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The Art of Revision: The Last Word by Peter Ho Davies

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 175 pgs.
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The Art of Revision: The Last Word by Peter Ho Davies examines revision holistically through examples from published literature and revised stories over time from writers like Raymond Carver and his editor Gordon Lish, Frank O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, and others, as well as a look at popular cinema, such as Terminator, and its revisions.

The crux of this craft book is: “The truth is that while our own ability to make new stories, and remake old ones, ends with us, life continues to revise us. Life in some sense is revision, and revision a measure of how alive a story continues to be. (pg. 171) Throughout, Davies examines his own work on The Welsh Girl and a story from his own past in which his father intervenes to save a Sikh boy from being beaten.

While this reference book is focused on short stories and novels, it’s takeaways regarding revision and our “darlings” can be applied to poetry. “Revision is very much a process of close reading ourselves and our work,” he says. (pg. 14) In a way it is not about the cutting or the reduction of the text all of the time, but the expansion and contraction of text to find the meat of the story and the truth of it. “I suspect a guiding principle of early drafts might be better phrased as ‘Write to know,‘ and of revision, ‘Revise to know more,” and of a final draft, ‘I’ve written what I now know.'” (pg. 36)

I’ve always loved the possibility of revision, but I’ve also cut poems down into enigmas and missed the points the poems were making entirely. I’ve played with words, phrasing, line breaks, and more to a point where the poem is even confused about itself. This book has helped me see that revision needs to be a little more focused, not targeted, but shining a light on the meaning/truth of the poem.

The Art of Revision: The Last Word by Peter Ho Davies is a nonfiction craft book I would highly recommend for poets, short story writers, novelists, and others. Davies is frank in his advice and his own limitations, but he also demonstrates that revision is a skill that can be learned, enjoyed, and even provide us with our own truth about ourselves and the stories that we are drawn to and must write on the page.

***Thanks to Melanie Figg for the recommendation.***

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Peter Ho Davies‘s most recent books are the novel A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself, long-listed for the Aspen Words Literary Prize, and The Art of Revision: The Last Word, his first work of non-fiction. His previous novel, The Fortunes, a New York Times Notable Book, won the Anisfield-Wolf Award and the Chautauqua Prize, and was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. His first novel, The Welsh Girl, a London Times Best Seller, was long-listed for the Booker Prize. He has also published two short story collections, The Ugliest House in the World (winner of the John Llewelyn Rhys Prize, and the Oregon Book Award) and Equal Love (finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and a New York Times Notable Book).

Davies’ work has appeared in Harpers, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The Guardian, The Washington Post and TLS among others, and been anthologized in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards and Best American Short Stories. In 2003 Granta magazine named him among its “Best of Young British Novelists.”

Davies is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts and a winner of the PEN/Malamud and PEN/Macmillan Awards.

Born in Britain to Welsh and Chinese parents, he now makes his home in the US. He has taught at the University of Oregon, Northwestern and Emory University, and is currently on faculty at the University of Michigan.

Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 272 pgs.
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Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun is a memoir that seems to have started out as a biography of Frank O’Hara, but really was an attempt by a daughter to capture her father’s attention through the poet that tethered, at least in part, their lives together. Peter Schjeldahl is an art critic who also wrote poetry, essays, and other works, and was immersed in the New York School of poetry in which O’Hara was considered a major poet. Calhoun has felt unseen by her father, according to the memoir, even as she, too, pursued a career in writing, though mostly as a ghostwriter.

Calhoun’s O’Hara journey begins long before she finds the tapes in her father’s drawer and starts to listen to the interviews he conducted when trying to write a biography of the poet. The ghost of the poet has haunted her father and their lives since the start – a father dejected by the cancellation of his biography on a man he admired and a man who threw himself into writing as a critic and more to the detriment of all else, even his own poetry (which some in the book praised to Ada).

For Ada, O’Hara’s poetry was a gift from her father, and through those poems, she experienced New York City in the way that she believed her father must have. She also used this connection to draw her own conclusions about her father and his obsessions, which may or may not have reflected reality for her father. In many ways, she equates O’Hara’s poet-ness with her father’s writer-ness and the obsessiveness it requires to shut everything else out, but what she fails to see early on is how both simply wanted to make connections and to reach out from their own emptiness and fill it up.

