Monthly Archives: September 2016

I’m Going to Chicago and I’m Going to Take…Book Club Thursday Edition.

I was feeling ambitious last Thursday when I finished You Are Here.  I meant to finish The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck as another way of preparing for my trip.  But all the physical preparations have kept me busy, so no reading has gotten done.

Again, this is ambitious, but I also plan to read on my trip.  If all goes well, there will be no interruption in Book Club Thursday posts.  And while I plan to go to bookstores along the way,

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.  Reportedly inspired Looking for Alaska.

Howl by Allen Ginsberg.  Because who can go on a life-changing road trip without poetry?

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.  A book about traveling alone…although, a little more rustic than my adventure.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  This book has been recommended to me repeatedly.  I think it’s finally time to try it.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.  I’ve always wanted to read this.  I imagine it’s going to become very important to me.  I just haven’t felt ready before.

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.  Not going to lie: I literally picked this one because it has “travels” in the name.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.  I started this book on our trip to Cherokee.  I was waiting to be in the right mindset, didn’t finish, and haven’t been back in that mental place sense.  If I don’t get there on this trip, I might never do it.

And, of course, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  This is the book that famously gave Route 66 its nickname as “The Mother Road.”

For comfort, I’m going to take Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, and The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen.

As far as guide books go, I’m taking Lonely Planet’s book on Route 66 Road Trips, Tom Snyder’s Route 66 Traveler’s Guide and Roadside Companion, and a “Quick Reference Encyclopedia” by Drew Knowles that I bought at Disneyland.

What’s the most transformative book you’ve ever read?

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I’m Going to Chicago and I’m Going to Take…

I leave in five days and there’s an astonishing amount of things that need to get done first.  One of those things is my least favorite in the world: packing.  I’ve tried making lists before, like Jennifer does, but it somehow makes me MORE anxious.

Still, it has to get done, as does this post.  So I hope you don’t mind if I multi-task.

Kentucky bag: denim shorts, Firefly shirt, pajama pants, small toiletries bag, phone charger, book, and travel journal.

Small toiletries bag: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hairbrush.

Chicago bag: 3 towels, large toiletries bag, 2 pairs of jeans, 3 t-shirts, 2 nice shirts, Cinderella dress, sparkly heels, 2 pairs socks, Converse, jacket, laptop, laptop charger. Hamilton ticket.

Large toiletries bag: shampoo, conditioner, hair dye, body wash, baby powder, hair straightener, hair dryer.

Secondary duffel: other shorts, other towels, 5 t-shirts, 2 nice shirts, other Converse, flip flops, sandals, 4 pairs of socks, pads.

Front seat: GPS, maps, guide books, AUX cord, first aid kit, hotel printouts, cell phone, wallet, adventuring purse.

Cooler/Food bag: sandwich stuff, Freeman’s sauce, water bottles, apples, spaghettios, granola bars.

Other: box of books/journals, emergency bookbag/kit lovingly packed by Jennifer (with medicines, sunscreen, and a first aid kit, among other things), emergency ID/cash, bag for dirty clothes, Tide, dryer sheets, oil.  The Spirit of Adventure.

I hate packing because I know I can’t plan for everything.  I’m sure I’ll get somewhere and realize I missed something.  But then…that’s what credit cards are for, right?

Anything else you think I’ll need?

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You Are Here

The other week, a friend of mine was getting rid of books and asked if I wanted any.  I grabbed You are Here by Jennifer E. Smith, just because I’d been thinking of reading more by that author anyway.  It wasn’t until a different friend grabbed it from my pile that I had any idea what it was about.

Yeah, Peter and Emma?  They take a road trip.

I’m not sure I could have made it through any other book, considering the mood I’ve been in.  For some perspective, I started this book at 10 a.m. and took about 13.5 hours to read it (including work and driving and an episode of Arrow).  It’s YA which accounts for some of its easy-to-read qualities, but it’s also a fast-moving story that emphasizes the message that it’s the journey and not the destination that matters.  It had characters that I rooted for and wanted to stick with through the journey.  And while the characters did get into some trouble, it kept making the point that sometimes you have to do what you have to do…and the people who really love you will come around eventually.

There were things I didn’t like about it.  Some of it felt like it moved too quickly: I would have wanted more story from the actual driving.  In that same vein, the romantic relationship that develops between Peter and Emma seems forced.  In fact, it’s pretty out-of-character for Emma, considering every time we’re in her head it seems clear she just thinks of him as a friend she doesn’t want to lose.  I feel she could have learned to treat him better without having to “fall in love” with him.  I also feel like she has undiagnosed ADD and her parents (as professors) should look into that instead of assuming she’s just “different.”

But overall, the theme of “You are here” and being lost/wandering isn’t necessarily a bad thing was something I needed to read…besides the irony that they spent all this time and effort getting to North Carolina when I am doing my damnedest to get away from it.  They each have an idea of what they’re looking for and come away with so much more.  The spirit of adventure is alive and well, and I hope it’s rubbed off on me.

So…here we are, folks.  Gold star at this spot.  Just like Emma and Peter, it’s time to see where the little dotted lines take us.  Just one more week now.

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A Long Day Trip

I was seven or eight the first time I went to Atlanta.  My dad took me to see a Braves baseball game at Turner Field.  I’ve been to the city a few times since then, and all but one of those trips has centered around that stadium.  When we heard it was being replaced, we knew we had to go for one last game.

There’s a theme in my life right now of plans going out the window.  Originally, we were going to an evening game and staying overnight, but the only game we could get to before my trip was at 1 o’clock.  I still voted for an overnight trip but Mom and Allison wanted to sleep in their own beds.

From the moment we pulled into the parking lot, we were surrounded by history.  We were mere yards away from the monument to Hank Aaron’s 715th home run.

Once we reached the actual park, the history got more personal.  The giant baseball where we took pictures at our last game, the programs my dad used to teach me how to keep score…even the helmet of ice cream he bought me at my first game.

With all of these memories — and the fact that it’s coming to an end — I expected to be sad.  Instead, the nostalgia just fueled the game-day excitement.  The Braves won, and I left the stadium elated.  As we drove out, we went by the construction zone that is going to be the new stadium.

It’s more than a stadium: it’s a complex.  There’s a hotel built into one of the walls.  We’ve already discussed going to a game next season and staying in that hotel.  And I’ve already imagined the day I take my kids there for the Season Opener.

In Atlanta, I was too busy looking into the new beginnings that I couldn’t be sad about the endings.  Because it felt like moving forward, like carrying on a legacy and not like I was losing something.

That’s what I love about travel, and that’s what I’m looking forward to on my big Route 66 trip.  Here’s to Onward.

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My Favorite Poems

“I am half sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott.”

I have loved books as long as I can remember, but I did not always love poetry.  It wasn’t until I read that line from Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott.”  It was the first poem I understood fully without needing someone to explain the nuances.  I was barely 13, but I felt that; “I am half sick of shadows…”  The line still echoes within my gut and the poem is still my favorite.

Likewise, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 was special to me long before I spent a summer in England and Catherine Tate made it look cool.  “I grant I never saw a goddess go;/My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.”  The message that love and poetry are not reserved for the perfect spoke to my teenage insecurities and the parts of me that were just waking up to my own misperceptions about the world.  Besides being told in beautiful language, it was a message that grew with me.

These were poems about things I believed in, that called to something inside of me that was still trying to find its way out.  But my other favorite poems resonate because they’re about me, so ingrained within that I wouldn’t have been able to put them into words myself.  So thank God someone else did.

I can’t remember how exactly I discovered Langston Hughes’ “Ballad of a Sinner.” “But I was bold,/Headstrong and wild./I did not act like/My mother’s child.”  “Headstrong and wild” could be the title of my autobiography.  (Come to think of it, note to self…)  Even the invocation at the end (“Pray for me, Mama”) sounds like a song I could write.  When I read it for the first time, I felt like someone actually understood me.

But that is nothing compared to “All Over America” by David Poston.  I read it a dozen times in a row when I found it…and that’s not like me at all.

“they will find yet more beautiful disappointment
to turn into deathless verse.”

The beauty of writing enhanced by the mundane of the rest of it, how “mundane” is that way for a reason…writing as a way of coping with all that disappointment and how you love it a little bit more when you realize it isn’t “all ellos and lamb with rosemary”…because suddenly, it is accessible to you as a human person and not the next Shakespeare.  I have tried to explain what writing means to me, and I will never come as close as this poem.

I love these poems because they are personal but, specifically, they tell a story that is personal.  I’m not a poet; I can’t do that.  These are the words that have stuck with me over years and years.  Novels are great, but poetry has power that most people miss (myself included, for years) because it takes finding the ones that connect to your soul in order to understand how it works.

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A Slow Burn of a Miracle

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We landed in Phoenix early, before ten Friday morning, and followed the signs to get our rental car. There was a line of them, different colors and models from all different places. We chose a blue Versa with Arizona tags. “The Grand Canyon State,” it read. It was the same tag Jennifer and I saw three years ago that got us talking about how much we wanted to see it one day. From there, it evolved into a four-day road trip up and down the state.

For three years, we didn’t do much planning…which worked out for us. We thought we’d check into our Tuscon AirBNB and head to Tombstone for the afternoon. Instead, we went downtown, we walked through history at the Arizona State Museum. We rested underneath the Women’s Plaza of Honor on the University of Arizona campus. Al, our neighbor for the night, recommended El Charro for dinner. The appetizers were pretty good, but I didn’t care for the entree or margarita.

Some people judge a city on the food. For me, it’s all about the bookstores. In Tuscon, it’s Antigone Books. With a healthy feminist section and a larger LGBTQ+ section, that was the first moment I felt I didn’t want to go home. The first but not the last because, after a night of margaritas and chocolate chip cookies, we stopped at Cafe Luce (try the Azteca Mocha, it’s delicious) and headed south to Tombstone.

On I-40, the signs read El Paso, and I got the feeling that I could just keep driving forever. The sun was shining, and hills with rocky cliffsides reached out in all directions. The speed limit was 75 mph, for crying out loud. I felt good. No: I felt free.

But we did stop at Tombstone for a taste of the Wild West. We saw a gunfight at the O.K. Corral, had a drink at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, and placed our bet at The Bird Cage Theater, a historic casino/brothel (not a working one though, Mom, I promise).

With the wildness out of our systems, we went for a little peace underneath the world’s largest rose bush, one that’s been standing for over a hundred years. Standing there, looking out over its branches, I started thinking about the hundreds of coincidences that’s led to this moment. Almost 24 years ago, my father gave my mom roses because she’d given birth to me. Over the years, roses became my favorite flower.

But I wouldn’t have gone to Tombstone if Jennifer and I hadn’t had one class together a decade ago, if we hadn’t reconnected during my college years, if her family hadn’t been obsessed with the movie, or if we hadn’t seen one random license plate in Gaston County, thousands of miles from its home. If one thing had been different, I wouldn’t be standing there.

All that to say, we’d already been astounded by The Grand Canyon State before we’d even made it to the Grand Canyon.

There’s a lot to be said for its size. It stretches further than the horizon so that you can’t see the end of it. It’s so deep that the helicopter flying through it was the size of an ant to us as we watched it from the South Rim. But the size is only part of its majesty. There’s a reason it’s called a Wonder. Sitting on the ledge overlooking the cliffside, I could only think this:

“I keep thinking about how far it goes…just on and on and on. About the thousands or maybe millions of years of coincidences that led to the exact formation of those rocks. And then I think about the thousands of coincidences that led to me being this woman that I am in this place right now, at this point in my life.”

And as we left Flagstaff for Phoenix and the airport, we drove several miles down Historic Route 66. I feel ready for that adventure. If this trip has taught me anything is that, plan or no plan, through thousands or millions of coincidences…we do end up being exactly where we need to be…exactly when we need to be there.

So I may have to wait a little bit longer for my Great Escape. It’s all part of the journey, and I have faith in the timing of it.

