The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan: A Review

I have had The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan on my bookshelf for a long time. I think I picked it up at a random second hand book sale somewhere. I knew it only by its reputation, and I wanted to see for myself what it was all about. When I set about putting together my list of books for 2018, knowing I wanted to focus on women authors, I determined to find a place for this book. I did that in the prompt “a best seller from the year you graduated high school.”

I really enjoyed this book. More than I thought I would, even. It’s a fascinating look into a culture I know very little about. It’s a beautiful picture of the relationship between mothers and daughters. I find it interesting how this often turbulent relationship is drawn so sharply into focus or conflict when shown against the backdrop of immigrant families. The generational differences are so much sharper than those who come from the same cultural background. Here, the American born daughters have the added conflict of a dual nature, dual culture. It’s a part of the immigrant experience I hadn’t considered before.

Tan weaves together eight lives – four pairs of mothers and daughters – into a single story that crosses generations and borders. It is written so beautifully. And I love how she frames the story with the viewpoint of the one daughter who has lost her mother. It is a very touching story of families, love and the wisdom we too often fail to see.

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Unlock the Muse – December 26, 2018

2018 is nearly over and a new year is about to begin. For many, this is the time for setting new goals, or embarking on a new adventure. Maybe you’ve left some things unfinished in 2018 and rather than begin something new, you will continue your current course. This is where I find myself at the end of 2018, too many incomplete projects I don’t care to abandon. In this light, I’ve decided to make 2019 the “Year of Finishing” and I intend to make great forward progress on this novel series I’m working on. What will 2019 be for you?

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

In 500 words, write page 237 of your autobiography.

When I asked Google, I found that the average autobiography is around 250-300 pages. That means that page 237 should be about the high point of the narration. What is the key moment in your life so far? Write about it.

Encourage
I have personally never felt compelled for any reason to write about my own life. I find other people’s lives – real or fictional – more interesting than my own. I have read many biographies and memoirs that I’ve enjoyed, however, and I’m grateful to those who are willing to share their stories.

Maybe you’ve considered writing your memoir, or maybe you’ve never even thought about it. Here’s a few reasons why you might want to consider it. Whether you’re writing for publication or self-edification, a memoir is a worthwhile effort.

If you’re looking for a good memoir to read, this list might provide a place to start.

Equip
It’s play week! Here’s a roll of the dice from Rory’s Story Cubes. Use one, use them all, or some combination thereof to inspire more words. Have fun!

StoryCubes7

Remember, next week Unlock the Muse will move to Tuesday (Muse-day). Hopefully, it will be a newly revitalized weekly post focused on inspiring and encouraging writers.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee: A Review

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee fills prompt #31, a book mentioned in another book, on the 2018 Reading Challenge. I found it on a list, however, and not actually in a book, so I don’t know what book(s) it might be mentioned in. It was already on my list to read, so I would have found a place for it on this list somewhere.

This is the story of a black man on trial for his life. But it’s told through the eyes of the child of the defense attorney. I think this perspective shows us the gross inequities of the situation. Scout Finch sees the events of this story as it unfolds. She tells us what she sees. We hear her brother’s words, an older brother with an almost adult view on the world. We hear her father’s words, and the words of other adults around her. All of this is filtered through the innocence of a child.

While this book talks about racism and segregation, and uses words that will be offensive to many, it does so in such a way to demonstrate the ugliness of it. Lee shows her characters, particularly the children Scout and Jem, struggling to come to terms with prejudice.

Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.’
That’s what I thought, too,’ he said at last, ‘when I was your age. If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike why do they go out of their way to despise each other?’

I think the choice of narrator is perfect for this story. Too often as adults, it is easy to get caught up in “this is how it always is,” where children aren’t burdened by such cultural “norms.” It is refreshing to see the world through innocent eyes. 

Unlock the Muse – December 19, 2018

Welcome to the next to the last muse-day post of 2018! The end of the year is often a time of reflection. A time to consider what has been accomplished in the past twelve months. I’ve nearly completed my largest reading challenge to date. I’ve written over 50,000 words toward a novel series. My blog continues to grow (if a bit slowly). I’m not yet where I’d like to be, but I’ve moved forward, and that’s what counts.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Is there something that you would really like to write about? Construct a query letter on the subject and send it to five appropriate magazines.

Maybe you have a story about your dog, or a humorous poem for children. Whatever you’ve written, be bold and send your words out into the world.

Encourage
One thing this week’s prompt is likely to lead to is rejection letters. Learning how to cope with this sort of rejection is an important part of being a writer. Here are some tips on rejection from authorunlimited.com.

Remember, don’t take it personally. Rejection can be an opportunity to learn and grow.

Equip
In light of today’s prompt to write a query letter, I’ve decided to do my vocabulary study on the word, query.

que·ry

/ˈkwirē/

noun
a question, especially one addressed to an official or organization.

verb
ask a question about something, especially in order to express one’s doubts about it or to check its validity or accuracy.

According to etymonline.com, the word query originates c. 1530s from the Latin quaere “a question, ask,” the imperative of quaerere “to seek, look for; strive, endeavor, strive to gain; ask, require, demand.” Figuratively it means to “seek mentally, seek to learn, or make inquiry.”

Your task this week, then, is to “strive to gain, ask, require or demand” publication of your work. I’m thinking, though, that it might be best to go a bit light on the demanding.