Calhoun is on a journey taken by her father years ago, and like many things when we seek something we don’t think we already have, it becomes a competition to do better and be better as a way to prove our worth to someone we desperately want approval from. Maureen Granville-Smith, O’Hara’s sister and executor of his estate, plays a pivotal role in both the journey of Calhoun and her father. What’s more is that Calhoun unravels this late in the memoir – almost too late.

Past the mid-way mark, Calhoun says something about confidence being “the age requirement for everything,” (pg. 134), and there is something to that. We all reach an age where we finally have that confidence we need to overcome certain obstacles or deal with certain moments in our lives, and it is through that we become capable and achieve the seemingly unachievable. This is where were are with the memoir, as well. She has reached that age of confidence where she can finally speak to her father as a writer to a writer and explore how each has lived that life very differently — he shutting everything else out and she carving out time from her other responsibilities to concentrate on writing alone in a chunk of time. And in many ways, she answers her own questions about “How ruthless do you need to be?” to be a writer.

Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun is so much more than a memoir; it’s a peek inside the world and work of enigmatic artists and poets and how their lives unravel while they’re working at their craft and they are completely unaware. Calhoun is equally unaware, but soon she begins to realize that she’s seen the signs all along and that no writer/parent will ever be perfect because we are all flawed, we are all editing as we go along.

RATING: Cinquain

Run (Book One) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury, and Nate Powell

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 160 pgs.
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RUN (Book One) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury, and Nate Powell, the Eisner Award-Winner for Best Graphic Memoir, is the continuation of Rep. John Lewis‘ (D-Ga.) life after the Selma voting rights campaign and the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. It was clear that even after the law was passed, segregation was not going to vanish, people were going to still kill Blacks with impunity, and Lewis’ work and that of other activists was far from finished.

“But we knew Sammy would not be the last innocent Black person murdered for trying to live his life with a sense of dignity.” (pg. 59)

Lewis was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and wholeheartedly believed in Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence and was against war of any kind. However, not all of the members of the group felt the same, and this eventually caused a huge rift and the creation of the Black Panther party.

Lewis is taking it back to the use of comics by the Black Panther party to help readers visualize and feel the emotional tension and injustice of this time in history. It is clear that these books are still needed and can communicate events and movements to readers in a more visceral way than history books or courses could.

If you are unaware of the systemic racism in government institutions, you really need to read this book. It is clear from these stories, that the system was stacked against Black people even after civil rights were passed. One prime example is the refusal to seat an elected official who was voted into office.

“‘The moral ARC of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’ Dr. King said.

And sometimes it begins and ends int he same place.” (pg. 73)

RUN (Book One) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury, and Nate Powell should be essential reading for students and adults alike. If you’ve read the March series, you will love this graphic novel. This book was excellent from cover-to-cover from the story to the illustrations. I read it in one day, including the additional information about the people in the movement.

RATING: Cinquain

Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor (Audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook; 1+ hrs.
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Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor, narrated by the author, is an Audible Original that contains story and musical story. Taylor explores his childhood and his journey to music, against the medical path laid out before him, and explores how his life finds its way into his songs.

There is no shying away from the struggles with drugs, nearly killing a man with a car, or his brief encounter with a killer. He explores his mental illness and drug abuse, and how those stemmed from a childhood that was a struggle for him. I loved how he interspersed his songs and playing with his story. That was the best part of this audio. It was definitely well blended. It was definitely too short of an audiobook, and it left you wanting more.

Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor is a delightful listen if you enjoy his music, and the interwoven stories that inspired his songs make his story sing. Definitely worth checking out if you like his music.

RATING: Quatrain

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 171 pgs.
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Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo, which does include some poems, is what I would imagine a dream walk to be. Harjo shifts from moment to moment in a surreal walk through her memories. She explores her Native American heritage through the eyes of a young child and a woman who is looking for her place in a family and culture where women’s decisions/desires are secondary.

“In the end, we must each tend to our own gulfs of sadness, though others can assist us with kindness, food, good words, and music.” (pg. 23)

“I imagine this place in the story as a long silence. It is an eternity of gray skies. It runs the length of late elementary school through adolescence.” (pg. 63)

Throughout the memoir, there is a cleaving. A family broken apart by a step-father who seeks control over all in his dominion, even children who are not biologically his own and forces them to make adult decisions at too young an age. But there is also the breaking apart of a woman in that she needs to separate herself from that past and her current life to find a voice buried inside and trying to break free.

