Sunday, December 31, 2023

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (12/31/23)

 Welcome to the last Sunday and day of the year. Let's share poetry.

  • The Pawnbroker by Maxine Kumin (from her Selected Poems 1960-1990)
  • The Wild Geese by W.S. Merwin (from his book Garden Time)


🠊 Catch the live show Sunday mornings at some time-ish: 

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Unexpected Weather Events is January's Get Lit! Book Discussion


Banner Advertisement for Get Lit! Book Club

As most any Spokane-area reader knows, the Get Lit! Festival is a big deal for books, readers, and writers every April in the city. Initially a day-long event, the festival has since grown in popularity, size, and opportunity such that this year the four, fully scheduled days will hardly be enough. From April 11th, 2024 to April 15th 2024, the reading and writing scene in Spokane will be a-buzz with live readings, panel discussions, Q & As, workshops, a book fair, and more. The first time I attended Get Lit! was several years ago when Joyce Carol Oates was the headlining writer. More recently, I went to listen to Roxane Gay. This year, we're lucky to have Carmen Maria Machado. 

In addition to the festival, Get Lit! Programs does community outreach, helps fill local classrooms with guest creative writers--all the while supporting the literary arts. One of the cool events that has blossomed recently as part of Get Lit! is a monthly book club featuring a book by a writer who will be at the upcoming festival. It provides a wonderful opportunity for readers to feel fully immersed in the festival once it arrives because they will already be cover-to-cover familiar with many of the guests. 

My newest book Unexpected Weather Events will be featured in several events at the festival (details forthcoming), which is why it has found itself the January 2024 book selection for the Get Lit! Book Club, which meets the last Sunday of each month at Auntie's Bookstore, 6 PM. 

So, if you're looking for a book club, reading community, and a swell place to find yourself on a Sunday evening, then pencil yourself into Auntie's Bookstore on January 28th from 6-7 PM. (I will not be present for the discussion, but you can find me at Northwest Passages on February 22nd; see Calendar for details.)

More information about the Get Lit! Book Club here.


Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Read Me in January, I'll Meet You in February

Unexpected Weather Events
on a window ledge
Why, hello 2024! 

The new year already has plans for you, me, and Unexpected Weather Events

On Sunday, January 28th, the Get Lit! Book Club with Tricia will be held at Auntie's Bookstore. January's selection is none other than Unexpected Weather Events. The discussion starts at 6 PM. This a readers' discussion and so I will not be present. But! here are all the details about the event:

Nearly a month later on Thursday, February 22nd, I will be on the rooftop of the Chronicle building for Northwest Passages, an author discussion series. Luckily, Shawn Vestal will be with me, and we will be tied to each other at the waist in the event that one of us falls, the other will hold on to dear life to a brick or decorative ledge. Shawn Vestal will be leading the conversation about my book, and I will speak back. To witness this, and what I am told is a beautiful venue, you can purchase a ticket for $7. Event starts at 7 PM. Details here:


Monday, December 25, 2023

Book Your Stocking 2023 with Tim Martin

Book Your Stocking 2023 features readers sharing children's books from their past or present. Perhaps you'll stumble upon forgotten books or titles you somehow missed. Should a book find its way into a stocking near you, all the better.

Please welcome my friend Tim Martin from Indianapolis, Indiana. I interviewed Tim via text about this memory in the middle of another discussion. I write about my friend Tim Martin here. I hope you enjoy this moment as much as I did. Merry Christmas!


She Made Us Feel Safe, an interview with Tim Martin

by Erin Pringle

Erin: What was your favorite children's book growing up?

Tim: Dr. Seuss

Erin: What did you like about him?

Tim: So creative with language and easy to read. It was just fun, carefree reading.

Erin: Did you read it or did someone read it to you?

Tim: But you have to realize that I was not a hardcore reader. Funny that you ask. I'm thinking. Our kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Maxwell, would read to us. Haven't thought about that in many years.

Erin: What do you remember of her?

Tim: She was old. And I thought she was the smartest person in the world.

Erin: Do you remember what she looked like or any details about her? Would she read standing up or sitting in a chair or on the floor with the children?

Tim: She sat on a chair in the center. We had mats to sit on, on the floor in front of her. She looked like you except she wore glasses. I remember realizing later that we kids loved her. But didn't know what that feeling was at the time. She kept us safe and made us happy. I think you are Mrs. Maxwell to your kids. That's a supreme compliment.

Dr. Seuss back-cover biography,
photo via eBay


About Tim Martin: Tim lives in his hometown Indianapolis with his wife Laura. He co-owns Martin Brothers Metal Works with his brother Steve, after inheriting the business from his son John. In the summer, he plants a garden; on weekends he has breakfast with his twin granddaughters when they're home from college; and most every day he's at work, welding, thinking, and doing what needs done. There is always so much to be done. 

Tim in shop with my son,
photo by me

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Book Your Stocking 2023 with Bobbi Jean Bell

Book Your Stocking 2023 features readers sharing children's books from their past or present. Perhaps you'll stumble upon forgotten books or titles you somehow missed. Should a book find its way into a stocking near you, all the better.

Please tip your hat for today's reader, Bobbi Jean Bell, all the way from Albuquerque, New Mexico.


My Favorite Place to Go

by Bobbi Jean Bell 

My favorite place to go, from as far back as I can remember, was the local library. We were a library family. A weekly visit was prepared for with great delight and anticipation. While reading all the titles borrowed from the previous visit, I'd be making a list of books to bring home the next visit. As the youngest of us kids, I always enjoyed exploring the titles my older brother and sister chose. I was often told, “You’re not old enough yet for this book.” I couldn’t wait to be old enough

When I think back to the library days, I don’t have a strong memory of any one book. Books quickly came into and out of my life. Ravished and consumed. Read aloud. Read silently. Then, returned. That all changed in 1966 when my sister, Wendy, gave me my first book.

My book.

For me.

Oh! What an unexpected gift!

The Golden Treasury of Poetry: Selected and with a commentary by Louis Untermeyer, illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund

After unwrapping this gorgeous book, I sat with Wendy to begin our exploration of poetry. A first for me. She found favorites in the collection and together we read them aloud. We exclaimed over the illustrations. We found time to peruse the chapters – reading one from “Creatures of Every Kind” and then, perhaps, another from “Unforgettable Stories” or “Laughter Holding Both His Sides.”

It is here that I met my first pirate, characters from the Canterbury Tales, Robin Hood, and Queen Mab. It is here that I read aloud, for the first time, Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” and Edward Lear’s limericks. Robert Louis Stevenson, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Wiliam Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Ogden Nash, T. S. Eliot… and more… and more… and more. Each poem became a friend. What a treasure! Each poem, an adventure. Words to relish, to savor, to ponder, to revisit. 

Wendy is eight years my senior. She took me to my first live theater performance, Tartuffe, at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre. Together, we explored Shakespeare and Mozart and Bach. We gathered in her room every Saturday afternoon to listen to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio. Her passion for the written word was contagious.

Even as our lives took us miles apart, books kept us together. Hours on the phone catching up with what we were reading. And many more hours of our lives sharing our passion for reading with others. For her, as a Children’s Librarian. For me, through interviewing writers on live radio.

I don’t know if The Golden Treasury of Poetry is still in print. I still have mine. It’s worn to the point of lacking resale value. You can see, though, in one of the pictures that the book is happiest being open—and that is priceless.


About Bobbi Jean Bell: Bobbi Jean Bell loves books, music, poetry, the radio, and all things Western. And if you can't find her at home, in the library, or working at her business OutWest Shop, then you'll find Bobbi on the air talking about books, music, poetry, and all things Western. 

On Thursday mornings, she co-hosts Campfire Cafe and Saddle Up America with Gary Holt on, live at noon-1:00 PM (CST) and on demand. 

On Thursday evenings 6 PM (PST), she hosts Rendezvous with a Writer Outwest, in which she interviews every stripe of writer with husband Jim Bell. For nearly a decade, she hosted the writer-interview show The Writer's Block with co-host Jim Christina (archived shows here).

Bobbi also hosts the OutWest Hour radio show featuring Western, Western Swing, and Cowboy Country music, as well as Cowboy Poetry, on KUPR  (Placitas, New Mexico Community Radio) Saturdays 5-6 PM (CST) or on demand.

For details about her upcoming shows, follow her Facebook page.

And if you've recently read a wonderful book, you should tell her. She wants to hear all about it..

Bobbi Jean Bell

My Heart When My Preschoolers Say Thank You

My Heart When My Preschoolers Say Thank You

by Erin Pringle

When I taught college, I sometimes received small, kind gifts from my students--more frequently in the form of a handshake than a card, but sometimes a card--sometimes chocolate. The most common gift came the final day of the quarter or semester, when a student would approach my desk for the last time, lock eyes with me, and nod. I would nod back, and that would be our way of expressing appreciation to each other as well as acknowledging that our time together was now over.

Of course, growing up, I always made a Christmas gift for my teacher as well as an end-of-year gift. I remember huddling over the dining room table, newspapers spread out to protect the surface from the paint I brushed onto ornaments. The miniature and useless paint containers that tipped over more often than they stood aright. 

I don't remember when I stopped giving teachers presents. Junior high? High school?--as the number of teachers seen in a day increased, or once I began working after school, or when I spent tennis season on the courts or driving back from matches? Drama club, plays, musicals--the time it took to memorize lines and block stage directions equal to the time I once would have spent creating presents? In college, I don't remember giving gifts to my professors, but I was a nod-and-handshake sort of student. By graduate school, gifts would have seemed like extravagances; I did not go in for the extravagance. 

Maybe I simply don't remember writing thank-you notes to teachers in the involuntary, generous way that my mother had raised me to do--both through example and practice. I don't think so. 

However, when my son entered nursery school, I immediately initiated him into the custom of giving to teachers--helping him create gifts--pressing his inked baby fingertips onto a card, giving him a sheet of shiny jewels to stick onto ornaments, handing him a paintbrush and miniature nutcrackers to paint. Art, beauty, care--this is what you give to a teacher, this person who has patiently helped you understand the world and yourself better or in new ways. Made your life a little easier by helping you develop a skill, made your life a little harder by giving you new questions and imaginings. Whether that's developing your gross motor skills or introducing you to the decimal system, tying bows, the Trail of Tears.

But it wasn't until a handful of years ago, when I began teaching preschool and kindergarten that I became the gifted in the custom. And what a beautiful role that is, too. 

Sometime in the week before winter break begins, children begin arriving at school bearing gift bags, offering flowers, or clutching construction paper cards that hold their careful drawings and sometimes a gift card for coffee or to the local bookstore. A packet of flower seeds, a sturdy candle, a salt-dough ornament. The coloring-marker drawings of two balloon people, you and them, side by side. A heart drawn with such intent that you can feel the child breathing on the card as he drew, concentrating through the marker as he tried to remember the way to translate the shape he imagined into the shape he saw.

Like the former gaze and nod, the eye-lock and handshake, the best part of the holiday gift--even in preschool--is the moment the child comes through the door, looking for me, and hurries over before becoming suddenly shy as he or she offers the gift. Our shared smiles. Our giving and receiving. I kneel to see their eyes. 

Because they are learning the choreography of this custom--of giving--of what to say, what to expect, when to let go of the handles, how to gauge whether your teacher will offer a hug. How this hug is a different sort from the hugs received after disappointment, pain, tears, irritation. 

And I too am learning what it is for this child to give. The flicker of anticipation in her eyes. His steady answer when asked if I should open it now or wait until Christmas. What expectations they have formed in the time leading up to this moment. It is its own kind of surprise, the giving moment.

Then, we examine the gift together. I ask questions or point out details about the gift that are beautiful--generous--pleasing. They give their own observations, or none if they have gone shy or were more the delivery person for the parent-led gift. One child announces how pleased she is with the gift bag itself--a snowman, Miss Erin! 

To hell with whatever her mother put in the bag--besides that she doesn't remember making whatever might be in there, anyway--but, Miss Erin, do you love this snowman?!

Yes, I say. It's such a happy snowman!

Because it is. The happiest. And so is this small person, face tipped up in a grin, sunlight in her hair.

With my eyes, I say you are my love, my heart, my student. And I am honored that you would want to give this joy, this snowman's glossy cheer to me. I am so honored. Thank you.

This moment that the student tries to make tangible the appreciation of learning. 

This moment that the teacher tries to make tangible the appreciation of teaching.

Through handshake.

Through ribbon.

Through the pause that giving allows--for the student to give and the teacher to receive.

Before we leave each other for holiday, for family, home, so that we may return freshly to the classroom--to our friends and fellow teachers, to the tasks at hand, ready to discover a new day together.


Saturday, December 23, 2023

Book Your Stocking 2023 with Tom Noyes

Book Your Stocking 2023 features readers sharing children's books from their past or present. Perhaps you'll stumble upon forgotten books or titles you somehow missed. Should a book find its way into a stocking near you, all the better.

Please welcome Tom Noyes from Erie, Pennsylvania.


The Hidden Stories

by Tom Noyes

I remember liking Richard Scarry books very much as a tike. Books like What Do People Do All Day? and Cars and Trucks and Things That Go didn't offer much in terms of plot, but the charmingly absurd and busy illustrations--Is that rabbit driving an alligator?--offered lots of raw material for me to use to tell myself stories. While large-ish animals like hippos, pigs, cats, bears, and foxes got the starring roles in Scarry's illustrations, my favorite characters were GoldBug and Lowly Worm, recurring minor players who made miniature, half-hidden spectacles of themselves on the perimeters of the books' pages. To this day, I still find myself interested in these kinds of peripheral characters, suspecting that the most compelling stories might not always be the most obvious ones. 


About Tom Noyes: Noyes is the author of three story collections Behold Faith and Other Stories, Spooky Action at a Distance, and Come By Here as well as the novel Substance of Things Hoped For. He teaches at Penn State in the Behrand College. Write website here:

Tom Noyes

Friday, December 22, 2023

Book Your Stocking 2023 with Marilynn Strasser Olson

On this year's Book Your Stocking, readers are sharing children's books from their past or present. Perhaps you'll stumble upon a book you once loved or a title you somehow missed. Should a book find its way into a stocking near you, all the better.

Please welcome my friend and cherished teacher, retired Professor of Medieval Studies and Children's Literature, Marilynn Strasser Olson.


One Way to Shelve a Magical Book

by Marilynn Olson

I was accosted on a bus by a handsome stranger once, who said “You read a lot of Edward Eager as a child, didn’t you?” – which is the most solid proof that I have that reading Edward Eager as a child had a permanent effect.  I’m pretty sure it did.  I would have told anyone that Half Magic was my favorite book. I got it in the summer when I was 8 from the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club.  

The cover scared me (I have heard one other testimony to this – neither of us is sure why), so I always put it back in the same place in my bookshelf with the cover against the right-side edge so I could find it but wouldn’t be taken unawares.  

I loved the Bodecker illustrations, which have exactly the right tone.  I loved this one because it is very funny, but also (I think) because it revealed some adult vulnerabilities that had not occurred to me yet.  


About Marilynn Strasser Olson: Dr. Olson recently retired from Texas State University where she taught an array of courses over a number of years in both the undergraduate and graduate English literature programs. She's author of innumerable essays, lectures, and presentations as well as the books Children's Culture and the Avante Garde: Painting in Paris 1890-1915 (2013); Ellen Raskin in the Twayne's United States Author Series (1991). She's fabulous.

Marilynn Strasser Olson

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Book Your Stocking 2023 with John Kenny

On this year's Book Your Stocking, readers are sharing children's books from their past or present. Perhaps you'll stumble upon readers who read the same books as you, or will remember books important to your own childhood. Should the book find its way into a stocking near you, all the better.

Please welcome writer, editor, and teacher John Kenny from Dublin, Ireland.

Through the Reading Glass as an Adult

by John Kenny

My main obsession as a child was with comics. My 'education' at a Christian Brothers school here in Dublin, Ireland turned me off books, so it was only as an adult that I started to dip my toes into the world of literature. I've since read a number of children's classics, several of which I loved: Peter Pan, Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill, Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses

Perhaps it's an obvious choice, but my absolute favourites have to be the two Alice in Wonderland books. As a parent, I had the privilege of reading to my two daughters. They would sit on each side of me on the bed and I would read the next chapter of whatever book they had picked before they went to sleep for the night. It was a magical few years, a total delight for me. 

