Friday, January 30, 2015


My friend Mike is gone. He would have said, "That's all, folks", but that doesn't jive with my beliefs, so, as I told him when he was alive, "let's agree to disagree." Nonetheless, though he's alive in my heart and memory, there is a Mike-sized hole in my heart. He's one of that handful of people I met online through BookCrossing who I've become genuine friends with, sharing the joys, sorrows, laughter, and concerns of life. We met in person a couple of times, most notably when he came from Wales to Berlin to see us when my health allowed me to travel overseas again. We know each other's families, (though while he has met one of my children, I only know his via internet as well.) It's only been a short time, but I miss his wit, his wisdom, even his overabundance of posts on Facbook. Damn it, Mike! I'm tired of cancer taking people I love.

I am not alone in adjusting to the loss of this big-hearted man.  People around the world are adjusting to his absence; others he met online with whom he developed relationships. A group came together to shower Mike with love (and tidbits and treats to make his journey easier) after he announced his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. We've tried to help console each other, share memories, and of course support his beloved wife and son as they adjust to the new trajectory of their world. Donations to help  fight pancreatic cancer and support research have been made, trees planted in memory, even owls (a bird he admired) adopted in his name. Kiva and Deki have helped many people with loans made in Mike's honor. This is a man who continues to change the world and to to good, though he has popped off. Goodonya, Mike.

Over at BookCrossing, where we met, one of my closest friends and I came together and through our art tried to honor Mike (aka miketroll on some online sites). As many people are doing book releases in his memory, we created a book label in commemoration. The full color version is up in the BookCrossing Supply Store, two owl buddies, remembering Mike. We've also created a black and white version, for more limited budgets, at the grand cost of free, just like BookCrossing books are, when released. Feel free to download and use this label for releases, if you wish.
Art by Amy Francisconi and Amy Romanczuk (aka AFAR) honoring Mike Wiggett 

Mike, I really wish that we didn't need to do this. I'd much rather have you around. But, I truly believe that somewhere your soul is smiling at all the little things done to honor your time on Earth with us. I just wish we'd been allowed more of that precious commodity.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sweetsmoke by David Fuller

I live in the South. Every day, I see relics of days that to some symbolize the glory of the South, to others, a time of great shame for humankind. I was not born into southern culture (indeed, my own family fled from persecution elsewhere to settle in the United States in the days before World War I), but I still feel the scars that the enslavement of African Americans left on our world. When a friend from another country had trouble enjoying a visit to Charleston, saying he could feel the pain of slavery as he walked the streets of the city, it was a knife to my heart. It is not the way we live now, at least not in this part of the world, and while we are not perfect, I wonder how long those who inhabit this land will bear the responsibility of scars of the past.

Many people have a romanticized vision of slavery, due in part to its depiction in novels and movies. But even the kindest rendition in print or screen cannot deny that at its core, slavery involves ownership of one person over another. Sweetsmoke presents the reader with a huge array of relationships between between people of the South in 1862. The brutality is unflinching, the loyalties complex, the relationships tangled. It is a glimpse into the darkness of our past, exploring diverse aspects of the human psyche. It's a retelling of that wound in our national history called the Civil War.  It's a character study of a man of passions and principles, despite his enslavement.  It's a reminder that our greatest downfall is man's inhumanity to man, and our greatest strength is our ability to open our hearts to other people, and strive for what is right. I thought the author's technique of using quotation marks around the speech of free people, black or white, and none around the speech of the enslaved was a powerful tool to keep the reader reminded of the degradation of the human spirit when we succumb to the evils of saying we own another individual.

This is a book that is complex, and I may reread it, because there are certainly nuances I missed. There were some moments in it that opened my eyes, not so much about the institution of slavery, but more regarding how the world was in that time-- figuring out how to pass a message, cross a river, make a rendezvous. I even found myself looking up some of the herbs and medicinal plants mentioned, as that's an interest of mine.

Many thanks to my friend Maggie, who recommended this book to me. I will pass it on thoughtfully.

Tags: advanced-reader-copy, didn-t-want-to-put-it-down, made-me-look-something-up, made-me-sad, made-me-think, places-i-have-been, read, read-in-2015, read-on-recommendation, set-in-the-south, taught-me-something, uncomfortable-reading-but-good

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim

I love a book that makes me think. This memoir, written by an American reporter of South Korean birth, posing as a teacher, and then volunteering to teach English at a North Korean school was fascinating and chilling. There is so much turmoil in America today, people so willing to give voice to the ills of our society (and some rightly observed), but the difference between what is tolerated in America and what is reported as tolerated in North Korea is stark. For me, living without access to my family, to freely go where I wish to, to  read what I want, eat the foods of my choosing, or to pop onto the internet, would be a totally flummoxing, unfamiliar experience. Suki Kim's recounting of her times in North Korea, and other memoirs of time spent by westerners in oppressed countries (Guy Delisle's Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Yasmina Khadra's The Swallows of Kabul,  or Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran both come to mind) remind me of how much I take for granted. They also remind me of how little I know (even as an educated woman) of the rest of the world. Thankfully, I have the freedom to read books to become more educated.

Interestingly enough, this book's publication and pre-publication publicity corresponded with the breach of information at Sony, so as a result, I saw and heard a lot of the author on radio and television, which only whetted my appetite to read the book. Many thanks to Blogging for Books and the publisher for sending me a copy.

Tags: blogging-for-books, heard-interview-with-author, i-heard-about-it-on-npr, made-me-look-something-up, made-me-think, read, read-in-2015, taught-me-something

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

Really nothing about this book did it for me, not even being set in my beloved mountains. Too much teenaged angst, convoluted family stuff, dragged out plot, Lolita-ness (without Nabokov at the pen). There was not a single character I could find footing with, except maybe Thea's pony. Big disappointment.

Tags: first-novel-or-book, i-got-bored, places-i-have-been, read, read-in-2015, read-on-recommendation, set-in-the-south, thought-i-was-gonna-like