Thursday, June 10, 2021

Life-changing Books #1

Need inspiration?
There's a book for that.
By Laurie Allee
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No, I'm not going to trot out the usual list of spiritual texts or self-help classics.  

Find Your Answers 
Today's post is first in a series of my favorite inspirational, life-changing books.  

Sure, I appreciate How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleI own several translations of the Tao te Ching and I keep a copy of Think and Grow Rich within reach of my desk.  But the books that have actually changed my life can't be found in the self help or spiritual sections of Barnes & Noble.  Certain books have been gateways to transformation for me ... but they never claim to be such things.  

I have a general wariness of people who peddle self-actualization.  I love many new age/new thought concepts, and have my fair share of beloved metaphysical and self-help books, but show me an "influencer" and I'll probably run the opposite direction.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Three Women Poets You Should Know

Kathleen Raine reads her poetry and discusses her philosophy
 Interview with Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan 
Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Delhi, 1994
The complete interview is here.

Kathleen Raine in 1951
Photo by Rollie McKenna
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by Laurie Allee

Have you ever heard of Kathleen Raine, Marina Tsvetaeva or Rebecca Elson?  

That's okay, until recently neither had I...

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Hemingway: Must-See Documentary for Bookworms

Watch a trailer for Hemingway above
Find the entire series (plus extras!) here.
By Laurie Allee
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The three-part PBS series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is truly bingeworthy...

I'll be honest: I never really understood why Ernest Hemingway was so famous.  I had read The Old Man and the Sea in high school and probably wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't been assigned a term paper worth a quarter of my grade.  At 16, I wasn't terribly interested in an aging fisherman or (spoiler alert!) the giant marlin he finally managed to catch.

In college, I read A Moveable Feast, and while it made me really want to find a time machine to go back to expatriate Paris, I still didn't regard Hemingway as much more than an outdated, macho guy who was into drinking, fishing, hunting, and bullfights.  In the 1980s when Scribners unearthed the author's incomplete copy of Garden of Eden, the resulting novel felt stilted, sad, editorially manipulated and definitely unfinished.  

So I had not given Hemingway much thought in the last few decades.  One of my goals during the pandemic, however, was to utilize some of my newfound time at home to tackle a few of the great works of fiction I'd never gotten around to reading.  One of those books was The Sun Also Rises.  I had barely read Hemingway, and I certainly hadn't read the books considered to be his best.  So, I downloaded a kindle copy from the library, prepared to roll my eyes at the much-imitated staccato sentences, and expecting to suffer through pages of booze, bravado and bullfights in the name of my own literacy.  What I didn't expect, however, was to love the book.  

And I really, really love the book.   

Although the story is set in the 1920s, it feels immediately familiar.  The dialogue is fresh.  The people of the early 20th Century's Lost Generation seem eerily recognizable.   I've known beautiful, spoiled, flamboyant-yet-insecure women like Brett.  I've hung out drinking with tough, restless guys like Jake -- salty on the outside, casually cruel, enmeshed in debauchery, silently suffering with dark secrets and fiercely protecting soft romantic sides they would never, ever admit they had.  Maybe it's because I read the novel during the bleakest surge of Covid-19 -- also during a concurrent time of painful social crisis, despair, conflict, unrest and governmental breakdown -- but it really spoke to me.   The book's themes of aimlessness, loss, empty escapism and moral crisis gave structure and voice to my own chaotic mood.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

A Bookworm's Dream: Open Library

Open Library is even better than ever...
By Laurie Allee
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So the mission of Open Library isn't ambitious or anything...

It's simply "to make all the published works of humankind available to everyone in the world. This dedication to open and accessible knowledge warms my utopian heart in ways I can't begin to express.  I want everyone to have access to books.  Lots of books.  Weird books and silly books and banned books and books never mentioned in a Buzzfeed list or a YouTube video.  When I see bookshelves, I feel like I'm in front of an oracle, and it's just waiting to point me to a revelation or a warning or a great, big cosmic secret.

Books have done more for me than just entertain and inform; they have helped make me who I am.  And they aren't finished with me yet.  

