Foolsgold…. {Great Reads}

cover of Foolsgold by Susan G. Wooldridge
credit: amazon.com

After reading poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, I couldn’t wait to read Foolsgold, another visit into Ms. Wooldridge’s wordpool and its impact on others (and herself). Ordered while still in the earliest chapters of poemcrazy, I anticipated more delicious conversation by an approachable author whose love of collecting, love of words, and love of collecting words all fit neatly into my own life perspective.

Disclosure:  I chose to ignore reviews in which readers mentioned a different tone in Foolsgold and references to the author’s personal struggles as they related to the book.

Turns out, her struggles are the heart of the book. The ‘nothing’ she refers to in the subtitle felt like the overarching feeling coming through in her words, her voice wavering between sadness, depression, melancholy, and wistfulness. I suppose it could be argued these words are all synonyms of one another, and therefore, redundant. Perhaps a reflection of what I felt as I read her chapters?

I struggled to stick with the book, often putting it down after only a page or two, not engrossed with every word, as I was in poemcrazy, which I wrote about {here}.  I often felt like I was listening to a sad friend as we talked … and talked…. and talked….. and talked…… while she said goodbye to someone. Then, as often happens when we’re going through something extraordinarily painful, there were glimpses of happiness in her writing…. brief moments of clarity, understanding, acceptance, and a look toward a future worth exploring.

Unfortunately, these fleeting glimpses could not balance out the palpable sadness in Ms. Wooldridge’s chapters. Late in the book, she talks about the comfort she found in writing as she dealt with great loss in her personal life – that the process was cathartic for her.  As someone who’s experienced both the death of a parent and a painful divorce, I understand the need for catharses, but as a reader eager to experience an author’s love of wordplay, I was disappointed in this book. It read more like a deeply sad and personal memoir, and less like a book about wordplay and exploring creativity. Perhaps more research on my part would have prepared me for this?

But I stuck with it, determined to read all that she shared. Looking ahead to figure out how much more I had to go (not a good sign!), I could see the short chapters tumbling toward 50. I decided this would be the connection to my own life – 50 chapters to share her discoveries as I turned 50 and made my own discoveries.  Instead the book promptly ended at chapter 48. What??? How could that be?? Who ends a book at chapter 48?? But with further thought, it made sense. Ms. Wooldridge wrote the book as a journal during her daily struggles. As she approached the final chapters, you could hear a more positive look toward the future. The End. No need for the completeness of a nice round number like 50. Like life, the book had stops and starts. And stops. At the end of chapter 48.

To close on a positive note, I shared in my review of poemcrazy, that the frequency with which I fold corners in a book speaks to the content – that there was something that caught my eye.  Foolsgold was no exception… plenty of turned pages, circled words and phrases, underlined quotes, and my own notes about things I read, connections I made to her words. Two chapters in particular resonated with me, 20 and 21, each for different reasons, but in both, rich language and connections that moved me, from working with kids in a juvenile facility to the language of colors. Ah, words and colors – two of my favorite topics, especially when blended! 🙂

In a book that underwhelmed me, I made note of the words with the ‘familiar Susan tone’ that pushed their way through – like tiny flowers blooming through a broken sidewalk – and caught my eye.  Thank you, Ms. Wooldridge, for those moments of wordpool you. Much appreciated by this fellow collector of words!  🙂

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poemcrazy…. {Great Reads}

book cover: PoemcrazyDear Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge,

You had me at, “I’m a collector of many things.”

Proudly stated in the opening chapter of her book, Wooldridge’s lead-in to her collection of words starts by revealing she’s a collector of a great many things. Hmmmm….. feels familiar…..

Add her thoughts on the writing style of e.e. cummings (irreverent, playing with words while breaking all the rules), and I was pretty sure I had stumbled on to a kindred spirit, one whose love of wordplay matches my own. 🙂

I don’t remember reading the classics in high school, probably because we moved a lot and I’d miss that unit of study every year – or I just completely tuned it out, chalking it up to a bunch of old writers and their dumb ideas. {teenage perspective} Hard to say.

What’s not hard to say, though, is that with Susan’s help, I learned about some of our greatest writers/poets and their contributions to American language – and perhaps, somehow, some of them had influenced my own writing. Interesting!

Her inclusion of Thoreau, Whitman, Cummings, Roethke, and Kunitz (to name a few) made reading poemcrazy feel like a cool college class that you really want to take and can’t get enough of the who, what, and why of the subject. Yes, I remember taking a few of those classes, don’t you?!

With 60 brief chapters that include stories from life (the author’s and others’), how words were created to describe those life stories, and a suggested (very do-able) writing practice activity,

poemcrazy is approachable, digestible, and palpable – allowing the reader a peek into the hearts of its author and contributors, creating a sense of intimacy that left me thinking about Wooldridge’s words (and those of her students, workshop participants, family, and friends) long after closing the book – as I fell asleep, drove to work, and even while sitting in meetings….. Once again, felt familiar….

Poemcrazy resonates with its reader, like a great conversation over coffee with a friend: warm, heartfelt, not soon forgotten.

If you enjoy wordplay even a little, or want to explore ways to write with abandon, this book is a treat. Highly recommend.

p.s. ~ Be on the lookout for the story behind the cover image…. 😉

Six To Consider: Writing Books Worth a Look

I’ve always got a stack of things to read, don’t you? My stack’s typically related to my latest interest or project. I’m a nonfiction reader, my current stack a mish-mash of art techniques and inspiration, small business ownership, and the craft of writing. When writing evaded me over the past year, I figured I’d read about writing until my own writing mojo found its way back! And my dear husband, who reads mostly on his iPad or iPhone (BIG screen) feeds my wish to have books near me… Christmas 2014 found a stack of Writing books and Writing magazine subscriptions under the tree…. a welcome diversion in a year that was often silent.

Here are a few that make my short list in an other otherwise long list of Writing resources, some found in the quiet of 2015 and several from years past:

cover of stephen king's on writing: a memoir of the craftFirst up – Stephen King’s, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, a fascinating read about the man behind the typewriter. The best part is, you don’t have to be a fan of his fiction to get a lot out of this book, though it’s definitely a bonus.  One of hundreds of tips to ponder as you read his book:

“Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.”  

Remember his gruesome accident in 1999, when he was hit by a car while out for a walk? That chance encounter makes a small appearance in this book….

 

cover of a book, how to write short, by roy peter clarkAnother favorite is one I wrote about [here] in 2014, How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark. In that post, I ask:

How many words was your last blog post or article?  Under 100? 500? 1,000?  Did you get your message across? How do you know? Could you have said it in fewer words without losing its essence? What would have been the benefit of doing so?

Mr. Clark discusses the history of language and communication in this book, with an emphasis on short-form communication, a style that continues to be one of my favorites.  I’ve read a few of his books, even buying a copy for a few friends…. good stuff!

 

book cover: 140 CharactersThird on my list, 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form, by Dom Sagolla, one of the co-creators of Twitter, is a nod to short-form communication, too, with a pretty cool discussion about the telegraph and Twitter. I originally blogged about this book in 2010 and did a remix in 2014 [here]. Brevity. Practicing.  😉

 

Next up on my list is a little book with a big message that was actually the second one I read by author, Austin Kleon, Show Your Work!

 

 

 

book cover: A Writer Teaches Writing A newer favorite, A Writer Teaches Writing, Second Edition, by Donald M. Murray, is ironically a much older publication, but a serendipitous discovery while reading Roy Peter Clark’s work. He referenced his ‘good friend Donald M. Murray,’ and in an instant I was taken back to a time I couldn’t remember clearly, but the name tickled my brain. Turns out, the copyright date is 1985, the year I graduated from high school, and the book appears to be a soft-cover textbook, like the ones found in high school and college composition classes … I suspect we crossed paths during my tumultuous high school and early college years – the book and I – it waiting patiently for me to be ‘ready’ to read it… which came 30 years later.

I also suspect I may have read some of his work back then and just don’t remember it specifically.  He summarizes his first chapter titled, Learning to Allow Learning, this way:

Several key assumptions underlie this book:

  1.  Writing is Thinking
  2. Writing is a Process
  3. Effective Teaching is Responsive
  4. Writing is an Interaction of the Global and the Particular
  5. There is No One Way

When I read this book in the past year, I remember thinking, It’s as if I wrote some parts of this book, like he was in my head! Now, I’m no Donald M. Murray, but my teaching/learning/writing philosophies are incredibly similar… Somehow, this man’s writing must have influenced me earlier on… lucky me, indeed.

 

book cover: A year of writing dangerouslyThe last book is one that arrived in the Christmas 2014 stack, but only recently made its migration from bookshelf to nightstand when I ‘re’discovered it on one of my Amazon Wish Lists and was about to buy the Kindle copy (because I was too impatient for Amazon Prime …overnight or two-day just wouldn’t do!) and realized, ‘Hey! I think I’ve got this book!’ Sure enough, waiting for me to find it when I was ready, A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement, sat quietly on my bookshelf.

Barbara Abercrombie’s compilation of anecdotal stories and quotes from fellow writers is a pleasant read and a joy to share.

 

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Are there others you’d recommend? I’m always looking for new titles to replenish that nightstand stack. 😉