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In Which Flash Was More Interesting Than We Are Pirates

My favorite line in To Kill a Mockingbird – the only one I remember, in fact – referred to Scout’s reading.  “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing.”  I remember, the first time I read those words, that my breath caught in my throat.  Nothing had ever made as much sense to me as those two sentences.  It feels strange saying, “I love to read.”  “I love books” is more accurate.

And I do.  I love everything about books from the weight in my hands to the flutter of the pages to the smell of the ink.  But do you know what else I love?

A really good TV show…and maybe a dozen movies.

Groucho Marx may have believed the only thing television was good for was to encourage him to read, but I don’t.  Television is just another medium through which we can share stories with each other.

Yes, there are TV shows that are mind-numbing, bordering on brainwashing, but there are also uplifting ones.  Make fun of me if you want, but Liv and Maddie and Kim Possible taught me more about “girl power” than any book I’ve ever read.  I’ve seen shows that make me question the nature of good and evil, the power of destiny, and my own ability to be a friend.  And besides that, I’ve seen some shows that are just damn good stories, stories that inspire me creatively and keep me hooked throughout.  These shows have taught me how to develop characters in my writing and the different ways one can tie a story together.

This week, I have spent about 14 hours watching The Flash, a show that fits both of those categories.  You may argue that time could have been better spent doing other things or, yes, reading.  But I’m writing a story that I’m excited about and thinking more complexly than I have in a while.  When a story does that to you, no matter which medium it’s told through, it’s worth the time you take to consume it.

But hey: today is Book Club Thursday, so let’s talk books.  Below is a list of some books on my shelf.  The time I spent reading these particular books would have been better spent with a better story – even a television one.  Because, yes, there are thoughtless, mind-numbing books out there too.

  • Down and Out in Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
  • Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • Shopgirl by Steve Martin

And these are just the books I hated as I was reading them.  Don’t get me started on the books I read and, in looking back, realized were rotting my brain in very specific ways (coughTwilightcough).

Obviously, you may disagree with which books I put on this list, but the point is that we all have a list.  Bad stories come in all forms,  as do good ones.  If you think all TV does is rot your brain, you’re probably watching the wrong shows.

Don’t worry.  I’ve got some recommendations for you.

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FAQ about Kari’s Route 66 Trip

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Elinor and Marianne

I always intend to write an objective review, and am always thrown by my inability to be objective while reading fiction.

Sense and Sensibility has been sitting on my bookshelf since Christmas three years ago, when I suddenly realized I had a huge crush on Alan Rickman.  I meant to read it immediately…and yet, I’m so glad I didn’t.  It’s one of those books that was waiting for me to be ready for it.

Elinor and Marianne are two sisters who think they know where their lives are going.  Their marriages (and, in that society, that was their entire future) were all but settled.  And then each has something happen that changes everything.  They handle it different ways, Elinor being governed by Sense, and Marianne being prey to her Sensibility.

(I loved Elinor, truly, but I am Marianne and she is me.)

Throughout their grief, however differently they manage it, the book shows that their sisterly bond is stronger than any difference of opinion they have.  Theirs was the most rewarding relationship of the book.  Don’t get me wrong: the romance was nice.  But the romantic happy endings were rushed; and it wasn’t even upsetting because, as much as I was “shipping” each couple, that wasn’t where my emotional investment was.  It was the sisters.

The fact that I was this emotionally invested 203 years after the book was originally published-that I could so easily relate to Marianne and compare my own romantic disappointment to hers-proves that Jane Austen was a writer ahead of her time.  There’s a timelessness to her understanding of human nature and how she develops her characters emotions and motives.  Despite the relative antiquity of their diction, I was constantly reacting to the characters with modern phrases like “Screw you” and “My babies.”

I’m glad I read it now when I could relate to it the way that I did.  It’s amazing when literature can reach across the years that way.  Jane Austen was a brilliant commenter of society in her day…and the particulars of human nature haven’t changed that much.

If you haven’t read Austen since high school, this is a great one to get started on.  You’ll fall in love with Elinor and Marianne.

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