“For the true warriors of the world, fighting is the last resort to solving a conflict. Every effort is made to avoid bloodshed.” (pg. 150)

Harjo teaches that through pain and suffering there is still beauty and love. Loving oneself can provide the peace we seek, and it also enables us to find our own voices and trails. While she suffered from her mother’s decisions and her father’s abandonment, there is still love there for a family who gave her life. This is not a complete life story, but it is a journey — it is Harjo’s path to poetry. Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo is a homage to those that came before, a nod to her present, and a dream for a future.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Joy Harjo is an American poet, musician, playwright, and author. She served as the 23rd United States Poet Laureate, the first Native American to hold that honor. She was also only the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to have served three terms.

Finding Me by Viola Davis (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 9+ hrs.
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***trigger warnings for those who have suffered sexual abuse or child abuse***

Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis, narrated by the author, is what I want in a memoir every time – not simply name dropping or a recounting of events, but an in-depth look at one’s life and all its dark corners and bright lights. I want it to be reflective, and I want it to ring true. I want to hear everything that a person believes makes them who they are today. Davis brings that and much more.

I have loved Davis as an actor for so many years. When I see her name on the list, I’m watching that movie. She is that powerful and phenomenal, and now I can see why. She’s one of those actors who has the innate ability to channel the past and mold it into her roles and provide her characters with motivation, but she’s also a keen observer of people around her and their emotional and physical struggles.

I did not know that Davis grew up in Rhode Island! I lived in Massachusetts, but like 20 min. from the border of Rhode Island as a girl. When she talked about places, I knew where she was. That made this a not-so-great treat because I was completely unaware of the horrors there, but I was a kid…most of us don’t notice those things.

What I loved is that she stays true to the woman I believe her to be, pulling no punches about discrimination or racism or even sexism in the Hollywood business. Her story is a story for all Black women who struggle with perceptions of others and who they are. I want all women to feel loved for who they are, not who we perceive them to be.

She is very candid about the abuse, molestation, and more that occurred in her childhood and the effects that it had on her as an adult. Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis is one of the best memoirs I’ve listened to in a while, and I highly recommend this one. I cannot tell you how riveting this was, you need to experience this for yourself.

About the Author:

Viola Davis is an American actress. The recipient of various accolades, including an Academy Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and two Tony Awards.

Will by Will Smith (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 16+ hrs.
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Will by Will Smith, narrated by the author, is a phenomenal memoir about his family, his rise to fame, his will to be the best rapper and movie star, and his struggles with emotions. Narrated by Smith himself is like a trip and Audible has me at go when the music of these icons is included for listening. Smith still has those rapping chops — don’t think he doesn’t. But even with his struggles, it is clear that he’s in a place where he is still projecting a little bit of that personal, rather than actual self that he seems to be still searching for. After all, this is a memoir that he hopes will entertain and sell a lot of books.

There were things I already knew in this book from the Fresh Prince Reunion and from conversations during Jada Pinkett’s Red Table Talks. But I will say this, it is clear from Will’s point of view that he does what he does because he loves his family and he wants to give them the life that he didn’t feel like he had, but what he failed to see is that they are not him — they have different needs and desires. Even with Jada, he clearly wanted to create memories as he believed they should be — much of what he does is to create cinematic movies of his memories. He wants to will things into being to reach some sort of ideal. Jada, for her part, clearly loves him and all his faults, but she failed (at least from what I could tell) to express her wants/needs/desires in a way that he heard her and acknowledged them.

But this book is not about just his relationship with Jada. Like many creatives, there are visions we want to achieve and sometimes they work as we see them and sometimes we need to adjust to how those visions can actually be achieved. Gigi, his grandmother, was a wise woman. She believed in being kind and helping others no matter what, and this is something Will took to heart. You can see that in how he helps his friends, family, and even strangers get a leg up and achieve their own dreams, but one piece of advice from his mother that he forgot to embody was only speaking when it improved on silence.

