. You have to start eating sprouts and stop eating doughnuts, you lost your favorite pen, and the cat peed on your current notebook.

Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of the chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write.

Life gets crazy. Breathe. Write.

For this month’s grammar lesson, let’s take a look at a few commonly misused words and phrases from the Strunk & White style guide.

Allusion. Easily confused with illusion. The first means “an indirect reference”; the second means “an unreal image” or “a false impression.”

Anybody. In the sense of “any person,” not to be written as two words. Any body means “any corpse,” or “any human form,” or “any group.” The rule holds equally for everybody, nobody, somebody.

Care less. The dismissive “I couldn’t care less” is often used with the shortened “not” mistakenly (and mysteriously) omitted: “I could care less.” The error destroys the meaning of the sentence and is careless indeed.

Effect. As a noun, means “result”: as a verb, means “to bring about,” “to accomplish” (not to be confused with affect, which means “to influence”).

Imply. Infer. Not interchangeable. Something implied is something suggested or indicated, though not expressed. Something inferred is something deduced from evidence at hand.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas: A Review

I chose to read The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas for the 2018 Reading Challenge, #50 a book recommended by someone else doing the Popsugar challenge. When I joined the Goodreads group for this challenge, I was inundated with recommendations for amazing books. This one in particular grabbed my attention, and I decided I would read it. I was not a bit disappointed.

The Goodreads description of the book:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

The book opens with this traumatic moment, and proceeds to follow Starr through the aftermath. Both for her personally and for those around her.

The Hate U Give has a timely and relevant message. It is well-written, emotionally driven and thought provoking. I particularly liked how in the end, Starr’s dual identities come together. Her “ghetto” world and her prep school world collide. And she survives. Not only that, but she comes out the other side stronger than ever.

This is a fantastic book, and I highly recommend it.

Unlock the Muse – April 4, 2018

April brings with it things like showers, practical jokes and resurrection. The kids are back at school again. Soccer season is in full swing. And for myself, the first 2018 session of Camp NaNoWriMo has begun.

Your writing exercise for this week is:

It’s time for TV-season finales. Write the perfect closing scene for your favorite sitcom or drama.

I have no idea if this is true. Since Netflix, I don’t follow live television anymore. But let’s just say it is. How would you bring your favorite show to an end for the season? This is a great opportunity to practice writing cliff hangers that will keep your readers begging for more.

Even though in many ways writing is a solitary endeavor, it is also a group effort. In her essay, “Writing Is a Communal Act,” from the book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg says:

So writing is not just writing. It is also having a relationship with other writers. And don’t be jealous, especially secretly. That’s the worst kind. If someone writes something great, it’s just more clarity in the world for all of us. Don’t make writers “other,” different from you: “They are good and I am bad.” Don’t create that dichotomy. It makes it hard to become good if you create that duality. The opposite, of course, is also true: if you say, “I am great and they aren’t.” then you become too proud, unable to grow as a writer or hear criticism of your work. Just “They are good and I am good.” That statement gives a lot of space. “They have been at it longer, and I can walk in their path for a while and learn from them.”

If you don’t belong to a local writers’ group, I’d encourage you to find one. Join an online writing community such as NaNoWriMo, Twitter or other social media site. Find like-minded people who can help you grow as a writer.

A new month, a new question. Spring brings with it a lot of different traditions, holidays and rituals such as Passover, Easter, spring equinox. What traditions and rituals have you created for your fictional world?

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here: