Definition: Smeuse

smeuse: “A gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal.”

 

smeuse
Photo by @angelt on Twitter @RobGMacfarlane

Smeuse

Driving slowly near my home,

I surprised a woodchuck standing in the road.

It was in no danger from me

But I suspect the poor beastie did not

Share my confidence

In its security.

With speed defying its corpulent shape

It dove in a bound to the grass

Then through the smeuse I had never noticed before

But can no longer unsee.

Like the word itself, “smeuse,”

“A gap in the base of a hedge

Made by the regular passage of a

Small animal.”

The woodchuck is gone

Though its trail remains open,

And in my mind

A gap is now filled

By a perfect word.

— David Marvin

 

For the book that inspired the poem above see the link to:

Book Review: Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane

Book Review: Landmarks, Robert MacFarlane

Book Review: Landmarks, Robert MacFarlane

Nonfiction: Landmarks, Robert MacFarlane

 

I have read books that deeply affected me, books that I believe changed the way I saw the world, that gave me insight into myself or society, that taught me new words and concepts and facts. Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane did all of that for me, but also did something that no other book has inspired me to do.

 

I wrote poems.

 

I have written poetry for awhile, though I don’t flatter myself that publishing houses are waiting breathlessly for my submissions. But I have never read a book that made me put it down and write out a poem inspired by the thoughts and images of the book. Landmarks did this to me, twice.

 

Landmarks is a unique, special book that is a love letter to Britain, to the land, to the English (and related) languages, and to the people of the land. It is a review of books, a celebration of authors, a review of landscapes, a celebration of life. It is a collection of words, a “word-hoard,” a series of glossaries, and a resurrection of dead and dying words. MacFarlane has worked with authors and others around the country to gather words that describe places and (yes) landmarks, words that are falling into disuse in our increasingly urban and indoor culture. Even children’s books and dictionaries are dropping words like “dandelion” and “kingfisher” in favor of words reflecting online and networked realities. This loss of language comes with other, more ineffable losses.

 

My city condo backs up to a park which has some wildlife, including woodchucks (large rodents also called groundhogs). One wandered into our road when I was driving home, but decided upon seeing my car that it wanted to go back to the park. I had never noticed the small gap in the shrubbery, but the woodchuck dove through it with alacrity and familiarity. A few days later, reading Landmarks, MacFarlane introduced the word “smeuse,” which is defined as a small gap in a hedge or wall used by animals. Now, I cannot drive along that section of road without looking at the smeuse and thinking of my visitor. I did not know that word was missing from my life; now I am thrilled to have it and the accompanying memories.

 

Each chapter introduces one or more authors who wrote elegiacally about the land and its inhabitants, flora, fauna, and features. Some of the authors are deceased, some are living, some are (or were) friends of MacFarlane, others are known to him only through their words. Each chapter also includes a lengthy glossary of terms related to the chapter, words relating to moors, to highlands, to water, etc.

 

Landmarks is a beautiful book that dances lyrically with language and with the landscapes. It is one that is inspiring, lovely, and one that I hope to return to again and again when I am looking for new ways to see familiar things.

Book Review: Landmarks, Robert MacFarlane

Book Review: The Library Book, Susan Orlean

Book Review: The Library Book, Susan Orlean

The Library Book

Nonfiction: The Library Book, Susan Orlean

I read The Library Book without knowing a lot about it. For instance, I had no idea that author Susan Orlean was such a wonderful observer of humanity. She describes a patron in “one of the carrels in history, a man in a pin-striped suit who had books on his desk but wasn’t reading held a bag of Doritos under the lip of the table. He pretended to muffle a cough each time he ate a chip.”

 

I did not realize how passionate she was for libraries in general. She describes them as “a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality, in the library, we can live forever.”

 

The Library Book focuses on a singular event in the life of one library. The 1986 fire in the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library destroyed literally millions of books, microfiche, photographs, magazines, and other documents and records. Much of the damage was irreplaceable. The event itself did not get the national publicity warranted for a simple reason: it occurred on the same day as the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Still, it was the largest library fire in US history.

 

Orlean spends a lot of time looking at the possible cause of the fire, the effects, the aftermath, and the person ultimately blamed for starting the fire (he was never formally charged due to a lack of evidence). But she also looks at the history of the library and of libraries in general, and brings the story to the present and the future of libraries.