I think one of their favourites, and mine, was the Spiderwick Chronicles, which we all loved. It was a bittersweet moment when they got a little older and finally said to me, 'It's okay, Dad, we can read on our own now.'


About John Kenny: John is an avid reader, writer, and for many years served as editor of the Dublin science-fiction and fantasy magazine Albedo One. He teaches writing workshops in Dublin and writes about books and more at his website

John Kenny, Writer

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Book Your Stocking 2023 with Julia Drescher

On this year's Book Your Stocking, readers are sharing children's books from their past or present. Perhaps you'll stumble upon books you remember reading or somehow missed. Should the book find its way into a stocking near you, all the better.

Please welcome today's avid reader, Julia Drescher.


Both a Dress and Not a Dress

by Julia Drescher

My favorite book in elementary school was The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. When I was a kid, I suppose I was attracted to books that were sad with a tinge of a small, lonely triumph. I loved the fact that the main character did not have 100 dresses & very much did have 100 dresses, & I loved that they were an art project & not the "actual" things that would've helped her socially. Later, when I was made to go to church, I think this book led me to sit in the pew with a small spiral notebook & design/illustrate lots of fashion garments for the Virgin Mary statue at the front of the church. It was a lovely way to spend the time.


About Julia Drescher: Julia is a poet, writer, editor, and librarian living in Colorado. Learn about her projects here:

Monday, December 18, 2023

Book Your Stocking 2023 with Meredith Lombardi

This year on the holiday series Book Your Stocking, readers are sharing children's books from their past or present. Perhaps you'll stumble upon forgotten books or discover a title you somehow missed. Should the book find its way into a stocking near you, all the better.

Today's reader is Meredith Lombardi of Spokane, Washington.


What the Sisters Predicted

by Meredith Lombardi

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is a book that I read in childhood that has left a lasting impression. I think it still stands out to me because I was a young girl when I read the book, and the author portrayed the sisters as such unique women. They all had dreams, struggles and responsibilities but were ultimately respected as individuals. They demonstrated empathy, sacrifice and patience but still found their way. I think it made me feel like life wasn’t always going to be perfect but that I could be myself and still figure it out.


About Meredith Lombardi: Meredith is the owner and director of Spokane Montessori North, Preschool and Kindergarten. In her spare time, she travels, teaches yoga, walks her dogs, hikes, reads, and enjoys her family. 

Meredith the morning before hiking
into the Grand Canyon

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (December 17, 2023)

It wasn't until I typed out December 17 that I realized how far into this month we've come. Thanks for bringing your coffee today to listen to good poems by other people. Today's reading is for my good friend Steve Parker who is home in bed when he'd rather be in the mountains.

  • The Plan by Wendell Berry (from his book The Peace of Wild Things)
  • Hiking with the Old Acorn Lady by J.W. Rivers (1988)
  • Mason Jars by the Window by Alberto Rios (1988)
  • Last Hike Before Leaving Montana by Patricia Traxler (from her book Naming the Fires, 2015)
  • Grace by Wendell Berry (1967)
  • The Hike by Neil Weiss (1955)
  • The Burial of the Old by Wendell Berry (1967)


🠊 Catch the live show Sunday mornings at some time-ish: 

Book Your Stocking 2023 with My Mom

On this year's Book Your Stocking, readers share children's books from their past or present. Perhaps you'll stumble upon readers who loved the same books as you, or you'll recall books  important to your own childhood. Should the book find its way into a stocking near you, all the better.

I'm pleased to welcome my mother to the series who begins by remembering her own mother.


From Listening to Reading Aloud

by Carol Pringle

Mother read to us The Bobsey Twins series. Then, I read a lot of forgettable library books as a child and owned only one book (dog vs. cat) until ordering a Scholastic romance book as a high-school freshman. So, I wasn’t an avid reader until I became a teacher who read to children. My all-time fave is E.B. White's Charlotte’s Web. Loved his Trumpet of the Swan, too, and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest books. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren was one my third graders enjoyed hearing. Others liked Little House on the Prairie; Old Yeller also comes to mind. 

My 2024 reading list is going to contain mostly children’s book titles. This week, I’m reading all of Kate Dicamillo’s books (Because of Winn Dixie, et al).

My mom reading to my son
About Carol Pringle: Carol taught elementary school for over thirty years after a stint in social work. She grew up in Evansville, Indiana between her older sister Judy and her younger brother Gary--a sibling position to which she attributes many of her personality traits, faults, and desires. She is now retired, volunteers at the local library, and is an active member of her church community.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Book Discussion with Erin Pringle on Rendezvous with a Writer OutWest

Last night, I met up virtually with Bobbi Jean Bell and Jim Bell for a discussion about my newest book Unexpected Weather Events. I met Bobbi Jean several years ago when she co-hosted a different book show entitled The Writer's Block. Thankfully, she continued a writer-interview radio show and podcast even after the death of her co-host, the wonderful Jim Christina. 

This is my third time talking with Bobbi Jean, and for good reason--she is SO easy to talk to, thoroughly reads the work, and it really feels like a conversation and never a template. I wish I wrote faster so that I could know the next time we get to talk at length about writing. Luckily, Bobbi Jean and her husband Jim interview a writer every Thursday, so you can tune in live or listen/watch recorded shows.

If you missed our recent conversation on L.A. Talk Radio, you can view the show via YouTube (below) or on the L.A. Talk Radio website

An audio-only version is also available here:



Friday, December 15, 2023

Book Your Stocking 2023 with Deidre D.S. SENSE Smith

On this year's Book Your Stocking, readers are sharing children's books from their past or present. Perhaps you'll stumble upon readers who read the same books as you, or will start remembering books important to your own childhood. Should a book find its way into a stocking near you, all the better.

Please welcome Deidre D.S. SENSE Smith from Detroit, Michigan.


The Poem I Ate Up

by Deidre D.S. SENSE Smith

Growing up, I was blessed to have had a nice selection of music and literature to accommodate any mood I was in. I would often escape into a world of my own through an array of sights and sounds that were a radio or book shelf away. One in particular "Eat-It-All Elaine" became an instant favorite. "Eat-It-All Elaine" is a poem by Kaye Starbird, published in 1963. 

In 1980s elementary school, my then gym teacher Ms. Williams, needed a moment of downtime and opted for a storytelling day in place of our usual regimen. This would be the day I was introduced to Starbird's fun and succinctly direct work. The tone of Ms. Williams voice and the focus of consonance and end rhyme made the poem flow like a folk song. 

Starbird wrote what felt like an Edgar Allen Poe prose . . . for a Dr. Seuss audience. The character Elaine was so unbothered by the gaze and whispers around her as she took up space with her peculiarities. She wasn't concerned with The Court Of Public Opinion! She was a loner, odd and maybe a bit gluttonous, but she was herself. I think that this story aided in the affirming of my self-awareness and building of my self-esteem. Through Elaine, Kaye Starbird issues a license for us to simply BE! After all, Elaine with all her ick and weirdness become the most admired and decorated amongst her peers. It was a pivotal moment in the young lives of those of us who were just learning about the world and the distinctions of the people in it. 

Thirty-five years later, I wonder how many of my elementary schoolmates remember that story--that day--that revelation. 

I certainly do.


About Deidre D.S. SENSE Smith: Deidre is a poet, rapper, writer, and community activist. She works as a lecturer in the music department at University of Michigan. Learn more about her here:

Deidre D.S. SENSE Smith

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Yes, you should definitely read Ann Beattie's story collection What Was Mine

Cover of my copy of What Was Mine by Ann Beatie

It has been about a year since I first picked up Ann Beattie's short story collection What Was Mine (1991). I can't remember where I bought it, and the bookmark that fell out of it is from a bookstore in a town I've never been to. Regardless, I'm glad that I own it and that I pursued the stories over all of this time. I've never read Ann Beattie before, so it's a lovely surprise to learn how much I love her writing and that, luckily, there is much else by her to be explored. 

I finished the last story of the collection this evening. The collection holds twelve stories, and each follows a character often reflecting on his or her life and the unpredictable pathways that, jutting this way and that, have somehow led to where he or she sits now--divorced, married but restless, in strained parent-child relationships, and the like. 