The basic kindle is great for e-books
I think of bookstores and libraries as holy places, offering insight and revelation to any seeker who shows up to look around.   So, too, are the apps and websites that deliver books to me.  Even though I've written for the internet since 1994, I'm still awed by its scope and potential.  Prime book delivery in a day!?  Digital libraries on Overdrive!?  It's dizzying.  I still look at my kindle like it's a holographic librarian.  It supplies my near insatiable jones with as many library e-books as I can check out, literally plucking them out of thin air and making them appear before me on my e-ink screen.  This librarian is always on call, no matter what time of day, as long as I remember to charge the kindle battery.  Every book delivered provides something useful or inspiring or thought-provoking or even life changing.  (It's a little bit like this librarian, come to think of it.)  

Preordering from Amazon means shiny hardbacks from my favorite authors delivered on the day of publication.  Sometimes signed!   Audible delivers famous actors reading classic works for under $15, and Hoopla gives them to me for free.  I have a teetering stack of books by my bed.  I'm always halfway through at least a dozen reads and I usually have an audiobook playing as I do chores or take a bath or make dinner or drive so that no matter what mindless task I'm doing or errand I'm running, I'm reading.

So what, you might ask, could I possibly get out of Open Library?  

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Dysfunctional Family Reading List

You think your family is maddening?  Just wait...
The Books With Laurie
Pandemic Lockdown Fatigue 
Dysfunctional Family Reading List
(Modern Drama Edition)
By Laurie Allee
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It could be so much worse

Like many others, my little family has been self-isolating for exactly one year to ride out Covid-19.  Yes, with the exception of dog walks, car drives and a few trips to the drive-through pharmacy, my husband, teenage daughter and I have hunkered down at home for 12 months. (So far.) 

Birthday cakes in several locations
We've had all of our supplies and groceries delivered.  I've gotten so good at ordering things I could now run a bed and breakfast.  (My husband refers to me as "The Victualler.") 

As we've remained at home, we've celebrated Zoom birthdays, Zoom holidays, Zoom school conferences, Zoom work meetings, Zoom seminars, Zoom meetups, Zoom movie nights, Zoom coffee breaks and a few Zoom meetings to tell us how to make the most of Zoom meetings.  In what has to be our most surreal and heartbreaking moment of the pandemic, we attended a Zoom funeral.  

Living in Los Angeles has been a kind of Covid-19 Groundhog Day: surge after surge after awful, deadly surge. With health risks, we're fortunate we can hide out this way.  A year seems like an impossible amount of time -- and it's not over yet -- but we're lucky.  We've known people who didn't make it through to see this odd anniversary.  I'm profoundly grateful for the ability to hide out in a house that I love with the people that I love the most. 

And yet...

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu


The Hidden Treasures of Timbuktu

By Laurie Allee
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It sure feels like the world is bereft of heroes right now.    With that in mind, I have a wonderful book recommendation to offer hope: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu.   

Author Joshua Hammer tells the true story of how, during a time of great unrest, a mild-mannered book archivist named Abdel Kadel Haidara smuggled 350,000 priceless texts out of Timbuktu, saving them from certain destruction by Al Qaeda.  This heroic heist is one of the most exciting adventures I've ever read, and moving testimony to ordinary people and their ability to change (and save) the world.  I don't want to give too much away because you need to dive into this rip-roaring adventure and experience it yourself.  

It is an exciting page-turner, worthy of a Hollywood treatment, but it's also a beautiful testament to our higher angels, and what happens to us when we heed them.  Hammer's prose is thrilling -- part reportage, part history, part travelogue and all wonderful.  Haidara's patience and bravery will restore your faith in people.  Bookworms will adore this book, but everyone can enjoy the adventure.  

Read a sample here.

Listen to a sample here.

To watch a slew of videos about the lost libraries of Timbuktu, click here for my curation.

Watch Joshua Hammer discuss his book here.

Every month I embed a bookish film to watch for free!  See this month's selection here.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Great Books on Pandemics: Non-Fiction Edition

The Books With Laurie 
Pandemic Reading List
Non-Fiction Edition!

By Laurie Allee
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Let's Be Real...

As we head into our 9th month of the global Covid-19 pandemic, it's hard not to feel overwhelmed and hopeless.  Is this ever going to end?  Will life ever go back to any recognizable kind of normal?  Will we ever be able to see our friends in person? Go to a theatre?  Stop disinfecting packages?  

"History doesn't repeat itself" Mark Twain reportedly once said, "but it often rhymes."  Although the Covid-19 pandemic feels uniquely awful, we don't have to look too far back to see that it resembles other disease outbreaks from our not-too-distant history.  Over the last few months I've tortured myself   read some interesting books about past epidemics, how people dealt with them, and what we (supposedly) learned from them.  I can't say that these books make me feel better about our current global crisis, but they point toward hope, and offer insight into the profound resilience of the human spirit.   

With that, I give you my Great Pandemic Reads, Non-Fiction Edition:

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Booksellers

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by Laurie Allee

Click above to watch the film.
Do you miss browsing used bookstore stacks?  

I found the next best thing!  The Booksellers, directed by D. W. Young, is a documentary film made especially for bookworms. 

Antiquarian booksellers are a weird bunch.  Part collector, part obsessive, part sleuth, part entrepreneur and totally, completely, ALL book nerd.  The Booksellers is a fascinating peek inside a world populated with eccentrics, intellectuals, historians, sentimentalists and the keepers of a medium that is literally crumbling and turning to dust.

While I wish the film ventured beyond the East Coast-centered traditional -- nothing about the equally zealous comic book, hip-hop, manga, pulp and film script collectors, -- I adored getting an insider's glimpse at this dusty, dreamy book world. 

Adam Weinberger gets lost in a library (Film still from The Booksellers)

I also appreciated the diverse group of antiquarian book collectors featured in the film.  If you think they're all old white guys with patches on their tweed jacket sleeves... think again.  Sure, there are a lot of those guys, but you may be surprised at who else is avidly, passionately selling and collecting old books in the 21st Century...and who was a big part of its heyday in the mid 20th Century. 

Watch D.W. Young and Peter Bolte discuss the film below:

Monday, August 3, 2020

Great Books on Pandemics: Fiction Edition

The Books With Laurie 
Pandemic Reading List
Fiction Edition!

By Laurie Allee
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Is it one book or a series?

I think it's safe to say it's not a short story.

We bookworms have an advantage when it comes to sheltering in place, staying safe at home and easily handling lockdowns.  My friend (and fellow avid reader) Katey put it this way:

"To be honest, my life hasn't really changed that much under Covid-19."

I can relate.  Even in the healthiest, most social of times I'm used to curling up in a corner of my house or garden, and disappearing into a great read. 

I've been doing a lot of disappearing in the almost five months since California declared a state of emergency.  While I've always said that books change lives...they might actually save them during our current crisis.  If you don't have to go out, then don't go out.  Instead, find your corner and start reading. No mask required.

So, let's put the novel in novel coronavirus.  

I present you with a fiction-lover's list of Great Takes on Pandemics:

Monday, June 22, 2020

Coming Soon: Booklists for Lockdown, Liberation and Life Lessons

by Laurie Allee

Books to the Rescue

It's been a long, weird few months -- and like most bookworms, I've found comfort and guidance  tucked safely between pages.  Stay tuned for my Must Read lists coming in late July, 2020 -- that is, unless the Mayans got the date of their calendar wrong, in which case, I hope future alien extraterrestrial archeologists enjoy browsing my shelves as they comb through the digital detritus of our former civilization.

Stay well, readers, and I'll be back soon.

Go here for inspiration.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Great Books for Writers

By Laurie Allee
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NanoWrimo 2019 wrapped this past November, and if you are anything like I was after my first Nano, you're still trying to decipher the rambling mess you made!

Congratulations to all the now-novelists who finished 50K words in 30 days.  I didn't participate in the madness this year, but I'm an old NanoWriMo-er.   I managed to earn the T-shirt in 2014 and 2015, finishing two halves of a (really really long) first novel in those two intense marathons.  Yes, I'm still editing that book.  We can talk about the editing process later.  Right now, let's talk about writing...

I love what my old friend and prolific playwright friend Mark once said.  He told me that he didn't necessarily like writing but he loved having written.  Can you relate?  I find nothing more satisfying that finally finishing a manuscript.  But getting there?  All the way to the end?  Sometimes we need a little help.  (My very first published short story was called Lifesaving.  It was about a bunch of characters who joined together and haunted the dreams of a writer because she never managed to finish their stories.)

With that in mind, I want to recommend a few of my favorite books for writers.  Deadlines for paid gigs are excellent motivators, but we don't always have an external impetus to finish our passion projects.  (And, to be honest, sometimes we need a little inspiration for those paid gigs, too.)