 

I cannot tell you how much I love this book. I am a sucker for libraries, and the library branch she mentions early in the book, Studio City, is very few miles from the North Hollywood branch we patronized during our brief sojourn in Los Angeles. Even though we lived in LA while they were rebuilding the main branch after the fire, I do not recall being fully aware of the devastation of the fire, so this book taught me a lot about a library in a town I lived in during the time frame when I lived there.

 

More than libraries, though, I am a sucker for a great book. This is a wonderful, amazing book. Susan Orlean’s choice of characters, her spot-on descriptions, and her engaging storytelling style makes this read more like a novel than a nonfiction narrative. I could read this book again and again, and probably get more out of it each time I started.

 

Some of the characters are the leaders of the LA Public Library. One of the leaders literally walked to Los Angeles from Ohio! After becoming the head of the library, he became known for his passionate advocacy for the library, his zeal in expanding the library’s collection and services…and his messy affairs which led to his divorce. In the early 1900s, this made news headlines, even in LA. A future librarian was so keen on reading that she advised people to fib their way out of social engagements so they could instead stay home and read a novel in a single gulp “like a boa constrictor.”

 

Apparently in Senegal the polite way to refer to someone’s passing is to say, “his or her library has burned.” Their stories have ended, their chapters are closed. What a beautiful and appropriate metaphor! The Library Book is full of bon mots like that. Not many nonfiction books can make you laugh and cry and sigh and feel better about life after reading them. Susan Orlean has accomplished all of that and more.

 

—————————

 

We of www.scintilla.info LOVE libraries, especially our local library, www.schlowlibrary.org. Almost every book we’ve reviewed has been borrowed from Schlow and is part of their collection. Like every library we’ve ever visited, they have helpful friendly people, they know almost everything, and they can put their hands on any book you would ever need or want.

 

Celebrate National Library Week with us (April 7-13, 2019) by checking out our other reviews of books featuring libraries:

 

The Invisible Library Series

The Mortal Word (Book 5 of The Invisible Library Series)

Booklist of Children’s Books about Libraries

The Library Book

 

Also, feel free to share these library memes we’ve created.

http://scintilla.info/2018/04/13/quote-walter-cronkite-libraries/

http://scintilla.info/2018/04/11/quote-without-libraries-bradbury/

The Library Book

Book Review: The Library Book, Susan Orlean

One Year!

One Year!

No Fooling! April of 2018 was the first post of Scintilla.Info. Here is a link to that blast from our past…

 

http://scintilla.info/2018/04/01/books-to-laugh-out-loud-with-your-children/

 

In the last year we have reviewed almost 200 books, posted some fun recipes and tea time suggestions, tweeted 1300 times, and had an absolute blast!

 

We visited the Central PA Book Festival, the National Book Festival, joined the Nittany Valley Writers Network, bought a cute pair of bookish shoes, and (most importantly for us) drew closer as a couple.

 

We are hoping to do more this year: more books, more conventions and festivals, more writing, more posts, more tweets, more memes, more recipes, and maybe some cool book shoes for Dave as well!  😉

 

We are also hoping to improve the site, fix some of the statistical measuring and backend issues that have fought with us this year, and keep having fun.

 

Thank you for joining us on this journey. We hope you have enjoyed Scintilla.Info almost as much as we have enjoyed making it!

 

Love to all,

 

Maria and David Marvin

Book Review: The Point of Poetry, Joe Nutt

Book Review: The Point of Poetry, Joe Nutt

The Point of Poetry by [Nutt, Joe]

Poetry Resource: The Point of Poetry, Joe Nutt

The subtitle of this book is telling: “How Poetry Can Teach Us about the Things in Life which Really Matter.” Joe Nutt’s book The Point of Poetry is not necessarily meant to be a textbook, but if it were, it is the textbook we all wish we had back when poetry was being taught–or so often assaulted or inflicted–back in high school or college.

 

Joe Nutt has taught poetry, and I hope he makes a second career teaching teachers how to teach poetry. He is not afraid to poke fun at poets and poetry. He says about William Blake’s “The Tyger,” “To a child just about coping with the difference between advice and advise or even have and of, spelling Tyger with a ‘y’ is just confirmation that any poet’s main mission is to sow confusion and doubt.” I wish more of my poetry classes, books, and teachers had expressed that kind of self awareness.