As I’ve mentioned in previous Muse postings, I am considering a few changes to this weekly post. This weekly writing prompt post began as a way to push myself to write more and to help encourage creativity in others. In 2018 it became “Unlock the Muse,” and I expanded the weekly post to include more – things like grammar tips and vocabulary studies. While these things are interesting, it isn’t where I wanted this post to go.

Therefore, in 2019, I’ve decided to scale back the scope of this weekly post and focus more on the inspiration and encouragement aspects and less on the instructing bits. There are many blogs out there teaching writers the various points of the craft, all far more qualified than myself. My focus will remain on encouraging others to write more words along with me and to have more fun in the process.

I will also be moving Unlock the Muse from Wednesday to Tuesday. The first Tuesday Muse-day will launch, appropriately I think, on January 1, 2019.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor: A Review

For #43 on the 2018 Reading Challenge, I was directed to find a book being read by a stranger in a public place. I loved the idea of this prompt, though the execution wasn’t so easy. I don’t commute to work via public transportation, and I don’t often see strangers reading in public. I often see coworkers reading in the break room, but these are not strangers. And those I did manage to see out in public, I often could not see the title of the book. Finally, one day as I waited in for my appointment with the dentist, I saw someone – a stranger! – reading Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor. I was so excited!

I loved this book!

This is the story of Lazlo Strange, a boy orphaned by war and raised in a strict monastery. He has a dream – an impossible dream – of a city lost to memory, and he wants to find it again. He becomes a librarian in the largest library of his land. Here he learns all he can about this lost city. Then one day, his dream arrives at the door.

Lazlo wanted to go and find out. That was his dream, daring and magnificent: to go there, half across the world, and solve the mysteries for himself.

It was impossible, of course.

But when did that ever stop any dreamer from dreaming?

It’s the story of a strange city besieged by a relentless curse, and of the Godslayer’s attempt to rescue his city from it. It is the story of gods and magic. It is the story of unknowns, of forces and powers felt, but unseen.

There were two mysteries, actually: one old, one new. The old one opened his mind, but it was the new one that climbed inside, turned several circles, and settled in with a grunt—like a satisfied dragon in a cozy new lair. And there it would remain—the mystery, in his mind—exhaling enigma for years to come.

The writing style is magical, beautiful and compelling. I did not want to put this book down. It’s also very difficult to describe this book. The book blurb does it little justice. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in beautifully written, magical stories. I can’t wait to read book two!

Unlock the Muse – December 12, 2018

My boys started basketball a couple weeks ago. My youngest is so shy, he won’t engage at all with his teammates or coaches. I was a shy child too, so I understand his pain. But that doesn’t make it any easier to help him through it.

Writing can be a little terrifying in its own way. If you find fear of what others will think holding you back in completing your project, give yourself the freedom to write just for yourself. Write the story that’s in your heart. No one else is going to read it until you share it.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Treat yourself when you break the block. Have a glass of wine or a bowl of ice cream. But don’t cheat. If you’re still stuck, you can’t have the wine or ice cream.

Sometimes the words won’t flow. It might be that life is just too busy. Or it could be that you simply need to recharge your creativity. If it’s the first, by all means, set up the reward system. If it’s one of the other two, you may just need to allow yourself to step away, lower your expectations and don’t beat yourself up.

And when the words start flowing again, totally reward yourself! Drink wine. Eat ice cream. Get a new puppy. Well, maybe not the puppy. That will distract you from writing!

Encourage
Since we’re on the subject of writer’s block this week, here are some tips from scribendi.com on how to beat it.

Equip
It’s grammar week, and today a question came up today between my writer siblings and I regarding when to use the singular or plural verb form. While the examples in The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White don’t include the exact situation we were discussing, I feel that what I did find justifies my answer.

Number 9 in the “Elementary Rules of Usage” says:

The number of the subject determines the number of the verb. 
Words that intervene between subject and verb do not affect the number of the verb.

The advice I gave my sister was to simplify the sentence. Take out the intervening words. At this point it is usually clear whether subject/verb combination should be singular or plural. Most of the time it works, but as with many “rules” in the English language, this one has a number of exceptions.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell: A Review

For a book with a weather element in the title in the 2018 Reading Challenge, I chose to read Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. This was a re-read, but it’s been a really long time since I read this book. I could remember some elements of the story, but not as much as I would have thought. I also think the added perspective of age helped me appreciate this book even more.

This book is an American classic with good reason. It is a compelling look at a less than auspicious time in American history. I think that Mitchell’s decision to tell this story through the eyes of an unsympathetic character made the historical bits all the more real. Scarlett O’Hara is selfish and spoiled, but as such, she has no interest in either side of the war. Her interest is only herself, making her a more objective witness to the events taking place around her.

This is the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a southern belle in the pre-Civil War state of Georgia. The book is huge, as it takes place over the course of the entire war and well into the post war Reconstruction. It is the story of Rhett Butler, a scoundrel and war profiteer who is nonetheless redeemable despite his flaws.

Gone With the Wind is called a love story, and it is that. But it is so much more. It is the story of perseverance and endurance. Of friendship and heroic acts. It’s a story of pride in the midst of defeat. And it’s also a commentary on war and its devastating effects on all those it touches.

This is a great book, well-written in spite of its wordiness. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in American history, and the Civil War in particular. But beyond that, it’s just a really great story.