These are people who, having followed the given scripts of life, now find themselves in an ongoing lull in the script--a sort of blank on-goingness; life continues, taking them with it, regardless of how fulfilled they or their partners, neighbors, or friends are. The stories remind me of Carol Shields writing in tone and subject, and I'm also reminded of this particular poem by Daniel Halpern, "Argument" (of the same time period) in which the voice of the poem is surprised to discover that his wife has become damaged because of her playing of the role of wife. 

In Ann Beattie's story "Home to Marie," a man watches a caterer carry food into his house for a party his wife is throwing, only to find out that there is no party--never was a party--and that his wife is leaving him. The premise of the party was so that he could finally feel as she has for so many years--waiting for him to show up. 

In another story, "Horatio's Trick," a divorcee plays marbles on the kitchen floor with the chocolates her ex-husband's wife has sent--mentally noting the new wife's handwriting and that the previous year the family gift had been in his handwriting; meanwhile, their college-aged son is upstairs on the phone with his girlfriend--the girlfriend went to her own home for Christmas but her dog is in the backyard. The woman feels alone and left out, and every moment of possible connection--whether at a holiday party or in opening presents with her son--ends up in awkward disconnection. She wakes up on Christmas night or early morning to headlights staring into her living room, only to find a car wreck. One driver is drunk, and the other driver's car is caught on her fence; she can tell that there's no way the car can reverse itself out of the accident--despite the intoxicated driver calling out directions to free the car. She thinks of recounting the story to her son in the morning.

My favorite of the stories is "You Know What" in which a man, Stefan, finds himself raising his daughter, working from a home office, and doubting the monogamy of his financially successful wife. He feels constant dread and still is unsure that his wife would have married him if not for becoming pregnant. There's much about her he feels helpless to understand, though he continues to wonder--following the possible causal paths that could help him but don't. Meanwhile, his daughter's classroom rabbit dies, and the teacher has them write goodbye letters to it. Then the school janitor's brother dies, and the teacher has the students write him sympathy cards.

At a parent-teacher conference, Stefan learns that his daughter tells many long-winded stories at school, and that the teacher is concerned--wondering what might lie beneath the stories--some darker truth or inner concerns. Stefan thinks it's a habit from her mother, even though he clearly is the giver of this habit. The teacher shows Stefan the replacement rabbit and says she puts the rabbit in the children's coat closet overnight because the janitor worried about the lights shining in at night and making sleep hard for the rabbit. The teacher assures Stefan, though he has no concern, that she always remembers to bring the rabbit out of the closet in the morning. 

Later in the story, Stefan and his wife become close during a playful date, and he feels momentarily balanced in the relationship. When Stefan receives a phone call that their daughter's teacher has died unexpectedly, he starts to dwell on the classroom rabbit left in the closet overnight, and now all day since no children would be in the classroom. He contacts the janitor. The story ends in the daughter's classroom at night with the janitor and Stefan checking on the rabbit. The rabbit is fine. The janitor removes love letters from the teacher's desk drawer, admitting an affair. There in the dark classroom, in a style reminiscent of Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie has Stefan confess to the janitor that his whole life has felt like a series of accidents:

"McKee," Stefan says, walking beside him, "all my life I've felt like I was just making things up, improvising as I went along. I don't mean telling lies, I mean inventing a life. It's something I've never wanted to admit."

The janitor assures Stefan that he knows what Stefan means. And that's the story. 

I love it. 

I love the unpredictably reasonable turns that the story takes. 

I love the rabbit left in a dark closet and the letters that the teacher has her students write to the dead rabbit. That the teacher's affair with the janitor is the actual impetus for her having the students write sympathy cards--this assignment as love gesture to him through her students' notes.

The story beneath the story.  

The myriad ways to tunnel back into the story once you've read the whole thing.

What I appreciate about Beattie's stories is her care in writing them (nothing is dashed off), the well-put details, the seriousness she allows her characters to have when examining their lives, and how, by the ends, the stories require time to linger and dissipate before readers can step into the next story and world. Any one of the stories want to be lived in. For a while. 

There is humor, darkness, surprisingly methodical turns in the stories. I'm so glad to have read them and to add her to the growing list of writers that I love. I think you will, too.