 

Poetry should always be taken seriously–seriously enough that we should be able to laugh at it and with it. Nutt does just that. He can laugh at the thought of “tyger” being spelled with a “y,” and in the same chapter express the wonder captured by the author of the poem. Nutt may not share Blake’s faith or mysticism, but he does share Blake’s awe of the power of the large striped cat and his wonder at the forces–natural or divine–that brought both that creature and its prey into being. No matter how one spells the beastie’s name.

 

Ultimately it is that power behind the poems that Nutt loves, and he shares his love for this power in chapter after chapter of analysis of famous and not-so-famous poems. Nutt never takes himself too seriously. He never takes poets too seriously either. If “the Bard” cannot survive a few well-aimed barbs, he is not who we think he is. But Nutt takes poetry very seriously. The power of the words is in the power of the ideas they express: love, eternity, faith, endurance, the very ordinariness of life. When a poem succeeds in taking these grand themes of life and compressing them into a few words that encapsulate those ideas, it is a magical and sensual thing worth celebrating and sharing.

 

The book does what it seeks to do very well. It is fair to point out what it does not do. It is not intended to introduce a lot of modern or new poets. Most (not all) of the writers are fairly described as dead white English guys. There are a few dead white English gals as well. Rita Dove is a notable exception, and there are others, but it is predominately English poets, and a lot of the familiar names from the canon. No book can do everything, but I would love to see a follow-up book that addresses newer poetry from poets who are more representative of other races and cultures. If you are looking for a  book that addresses the subject of poetry and provides insight into the poems featured, though, this book does that extraordinarily well.

 

April in America is National Poetry Month, and I cannot think of a better way to introduce that month than with this book. If you don’t “get” the point of poetry, read this book. If you do get the point of poetry, you will also thoroughly enjoy this book.

 

The format of the book lends itself to taking it a chapter at a time. If you wanted to skip around to see what he says about a favorite (or least favorite) poem, this is a good book for that. Reading the entire book will likely introduce you to poems and poets you’ve never known before, but even if they are all familiar Nutt’s insights will help you read them with fresh eyes. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves poetry–and to anyone who hates poetry! Read a couple of chapters at random, and I dare anyone who has not seen the beauty of poetry before to tell me they still hate it. I am sure some still would, but anyone with a brain and a heart will see the power and beauty and humor that Nutt finds in The Point of Poetry.

Joe Nutt, Author
Joe Nutt, Author

I do want to thank Joe Nutt, his publisher, and Anne Cater for an advanced copy of The Point of Poetry. I am privileged to be part of the blog tour for the launch of the book, and the only request I was given for receiving the ARC was an honest review. Since I honestly loved the book, this was a treat and a pleasure for me.

2019 Blog Tour Poetry Poster
Check out our fellow bloggers on this tour.

 

The Point of Poetry by [Nutt, Joe]

Book Review: The Point of Poetry, Joe Nutt

Black History Month February 2019

Celebrate Black History Month February 2019

African American and other black authors on Scintilla from April, 2018-February, 2019

 

May, 2018

Book Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon

 

June, 2018

Book Series Review: Binti, Nnedi Okorafor

0765385252  0765393115  0765393131

 

July, 2018

Book Review: Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse

1534413502


(NOTE: Rebecca Roanhorse primarily identifies as Native American, but she does have African American ancestry as well.)

 

Book Review: The Sellout, Paul Beatty

1250083257

 

August, 2018

Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward

1501126075

 

Book Review: Wade in the Water, Tracy K. Smith

1555978134

 

October, 2018

Book Review: No One Is Coming to Save Us, Stephanie Powell Watts

 

Book Review: Orleans, Sherri L. Smith

 

Book Review: Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith

 

November, 2018

Book Review: Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward

 

January, 2019

Book Review: The Changeling, Victor LaValle

The Changeling, Victor LaValle

 

February, 2019

Book Review: Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster,  Stephen L. Carter

Invisible, Stephen L. Carter

 

Book Review: Washington Black, Esi Edugyan

Washington Black, Esi Edugyan

 

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

 

Book Review: Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

 

Book Review: Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires

 

2018 Hugo Awards, Dave Marvin

2018 Hugo Awards 

Dave Marvin

2018 Hugo Awards, Dave Marvin

Starting a book blog has been an unexpected journey in many regards. As readers, as fans, we have long admired authors. Some people go for rockstars, some go for movie stars, but for us, authors are the people who capture our imaginations and inspire our dreams. What we did not know, having met very few authors, is how warm and accessible they are. The thought that authors would retweet our tweets never occurred to us, let alone reach out to us to thank us for reviewing their works. I must admit, I had very mixed emotions when one author notified me with a correction for my review: I was embarrassed by my mistake, but I was also thrilled to realize that, “OHMYGODSHEREADTHEACTUALREVIEW!!!!!!”