Will clearly loves to talk and joke, but there is something that scares him about silence. This can be traced to those memories of domestic violence by his father against his mother. He stood in silence as his mother was hurt by his father – that inaction shaped him into the boisterous, charismatic clown he is.

Will by Will Smith is vulnerable, reflective, and harsh as Smith examines his past, present, and future. Like many of us who seek to be better and learn from mistakes, he is still on that journey. Is there stuff for the gossip rags? Yes. Will it be exploited? Probably. But was this journey cathartic for Smith and the reader? Definitely. We’re all deeply flawed, and Smith shows us that even our flaws can be channeled to make ourselves successful at least financially, but is that enough? Or should we be learning to adjust our lives and lead richer experiences with those we love?

RATING: Cinquain

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hours
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The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl, narrated by the author, is a delight by itself. If you want to here Grohl talk about his life as written in the book with some riffs and musical interludes, you should pick up this audio.

There’s a lot of unbelievable moments in his life, and I think his ability to just “go for it” and say “yes” to any opportunity really helped him become as successful as he is. I do think some will be disappointed about the lack of gossip about Nirvana and Courtney Love, etc., but most will have to recall that Nirvana was already a band for three years when Grohl joined. He’s spent a very small amount of his career with that band. This is a memoir about Grohl’s life in music and life.

I don’t need to say much else, because I already reviewed the book.

RATING: Cinquain

Woodrow on the Bench by Jenna Blum

While I didn’t officially sign up for Book Journey‘s event, First Book of the Year, here it is:

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is a love letter to a beloved companion who provided Blum with not only companionship and love, but also with lessons in patience, humility, and so much more. Woodrow, named after the former Texas Ranger in Lonesome Dove, was a black lab full of mischief, a lover of food (esp. carrots), and energy.

Woodrow is much like our husky and her love of carrots and the outside, but he’s also like my keeshond who loved food so much, you’d often find him in the fridge, stealing pork chops from tables, and so on. Blum’s memoir also brought me back to my college days in Boston. I knew exactly where she was at all times, and the struggles of crossing Commonwealth Ave. are real, and I miss the old Ritz, now the Taj. It has been a very long time since I’ve been back, and during these pandemic years, it allowed me to revisit some places along the way. And for some reason, winter always reminds me of Boston and it’s bone-chilling cold … and the snow! Hence, this became my first read of 2022.

“If I try to cross Commonwealth Avenue at the wrong time or emerge from between parked cars instead of using the crosswalk, there’s an excellent chance I’ll be mowed over. Usually by somebody in a BMW, which I have long since decided — forgive me, Beamer drivers — is an acronym for asshole.”

Blum’s narrative carries the reader on an emotional journey with highs and lows, and most of us know that Woodrow is on the decline at his advanced age. While she does characterize his breathing at one point as “more Darth Vader than usual,” we know that these moments are scary. Woodrow is endearing and he becomes like our own pet through these pages, as we laugh and cry alongside Blum. She’s losing one of her most important anchors, not to be outdone by the equally devastating losses of both her parents.

I found so much of myself in these pages — I’m stubborn like Blum and want to do things the more you tell me they cannot be done. (I’m not sure who I inherited this trait from, honestly, because both my parents shy away from action and conflict. It’s in the genes somewhere.) But when it comes to saving a beloved family member (yes, pets are family), the impossible is just that.

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is not only about the loss of a family pet or the lessons Blum learned along the way, it is a microcosm of what we’ve forgotten about humanity – that people can be good and do good. It’s shown time and again when strangers help Blum with her dog as he struggles to walk or when she’s struggling to cross one of the busiest thoroughfares in Boston with her old dog. And she, like us, is “stunned” every time by this compassion. There is something ultimately beautiful that comes from all the sadness in these pages, and we, as readers, are better for it.

RATING: Cinquain

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 304 pgs.
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Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci is a delight in many ways. It’s food, family, friends, and humor. Growing up in New York State and traveling to Italy knowing little to no Italian was an adventure in itself, but Tucci has led a adventurous life in food and life. Don’t get me wrong, there are personal struggles and losses in these pages, and there is his diagnosis of cancer, but through it all, his love of food and how it brings family and friends together shines through.

