Sunday, June 26, 2011

Recommended reading: "Recalling Samuel Battle" ~ The New York Times

I'm always enthralled by the stories of guys like Samuel Battle, the first African American in the New York Police Department. "Recalling First Black Appointed to New York Police Dept." by Samuel Roberts of The New York Times is an article I'd like to recommend. It starts this way:

"His parents were among the last generation born into Southern slavery, and his own birth in 1883 was notable for another benchmark: At 16 pounds, he was the biggest baby ever recorded in North Carolina.

" 'I guess I've always wanted to be large, and I have been large,' Samuel Jesse Battle recalled decades later."


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Recommended Reading: Leslie Johnson "Other Lives" ~ Colorado Review

Leslie Johnson's "Other Lives" appears in Colorado Review and tells the story of Dean, who gets bored in his adult life and suddenly decides to go the the funeral of his fourth-grade teacher.

As he enters the parlor, Dean thinks back to his boyhood at the elementary school and eventually remembers that, at least, he has had more success than his dead teacher once predicted: "You could tell a shifty boy, she used to say, a lazy boy, too, by that weak and wobbly cursive."

As Dean proceeds closer to Mrs. Zarembinski's body, he runs into a hot-with-age former Mormon girl and, with her prompting, recalls more of the complexity of the teacher's sometimes cruel methods.

Eventually, as Dean reminds himself that he has to be getting back to Family Pizza Night with his wife and son, his thoughts wax metaphysical, and the meaning and purpose of the title becomes evident.

A worthy read.


Ash Dogs, a novel

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What Everyone Seems To Be Reading

There are many ways to find the next book you'll love or the next best way to enjoy your commute. Here are five books I've seen people reading this past week, with enticing summaries provided by publishers and Amazon:


Twenty-four are forced to enter. Only the winner survives. In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death - televised for all of Panem to see. Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

#1 Most Read Book this week at GoodReads
Not currently in the Top 35 of The New York Times Bestseller List

2.The Hunger Games, Book 3: Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss's family, not her friends, not the people of District 12.

#3 Most Read Book this week at GoodReads (Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy is #2)
Not currently in the Top 35 of The New York Times Bestseller List


Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before "Sarah Palin," Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true. At last, Tina Fey's story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon -- from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence. Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've all suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy.

#6 Most Read Book this week at GoodReads
Not currently in the Top 35 of The New York Times Bestseller List


Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

#4 Most Read Book this week at GoodReads
#1 on The New York Times Bestseller List


Rachel White is the consummate good girl. A hard-working attorney at a large Manhattan law firm and a diligent maid of honor to her charmed best friend Darcy, Rachel has always played by all the rules. Since grade school, she has watched Darcy shine, quietly accepting the sidekick role in their lopsided friendship. But that suddenly changes the night of her thirtieth birthday when Rachel finally confesses her feelings to Darcy's fiance, and is both horrified and thrilled to discover that he feels the same way. As the wedding date draws near, events spiral out of control, and Rachel knows she must make a choice between her heart and conscience. In so doing, she discovers that the lines between right and wrong can be blurry, endings aren't always neat, and sometimes you have to risk everything to be true to yourself.

#24 Most Read Book this week at GoodReads
#9 on The New York Times Bestseller List

Truthfully, these are books I have seen people reading on buses and trains for weeks and weeks now. I was surprised to see where they fell on GoodReads and on the NY Times Bestseller List-- and how the two sets of statistics compared.

How do you decide what to read next? Does seeing these book covers and reading the official blurbs pique your interest?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Go Read it Now: "Home" by George Saunders

It’s that time of year again! The double fiction summer issue of The New Yorker is up/on newsstands. Rejoice! Or sob! Because at one time The New Yorker published more than one piece of fiction per issue and people besides Alice Munro stood a chance! (Or we could pretend we stood a chance, anyway.)

Related PSA: I’m probably not the only dolt who has done this, but it you key in you get a different website altogether (vs And it is a website that looks like it was designed in 1986.


I highly recommend “Home” by George Saunders, which is in this 2011 Summer Fiction issue.

Reasons you should read it:

1. From a craft perspective, it's a wonderful model of a story told almost entirely through dialogue, which is so hard to do well. Of course, Saunders does it well.

2. You will find yourself sympathetic with narrator, who is home from “the war” in the Middle East, until his perspective becomes really unsettling. And then you find yourself uncomfortable and confused. I really like when art that does this to me.

3. New fiction about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are so important. There are so many shell-shocked, wounded, young veterans out there with a dizzying array of perspectives about their experience.

George Saunders talked about this story with The New Yorker and why these stories need to be told.

In the interview he says,

I don’t really know enough to argue for or against these particular wars. But I do smell a rat in the way we think and talk about war. We underestimate it. And we do this in part because war, for the vast majority of us, is, or feels, free.
His protagonist in "Home" is certainly not free, nor are the people around him. And I believe Saunders' work puts a spotlight on any one of us who walks around believing that we are free from the war just because we haven't served in it ourselves.