 

I’ve never been to the Hugo Awards (or any other awards show), but this year I really wanted to watch them. I won’t pretend I have any real relationship with any of the authors. We have never met. But some of them have retweeted Scintilla, some have sent a “thank you,” and several have blessed us with their stories and novels. This year, watching the Hugos was not just another awards ceremony. It was a chance to see people I had glimpsed through their writing, people whose art I believe in, people who have become more special to me than I ever thought possible.

 

So I watched not as a disinterested observer, but as a cheerleader. I loved the books by nominees for the John W. Campbell award for new authors: Rivers Solomon, Sarah Kuhn, and the winner, Rebecca Roanhorse (she also won for best short story, an AMAZING work called “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience”). I look forward to reading those by other nominees. Nnedi Okorafor was up for two awards and won for Akata Witch, a YA novel that is beautiful and compelling. Nnedi Okorafor is actually one of the reasons I wanted to write about what I was reading: her Binti series and her young adult books moved me and I wanted to shout and dance and let the world know how amazing and special they were and I didn’t have an outlet until my brilliant wife said, “Hey, let’s create Scintilla.info” and now I get to shout and dance all over the keyboard.

 

If you have read Scintilla at all, you have figured out that I am a big fan of John Scalzi. His book, The Collapsing Empire was up for best novel. It didn’t win, but I am not disappointed. The winner, for the third year in a row, was the incomparable N.K. Jemison. Someday I will review her books, because she is incredible. As gifted a writer as she is, though, her acceptance speech was powerful and passionate and gut-wrenching because of its raw honesty. Her first novel was rejected because “only black people” would want to read a novel by a black writer. That sickened me. I hate to think that we are that shallow, that we can only enjoy writers who are “like” us.

 

I am white, straight, cis male, middle-aged, and its fair to say I have my pick of writers who are “like” me. And some of them I like. Some of them. But what I love are writers who show me new perspectives, who invite me into their worlds and allow me to look through their eyes. My heart is affected by writers who are willing to say, “walk with me and talk with me and see things with me and listen to my stories” and when I shut up and listen and walk and look I can recognize that this is a big beautiful world full of stories, some sad and some ugly and some tragic and some appalling but all of them full of beautiful lovely people.

 

Some of those people were at the Hugos. Some of them won. But because they are telling their stories, all of us willing to listen and to read and to care are better.

For more information see http://www.thehugoawards.org/

2018 Hugo Awards, Dave Marvin

Quote: One benefit of Summer was that each day we had more light to read by.

Quote: One benefit of Summer was that each day we had more light to read by. Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle

“One benefit of Summer was that each day we had more light to read by.” ― Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle
Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle

Quote: One benefit of Summer was that each day we had more light to read by. Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle

074324754X

For summer reads, see

Booklist: Beach Reads for Kids, Shared Reading with Children

Book Review: The Art of Reading, Damon Young

Book Review: The Art of Reading, Damon Young

1947534025

Nonfiction: The Art of Reading, Damon Young

At first glance, The Art of Reading, can be deceptive; this slim book looks like you can easily slip it in your to be read pile and finish it over the weekend. However, if it is your personal copy, you should attack the book armed with highlighters, post-its, and sticky flag bookmarks. The Art of Reading is a dense and deep book. The kind of book you should savor a few pages at a time, and then think about it for a day or two before reading the next section.

Writers will find interesting quotes as well as concepts to help shape their writing towards their readers. Educators will find illustrations that connect theory to popular media that they can use in their curriculum. Undergraduates can chase down literary theory references. Graduate students can discover ways to share academic prose with readers in an accessible way that does not isolate scholars in their ivory towers.

The Art of Reading will not appeal to everyone; it is not a light beach read.  Rather the eight essays/chapters in the book provide a meaningful dialog with the reader on the underlying concepts of reading in an almost metaphysical and lyric manner. If you enjoy reading it will make you think about the process of reading and why reading is indeed an art.