I’m utterly delighted by his humor – it reminds me so much of my own father’s family. The devil-may-care attitude coupled with the traditional rules that cannot be broken — what in the world are you thinking? It’s a catch-22 kind of place to grow up. But the food. Italians love food, and I dare say that the Portuguese are the same. We’ve always come to the table ready to eat, course after course. While there is a great deal more pasta in this book, it was so delightful to read his take on how things taste. His descriptions will have you salivating, even as you are smiling and laughing along with him about some story on set, with his family, or on a press junket.

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci is a journey in food and it explores how food brings us together as human beings. Some of best times are around the table. Don’t be surprised if you end up hungry several times while reading this. There’s recipes to sate that hunger, if you are feeling adventurous.

RATING: Cinquain

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl

Source: Gift
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl is more than just a memoir of music and the powerhouses in it. This is a story of one man’s complete awe of where his life has taken him and what drives him to keep going even when tragedy rocked his world and threatened to upend it for good. From Grohl’s opening line about aging — “Sometimes I forget that I’ve aged. — readers know they have found a kindred spirit. Aging is a process of time, and more often than not, we’re too busy living to notice that time has passed and we are no longer as young as our heads and hearts may still believe we are. I know I feel this way a lot of the time.

Grohl’s musical career began in his bedroom with a couple of pillows and a dream, but his love of music was with him since birth. From singing in the car with his mother to sharing punk band music with his cousin and taking drumming lessons from a Jazz legend, Grohl was on the path of stardom long before he realized it was his dream.

“At an early age, I started to play drums with my teeth, sliding my jaw back and forth and chomping up and down to simulate the sound of a drum set in my mouth, doing drum rolls and grace notes as if I were using my hands, without anyone ever noticing.”

If you’re looking for gossip of the nastiest kind, forget it. This is a story of hope, perseverance, hard work, and a ton of coffee. That’s my kind of person, though I admit I have never drank pot after pot of coffee and thought I was having a heart attack.

There’s so much memory in this book, and I remember the great Olsson’s Books and Records in Bethesda, so when I saw that in this book (but the Georgetown store), it brought back a lot of memories of my early days in the DMV. Grohl’s writing mirrors the old storyteller who begins a tale, takes a tangential side trip, and gets back to the main thread. But I absolutely loved all the meandering.

When you get to the part about Nirvana, you realize that many fans know him because of this band and its music, but really, Grohl had lived a full musical life before and after Nirvana. He often talks about how he was a nerd/geek and it was clear that the people who grew to love Nirvana over time were those that used to bully him as a kid. The chapter on his grief after lead singer Kurt Cobain’s death is some of the most poignant and real chapters I’ve read on grief. Everyone grieves differently and grief is not the same for each person’s passing.

Grohl may have passed one of the most devastating moments in his life, but he still carries that with him. There are a great may takeaways in this memoir, but one of the best is this: “Courage is a defining factor in the life of any artist.”

Definitely a book that will live on the shelf with my other Rock Stars. The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl is one of the most open and heartfelt memoirs I’ve read in a long time. Would I fangirl if I saw Grohl in person – yes, yes I would. But I do that with anyone’s work I admire. Just ask all the poets I talk to and the ones I will meet someday into the future.

RATING: Cinquain

The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield (audio)

Source: Freebie
Audible, 2+ hrs.
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The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield is a hommage to Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac that relies on Rolling Stone magazine’s extensive archives. It is clear from Rob Sheffield’s effusive narrative that he loves Stevie Nicks, considers her songwriting genius, and her style transcendent. He clearly loves Stevie Nicks and he takes listeners on a journey through her music with the band and as a solo artist. I loved learning that Nicks wrote songs and that none of them were earmarked ahead of time for the band or her solo albums. She just couldn’t help but write songs all the time.

I liked the light-hearted nature of this nugget, as I’m not as familiar with Nicks’ work as others might be. I’ve listened to Fleetwood Mac many times, and I enjoy their music, but I was interested in her as an artist, who seemed to be a force in the band and on her own. I would probably seek out a more in-depth look at her work and her life, but this provided a nice overview without too much “romance/breakup” gossipy stuff, which I tend to not like as much.

The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield is one fan-boy’s love of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks told by the man himself. It does provide a great overview for the curious who might not want to be too invested, but if you want something more than squealing about how great she is, you might want to try something different.

RATING: Tercet