Tag Archives: Literature

Join the Discussion!

Let’s celebrate the upcoming publication of Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchman by reading (or re-reading) her only other published novel, the incomparable To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m hosting a discussion group right here on my website! For details click on the Mockingbird link above. It will take you to a special page devoted to one of my favorite books of all time.

ps–if you don’t have the time or the desire to read (or re-read) the book, go ahead and rent the movie. You won’t regret it!


Good Summer Reads

Marketers would have us believe that summer is the time for books that are light and frothy, suitable for beach or poolside reading.  But since I generally didn’t work for eight to ten weeks every summer I often used that time to tackle some massive classic.  Last summer I pushed myself through Doris Lessings’ The Golden Notebook, a novel that I’d been trying to read for decades, that until last year I just couldn’t get into for some reason.  I can say now it was well worth the journey.  The complicated story follows writer Anna Wulf, who attempts to impose order on her chaotic life by dividing her perspectives on different aspects of it into four notebooks, each a different color.  A brilliant book.

Here are a few more suggestions:

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald—we were all forced to read it in high school and/or college, and we memorized plot points and themes so we could pass the midterm. Read it again and you’ll notice something you didn’t back then:  it was written by a very young man about very young people.  We’re told repeatedly that Jay Gatsby had loved Daisy from afar for five whole years, as if that were a long time.  Oh, please.  Nonetheless, it’s very short, and well worth another look.  Read it this time for the lyricism of the prose; it’s actually quite beautiful.  Admittedly I read it again because I was planning to go see the new movie, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet.  Guess I’ll be catching it on DVD.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn—I’m urging all my writer friends to take a look at this recent release that’s still topping the best seller lists. Flynn writes prose so alive it nearly pops off the page, descriptions are detailed and lush, the shifting points of view are fascinating, and she manages to work in thoughtful and fresh cultural observations that lift this novel above your typical mystery/thriller.  Here’s what sells it for me:  toward the end (don’t worry, no spoilers here) when the mystery’s been solved and most books take on an epilogue feel, Flynn kicks it up a notch and brings surprises up to the last page.  Amazing.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot—I must confess that I’m not a big fan of nonfiction, but this was the best book I’d read in a long time.  Imagine a book about an amazing scientific breakthrough told as a story.  Henrietta Lacks was a poor African American woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951.  Scientists were able to preserve her cells—still living and growing outside her body—using them for decades to facilitate all kinds of medical research.  We find a story of bioethics and race relations as we learn the sad legacy of Mrs. Lacks’ family, still trapped in generational poverty.

My two absolute favorite authors are Barbara Kingsolver and Margaret Atwood.  If you haven’t read Kingsolver, I’d suggest Prodigal Summer and The Lacuna.  Her latest novel, Flight Behavior, has been racking up award nominations.  It’s sitting on my night stand, but I’m saving it for August after Camp Nanowrimo when I’ll take a break from my own writing.

Re:  Margaret Atwood—she is my idol!  I loved Cat’s Eye, The Blind Assassin, The Robber Bride, and really—everything else she’s written!  Last night I noticed on Amazon that you can pre-order MaddAddam, the concluding book in her dystopian trilogy, slated for a September release.  So if you want a summer treat, read (or re-read) the first two books, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood.  They are amazing, amusing and eye-opening.  For my environmentalist friends, concerned with big farms and big pharma, these are must-reads!

I could go on and on.  Please tell me your favorite books.  Are there any that are particularly suited for summer reading?

Delta Breeze


After a week where the temperature topped 105 degrees each day with little cooling at night, we are all so grateful to welcome back the Delta Breeze, the delightful wind that courses up from San Francisco Bay along the Sacramento River to grace our valley with a natural air conditioner on blessed summer evenings.

I wrote this poem over a decade ago.  It was published in a collection put out in 2001 by Sacramento’s first poet laureates Dennis Schmitz and Viola Weinberg, entitled, The Sacramento Anthology:  One Hundred Poems.  Hope you all like it.

Delta Breeze

Tonight you sit on the front steps

facing south

beckoning me

with your dry lips

your moist fingers.

I am already here

but I am still

and you do not recognize me.

I press against your skin,

a sweaty companion:

I am hot and heavy handed;

you crave a lighter touch.

Yet I fill your nose and mouth

slip into your lungs

course through your veins.

I drift in.

I drift out.

I am conscious

of everything

and nothing.

You imagine me with human emotions:

anger or tenderness.

I have no desire, jealousy, passion.

But I know joy.

I whisper to the poplars

as I braid their leafy hair

in the meadow.

I fill the bones of the raptor,

glide above

the sequoia and pine,

dive into a red

and brown canyon.

I mate with the river,


through the gills

of salmon and trout.

You give me many names:

zephyr, tempest, squall.

I roll over your tongue

as you call me.

In August

I am a god in this valley.

At 9 PM

I stretch my heavy

muscles and rise

creating space

for another manifestation

of myself.

From San Francisco Bay

I rush

along the spread fingers

of the Sacramento River.

You pull back your curtains,

open your windows

in the darkness

and You welcome Me

like Bethlehem

welcoming starlight.


Welcome to April! It’s National Poetry Month!


Welcome to April!  It’s National Poetry Month!

I started writing poetry nearly forty years ago, when I was in college.  I started getting published when I was in my 20s, learning to make my way in the world outside my parents’ house.  My poetry and I were young together.

Poetry for me was short, intense and immediate, like youth.  As I became more settled in life so my poetry did too:  it became longer, rounder, fuller, heavier, more filled with story, until it couldn’t be contained anymore.  Finally it stretched itself out and became a novel.  That’s what I’m focusing on now—writing novels.  But I want forever to be a poet who writes novels.  I want poetry to claim me.  I want poetry to find me worthy.

When I first started writing poetry I wrote without form.  I wrote what came out of my hand, without concern for rhyme or meter.  People often told me that my poetry painted beautiful pictures but the truth is I’m not much good at visualization.  I often find the visual too stimulating, too overwhelming.  I’ve always been an auditory learner.  When I’m writing I choose words because I like the way they sound, I like their rhythm.  Even in free verse, it’s about the sound to me.  It’s about the music.

So let’s post poems this month!  Please share your poems with me.

Here’s a poem I wrote many years ago.  It was published in the anthology, Unlacing:  Ten Irish American Women Poets, edited by Patricia Monaghan (Fireweed Press, 1987).

How to Find the Muse

Think about the sky.

It’s a new blue tablecloth

and a big hipped woman

has carelessly dribbled

gobs of whipped cream

all over it.

There she has set down

an orange bowl.

Smell cinnamon and coriander

as you scoop

spicy carrots

and squash from the bowl

to your mouth.

Bite into a raw cucumber

to cool the fiery curry

on your tongue.

Now drum your fingertips

on the table.

Listen to a jazz quartet.

Tap your feet

on a black and white

tiled floor.

When she starts to sing

those torchy blues

press your lips together

and hum

until you taste sweetened cream

spilling from the sky.

Click on the comments space and share a poem, either one of your own, or one you love!