1947534025

Book Review: The Art of Reading, Damon Young

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie King

Recipe & Review : Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

1250055709 0312427395 0553386379 0804177961

Mystery Series Review: Mary Russell Novels, Laurie R. King

Mary Russell is the leading character in Laurie King’s mystery series that takes place between World War I through the roaring 1920s. American raised 15 year old, Mary Russell meets the retired detective Sherlock Holmes on the Sussex Downs one day and they create a unique relationship that grows from mentor-protege to friends to an equal partnership as the series moves forward in time. Mary Russell is a match for Holmes with her keen observational skills, a logical mind with the ability to deduce as quickly as Holmes himself, and an independent spirit with a compassionate and loyal heart. For most of the series, Mary Russell is an academic from Oxford, studying both the Talmud and chemistry; and Holmes has no issues dragging her from the library or lab into an assortment of adventures.

The series itself is suppose to be the personal writings of Mary Russell, mysteriously gifted to the author, in order to create a memoir of Holmes’ later years and the Russell – Holmes partnership. Therefore, the majority of the series stories are told from the perspective of Mary Russell that include personal reflections on the narrative as reminisces that point out youthful folly or include hidden background information.  The characters, interactions, and dialog of Russell and Holmes truly belong to King, even though, Holmes was clearly grown from the cannon of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle even makes cameo appearances through out the series as well as other fictional and historical characters. In The Moor, Russell and Holmes return to the Dartmoor setting of The Hound of Baskerville to solve a case for the historical figure of Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould. In The Game, the partners work with the adult Kim from Rudyard Kipling’s work. In addition, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft Holmes, and Dr. Watson also appear in the series. The historical detail in each novel make it easy to slide into the period, not only the outward setting of clothes and daily details, but the also the more nuanced social norms and interpersonal manners.

As with many multiple volume series written over a large span of time (first book in 1994 and still going strong), the best starting point is the first novel, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. King was already an accomplished writer at the start of the series and the craftsmanship in her writing has maintained its high quality throughout the series. With the first book starting with Mary Russell as a teenager, this series is very approachable to readers in middle or high school. The first book could easily be classified as a Young Adult coming of age novel.

As an academic or detective, Mary Russell needs a heartier tea like an Assam black tea from India or an English Breakfast blend to get her through both late night study sessions or trailing clues across the country. Likewise, if you can get her to stop and eat, a savory scone or filling sandwich would be needed to refuel her energy level for the next chase and plot twist in a case.

Savory Cheese Scones

  • 2 cups self rising flour
  • 6 TBS cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup grated or chopped extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 TBS crushed french fried onions
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup milk, cream, sour cream, greek yogurt, or ricotta cheese
  • Optional: smoked paprika for garnish
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the flour and butter  to make an unevenly crumbly mixture.
  3. Add the cheese and onion, and pulse till cheese is just coated with flour.
  4. Add the eggs and dairy of your choice; pulse just until everything is evenly moistened; the dough will be very sticky.
  5. Spray an ice cream scoop with pan release; then portion scones (about 12) on the baking sheet, pat the tops to flatten lightly. Sprinkle with smoked paprika.
  6. Bake the scones for approximately 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Chicken Curry Tea Sandwiches

  • 2 cups rotisserie chicken breast shredded or 13oz can chicken  
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 tart green apple (like granny smith or crispin), finely chopped 
  • Salt & pepper to taste (optional, depends on how much curry you use)
  • ¼ cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • Vidalia onion vinaigrette/salad dressing or a light mayonnaise based salad dressing (enough to moisten, so the salad will hold together, but not be runny)
  • Curry powder or paste to taste (if using paste, warm in microwave oven for easier mixing)
  • half a loaf soft whole wheat bread or brioche buns
  • unsalted butter, room temperature
  1. In a large bowl, break the chicken into flakes.   Combine with nuts, apple, cranberries, and onion; stir until well blended. Add curry powder or paste and salt & pepper.
  2. Spread one side of each piece of bread lightly with butter, and go all the way to the edges. Top the buttered side of bread with some of the chicken mixture and top with the remaining bread slices, buttered side down.
  3. Carefully cut the crusts from each sandwich with a serrated knife. Cut the sandwiches into quarters. Yields about 4 whole sandwiches or 8 halves or 16 fourths.

 

1250055709 0312427395 0553386379 0804177961

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Also see —

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert