Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Can't speak Farsi? Me neither.

I write a column for a site with a focus on homeland security. When I’m checking facts, or trying to learn more about global political events, I have to rely on whoever translated if the site is from a country whose language I can’t speak.

I recently discovered the site MEMRI: The Middle East Media Research Institute. I found translations from media in many different countries. The site is well-organized and also has a film section. According to the description, material is translated into seven different languages.

Considering the complexities in world politics today, sites like this one really help. Anyone interested in the Middle East will find very interesting reading. Some paint MEMRI as biased against the Arab world, but since I read Arab news sites as well, I can at least compare information and make an informed decision. Problem is I have to read the Arab sites in English.

I’ve focused on studying the Middle East lately because of the column. And I just ordered an interesting looking new book Letters from an American Farmer by J. Hector St. John De Crevecoeur. The book was first published in England in 1782 as the Revolutionary War of Independence came to an end. I’m looking forward to reading about American concerns at that time. The book, according to the back cover blurb, was “written by an emigrant French aristocrat turned farmer."

I realized most of the books I’ve read lately are either poetry or nonfiction, with the exception of Marcia Preston’s excellent The Butterfly House. I highly recommend her novel; it was a very good read. She uses the motif of the study of butterflies, and successfully creates a character we care about. The book embodies a mystery, and features some very interesting characters.

Gazing around my office, I realize there are so many books I want to read. And write. As always, those are good problems for a writer to have.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Kids get a laureate

“CHICAGO — The Poetry Foundation will inaugurate the nation’s first Children’s Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children’s Poetry to the Poetry Foundation, as part of the third annual Pegasus Awards ceremony in Chicago on September 27, 2006.”—news from The Poetry Foundation September 18, 2006

John Barr, president of The Poetry Foundation, says children’s poets go unrecognized. I’d have to agree with him. But then poetry in general often goes unrecognized. Designating a poet whose work resonates with youth certainly can’t hurt.

Children respond to poetry with levels of honesty and acceptance unreachable by adults. If youth experience poetry early on, there’s a chance as adults they will be receptive to it.

I believe reading poetry and responding to it will enhance anyone’s education. My own children are strong writers and readers. As toddlers, they’d always calm down when I read to them. My daughters were wide open at an early age, so I used books and together-time to help them learn to sit still and pay attention. We also used stories and poems as springboards for the imagination. As they’ve grown older, they’ve both made a place for poetry in their lives.

It perplexes me that unlike many other countries, America keeps poetry confined to aesthetic tribes and small journals. I’ve never understood why major women’s magazines don’t publish poetry. More newspapers seem to be giving the genre some attention, and on occasion, a television program will feature someone reading a poem either at a funeral or a wedding.

I encourage others to read poetry because, in my opinion, it adds a beautiful dimension to life. I’ve often thought poetry could use a few more good missionaries. Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, and Annie Finch are fine poets who, by various activities like readings and networks, have furthered the reach of our purest form of writing.

On the other hand, I’ve suffered through more than one reading where I wish the poet had kept things to himself.

Poets. We’ll never be 100% happy with anything. If we were, we’d be writing fiction.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Who judges a book by its cover?

My publisher sent me a critique from several judges after he entered my memoir in a book contest. I finally got around to reading it, and was surprised at what I found. I got high marks for editorial and writing; the book got low marks for cover design and for interior graphic design. One judge even recommended the book to her friend.

That experience led me to think about book buying in a different way. I’d always accepted opinions that the front cover of a book is a critical buying factor for book browsers.

But I never really look hard at the front cover. I usually go first to the back cover. If there’re just blurbs there from other authors or reviewers, I read no further. If there’s a description or excerpt, I do read that.

I read the bio page of the author. Then I usually read the first page or two of the text.

Then I decide do I want the book.

This applies to titles that I’m not specifically looking for, when I’m in the mood to load up on new works to read. Otherwise, I order the book online if it’s one that’s been recommended, or that I’ve read about in the news, as opposed to reviews. I’ve rarely bought a book because of a review either, now that I think about it.

I buy a lot of books.

I admit I don’t read much Chick Lit or romances. Maybe covers are important to those readers.