4. Did you know our very own Josh Campbell interviewed George Saunders in the Winter 2007 issue of Our Stories? Check it out here.

If you're interested in other compelling stories about modern stories, read "Tits Up in a Ditch" by Annie Proulx. This one has stuck in my mind ever since The New Yorker published it in 2008.

I leave you with this:

Jesse Golby, who teaches writing at the US Naval Academy, wrote a post for us in April where he touched on the ways literature and soldiering intersect.

One of the things he had to way was this:

Everyday I struggle with the knowledge that my students will be culpable in the destruction of lives or property. He or she might not be the one dropping the bomb, but at a minimum they'll work in the chain that allows that bomb to drop. I also know that our military doesn't pick our wars, but is responsible for carrying them out. There are things worth fighting for. We all know this. But nothing is certain, and causes and morality and pursuits and politics make "defense of our country" tricky. How then, do we foster moral men and women that are willing to bring to bear our instruments of power in an uncertain world? How does literature fit into this?

Monday, June 13, 2011


In which we review the highlights of existence. Why can’t one let one’s self go all chimpanzee? So one wants to jump onto a heightened structure and hoot as a way of announcing one’s dominance over one’s perceived enemies: why should we frown? But if one wears shoes, one’s feet becomes more tender, requiring more for the fact that one must need to don said shoes. A panderitious cycle of ever-softening softness. Light us up a candle, Gary. We’re going to toast us some marshmallows.

Moving on to the delicacy of pronunciation. As a person who lives in a place which is not the place near which I was born, I often get razzed on how I say me my words. ‘This is correct,’ they imply, ‘and that is incorrect.’ Poop fiddles. We’ve been here before. Sure, wasn’t it Tacitus who said, ‘Let’er rip any which way you want’em’? I say again, poop fiddles. What is the difference, for example between a ‘bird’ and a ‘beard’? Bad example, perhaps. Birds and beards and boards are all specific representations of themselves. The bard writes of a bird with a beard on a board because he knows what’s what.

And also, Knits a stinK will shortly be going on a mosquito-collecting expedition across the wild boundary waters of Minnesota. Paddle battle galore. If you never read from me again, let force be known that I fought the good fight with the moose. For every action is a noble action in the mind, and those that will submit to the ever-pressing need of the romantic intellect shall be acknowledged to the world, and the world will be grateful. Thank you, end unto end.

Others amongst you will be asking what point I have in dwelling in the manners of the absurd, and for you I have no answer, except for the following:

High on a hill was a lonely goat turd, Yodelay-ee-yodelay-ee-ee-hee-hoo.

But why? Why a goat turd? What was it doing there, and why does it deserve highlighting? I for one am disturbed at the ease with which this sort of sentiment is consumed by the general populace. We must remain even-tempered, however. We must take everything for the value of its face. There has to be some reason why this has gripped our people to such an extent. So we will put ourselves there: we will become the goat turd, so lonely.

What exactly does it mean, for example, to be at such an elevated point, higher most likely than anything else within the eye’s range, buffeted by the wind, cold and afraid, all-seeing but having no one with whom to share? You, the turd, must wonder where all of the other turds have made off to; rolled down the hill, most likely. There’s probably piles of them congregating down in the valley. Gravity plays terrible tricks. So why have you, the lonely turd, been singled out, to find yourself balanced atop the precipice, superior to all, equal to none, so turd-like in your being: unique, irreplaceable, effervescent? What right have you?

And now you see. Now you see what we have to deal with. I’m off to canoe.

[Don't forget to stop by Knits a stinK for raw deals.]

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Getting it down on the page

If you’re a “real” writer you sit down to write every day at the same time, without fail and you write for a few hours. This is the common wisdom. This is what we all must do if we’re to give ourselves the time to practice our craft. These are The Rules.

Is this my current practice? No. Was it my practice while I was working towards my MFA? No. Do I consider myself a writer? Yes.

I write when I can. Often I’m inspired ZAP! A new idea! But it’s midnight and I have children who will get me up in a few hours so I make a note and I get to it later. Sometimes I have time and I don’t feel like looking at that little note so I read instead or go for a run or clean a bathroom. And sometimes I’m kicking around that notion I memorialized in my notebook and I find an hour here and there over the course of a week—little bits and pieces in fits and spurts and then: Woah. It all stalls and I think, I am no writer. I am a fake. This is all bullshit.

So I read again. I read T.C. Boyle’s carefully crafted-almost stream of consciousness The Women, and then read Danzy Senna’s fabulous new collection of short stories, You Are Free, and suddenly I am inspired and I'm at it again. I am free and flying and the hours I find to write thunder past and I am forlorn when my time runs out. But I’ll be back. Maybe not tomorrow or the next day, but I’ll certainly get back to it.


What's your writing schedule like? What reading material has inspired you lately?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Angkor Wat

After our sunrise session of yoga and recording some video for the project we got ourselves together and hit the road to Angkor Wat.

The thousand year old temples are a 15 minute took-took ride outside of town. I can't really describe their beauty so I may just have to let the pictures speak for me. I can tell you that it is about a thousand years old, is majestic and beautiful and was built over a period of only 37 years. We're talking beautiful and enormous.

We have an early day tomorrow, visiting our first center and such. I'll have much more to write about the stories we hear. For now enjoy Angkor Wat!

This girl collects empty plastic bottles to resell.

Goodnight everyone!

Location:Wat Bo Rd,Siem Reap,Cambodia

Saturday, June 4, 2011

While I was in college I spent a fair amount of time talking about the "men's movement". Essentially that comprised if the understanding that men, together and all had to begin examining their role in society. It sounds so uber intellectual now but at the time me and a very cool circle of guys were very serious about it.

Primarily our number one activity was putting on a white ribbon campaign. This was an import from Canada where men took a pledge of non-violence and standing up for women's rights. We would ask fellow men to take the pledge with us and wear a white ribbon. This was a big deal and I found the hardest part of the work talking to fellow men. "do you take a pledge of non-violence in support of women and stand for their equal rights." there was always some guys who would come right up to the counter and turn at that. "no way," or "sorry, all that PC stuff is shite."

In the end, that was a lot of men talking about their privilege and saying. "Nah, I'm not interested in recognizing it." We're talking violence here--not some damn pledge to join NOW. It's the resistance that I remember very well, the disdain and the way another man can make you feel for supporting women's rights. Such BS now when I think about it.

I did that for four years, organize that in the spring. In the fall I did acquaintance rape prevention workshops. I had a really good friend in college that was a cool guy, I mean he sort of embodied cool, ex-Lax player, New Jersey swagger with rings in his fingers. Obviously just didn't give an F. Well the two of us would sit in frosh dorms with this crew of dudes and break down what acquaintance rape meant. We walked them through scenarios. A woman had this much to drink, and you wind back here. You're both black out drunk and things are happening. That sort of thing. I'd helped write the skits and think they were my first writing that blended social activism with creative writing. The guys were a mixed bag. Freshmen full of themselves and mostly scared. I can say that now. Scared. I didn't blame them, many were single and away from home for the first time, their privilege was all they had. There were lots of jokes at first but when they could tell we weren't joking and took the discussion seriously we would end up changing their minds. Jeff and I had female friend's who had been raped and if we could bring our reality to their world we might change some lives.

It has been a while since I have taken to this work. Speaking openly about the fact that men need to stand up together and fight sexism. To the work of recognizing their privilege in society.

This is what today was about. Leslie and I talked over lunch for hours about how to change the system. How to continue this work when we get back to the states. One thing for sure, the skills I learned years ago are essential today.

Location:Day 4 - Daughters of Cambodia trip

Friday, June 3, 2011

Siem Riep - June 3rd

More about this project can be found at

If you consider that we spent the first couple of days traveling in an airplane to get here, technically this is day three of our trip.

We woke up in the morning and ate some brunch and hit the town. Our first experiences in the town were overwhelming. Dozens of motorcycles and took-tooks motorized rickshaws called to us.

We walked in the heat, Americans obviously, Westerners for sure it was if we were the only people without a bike or a moto or a car and it was hot. The humidity furious and the smell of exhaust everywhere. But the smiles, the smiles of the people were infectious and genuine. I loved watching Leslie smile through the city. Finally able to interact with people she had long since been thinking of.

As we walked around the city some more it was obvious we had no idea where to go. We eventually were talked into a took-took ride to tour the city.

The queen's garden entrance.

After our trip around the city we were beat. We rested in our room and found refuge from the heat in our room. The staff is very nice, generally kind and talkative. Not to generalize but a hugely different vibe than when Leslie and I lived in Korea. Leslie and I had a lot of great talks and tried to really take it easy. We both are a bit warn from the trip and didn't want to push it.

We hit lunch at a local restaurant with a wonderful set menu. Guess what, plenty of veggie options.

We stopped for a coffee on the way back. A man with dreads laid on a couch reading a book. He later identified himself as the owner of the restaurant. Figures.

Took-took in effect.

This guy delivered a huge bag of ice to the restaurant out of the back of a truck. He loaded a large mesh bag with the ice from a gigantic cooler. Rad.

The entire day I kept wondering about the world that I was interfacing with. Here I am, this American with a camera, sneaking pictures and what am I showing the world? I hope you see something of what I saw today. It was quite beautiful and lovely.

Though a bit messy at times.

Till tomorrow.

Location:Samdech Tep Vong,Siem Reap,Cambodia