Allegory Books and Music, the bookmark in my copy of What Was Mine

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Book Your Stocking 2023 with Regi Claire

Welcome back to this year's Book Your Stocking, a holiday series in which avid readers recommend books for your stocking. This year, readers will be sharing children's books from their past or present. Perhaps you'll stumble upon readers who read the same books as you, or will start remembering books that were important to your own childhood. Should one of those books find its way into a stocking near you, all the better.

Please welcome our next contributor, Regi Claire from Scotland.


Adventures while Dishwashing 

Ron Butlin in a book and family
 moment, picture by Regi Claire

by Regi Claire

My choice is the witty, fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat YA adventure Steve and FranDan Take on the World by Scottish author Ron Butlin. 

Cyber-bullied at school, Steve and hapless Dan escape on a homemade raft together with Fran, Dan’s brainy twin sister, and Nessie the dog. They soon find themselves confronted by some seriously dangerous adversaries and the story spirals into a thrilling chase that keeps you turning the pages. 

I was lucky enough to have the book read to me passage by newly handwritten passage every evening by the author himself – my husband! – while I was cooking dinner (and then doing the washing-up). Every morning I would urge him to write faster, so that I might hear another instalment that evening.


About Regi Claire: Swiss-born Regi Claire is a prizewinning poet and fiction writer based in Scotland. She teaches part-time at Edinburgh University. Learn more about her at

Regi Claire

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (December 10, 2023)

We are two Sundays into December, and I think finally on a streak of poetry without dropping a Sunday. Thanks for joining me again for good poems by other people.



  • The Blackboard by W.S. Merwin (from his book Garden Time)
  • This Compost by Walt Whitman (from Complete Poetry and Selected Prose, edited by James E. Miller, Jr.)


🠊 Catch the live show Sunday mornings at some time-ish: 

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Book Your Stocking 2023 with Peter McClean

Welcome to December and this year's version of Book Your Stocking, a holiday series in which avid readers recommend books for your stocking. This year, readers will be sharing children's books they remember reading as children. Perhaps you'll stumble upon readers who read the same books as you, or will start remembering books that were important to your own childhood. And if one of those books should find its way into a stocking near you, then all the better.

Please welcome our first contributor, Peter McClean from Dublin, Ireland:


Shipwrecked in Hospital 

by Peter McClean 

Published in 1857, 100 years before I was born The Coral Island by R.M. Ballantyne is a tale of survival on a desert island; it contains things that would not be regarded well today, but those things left a lasting impression on my mind. What I remember is the sense of adventure and excitement. Three boys are shipwrecked and are the sole survivors of the sinking. They must fend for themselves and learn how to survive on a Pacific island that is totally alien to their experiences to date.


I read The Coral Island fifty-five years ago, as an eleven year old boy confined to a hospital bed for several days. My memory of the detail in the story might, understandably, be a bit sketchy at this time distance, but I have strong memories of having been engrossed in the book and having found it exciting and interesting. The boys in the story were determined to survive and their adventures kept my mind occupied as I recovered from my surgery.

On the day I was admitted to hospital for a scheduled surgery, my older brother was an emergency admission suffering from appendicitis. He was put into the fifth bed on my right. At that time the hospital was run by an order of nuns, and as such it was ruled over by “Matron”. In the hospital, or any hospital run by a “Matron”, Matron was the rule of law. She was all powerful. What Matron said or thought dictated the actions of all her underlings. Even the medical consultants would think twice about going up against Matron’s instructions.


Every evening Matron would go on her rounds of the hospital and in each ward she would visit every patient and have a brief conversation with them to ensure they were comfortable and felt they were getting the attention they required. When Matron arrived at my bed on the evening of my admission day, she greeted me and asked me how I was and wished me luck for my procedure. Then she said, “I see there is another McClean in the ward. Is he a friend of yours?”


In the nature of an unthinking eleven year old boy, I responded, “No! He’s my brother!”



About Peter McClean

I am into my seventh decade on this planet and have reached what some call my Third Age. Having retired from full-time employment in the world of operations management and consulting I can now devote more time to my reading, the activity that I used throughout my career to counterbalance the stresses of the day-job.


Peter McClean