Archive for March, 2007

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“The flower that smells the sweetest is shy and lowly.”

– Wordsworth

– Photo by Lisa Guidarini (Canon EOS XTi)

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Early Bloomer

– Photo by Lisa Guidarini (Canon PowerShot A700)

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David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim’s The Intellectual Devotional is the ultimate guilty pleasure for the inquiring mind. Inspired by religious devotionals from eras past, they’ve set up the book so each day of the week has a different category. Monday is for History, Tuesday for Literature, Wednesday for Visual Arts, Thursday for Science, Friday for Music, Saturday for Philosophy and Sunday, quite fittingly, for religion.

The day I’m writing this is Day 3 of Week 12, a day to learn something about Visual Arts. The subject presented for today is da Vinci’s The Last Supper:

“Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper for his patron, Ludovico Sforza, from 1495 to 1498. Situated on the north wall of the monk’s refectory at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, it is one of the most famous paintings of a biblical subject in Western history.”

An analysis of the painting follows, giving the devoted intellectual a nicely condensed lesson on what makes this particular painting so enduring and important. Every page of The Intellectual Devotional contains a self-contained lesson on one interesting topic. The style is informative and lively, giving just enough information to feed our minds without overwhelming us with extraneous detail. If the reader wishes to go on and pursue the topic more, that’s all to the good, but really the lesson you take away in roughly ten or fifteen minutes is a great primer on the subject. It’s enough to boost your knowledge base, or reinforce something you may have learned but forgotten.

David Kidder was kind enough to answer a few interview questions for me on the topic of his collaborative effort:

LG: What inspired you both to write The Intellectual Devotional, and how long did it take to assemble all that information?

DK: I looked over my many bookshelves, which were overflowing with books I had started, but for whatever reason had been unable to finish. Like most Americans, I am extremely busy with a demanding career and a family. But, I have a deep commitment to cultural literacy and to broadening my knowledge base. So, The Intellectual Devotional grew from my commitment to learning, but with a practical acknowledgement of my limited time.

I was inspired by the devotional format. It seemed a great way to absorb a lot of information over a year. I liked the idea finding a few minutes each day and just setting that aside to personal betterment. I see each book as an intellectual trophy.

With regard to timing, it took about a year and a half to complete the book.

LG: What’s your target audience for the book? What demographic do you think most likely to pick it up?

DK: Our target audience for The Intellectual Devotional is 26 – 65, which is a very wide audience. But, we found that a lot of people are buying the book for high school and college students. It has turned out to be a fantastic gift book for almost any occasion. Who needs more sweaters?

LG: A lot of critics have been complaining about the “dumbing down” of American society. They say less cerebral, mainstream fiction is taking over more literary writing. What’s your take on that, and did that idea have any influence on your decision to write this book?

DK: We worked with a team of some of the best Ivy League institutions and other NYC based universities in developing this book. Our intention was to give the most meaningful and concise information within five minutes. Our goal was to cut through the clutter and enhance our reader¹s knowledge base.

LG: Do you see the internet boom as a blessing or a curse as far as the instant availability of pretty much all the information there is to be had on earth? Is it fragmenting our society, or is there merit in the constant barrage of information?

DK: There is certainly a higher demand on people¹s attention than ever before. And with the rise of the Internet it has become incredibly easy and cheap to distribute information. It is hard to navigate at times. But, we¹re still in the relative infancy of the Information Age, and with greater access to knowledge, comes greater wisdom and power. That can only be a good thing.

And, with more things competing for our attention, the demand for quality content is going up.

LG: What writers inspire you? Have you read anything lately that you’d recommend?

DK: I have a wide diet of reading interests. Most recently I enjoyed Code Name God by Mani Bhaumik. One of my favorite contemporary writers is Nick Hornby.

LG: What’s next for you? Is there a sequel, or related project, planned for a future point?

DK: We have releases slated for October 2007 and October 2008. One will be the Intellectual Devotional on American History and the other will focus on popular culture. We¹re really excited about the chance to build out the series and delve deeper into specific subject areas.

We¹ve just signed agreements in 3 new languages, and Renaissance Audio is publishing audio book, which is due out this summer.

LG: Aside from matters reading and writing related, what makes life interesting for you? Do you have any hobbies or passions you use to step out of your busy life?

DK: I really enjoy illustration. In fact, I illustrated 1/3 of the book. My job running a software company rarely allows me that artistic outlet. But, with two babies and a grueling work schedule, I have very limited time.

LG: As a public library employee I’m all but obliged to ask, what role have public libraries played in your appreciation of books and writing?

DK: My dad was an educational psychologist. So, growing up in New York state, accessing our local libraries was of great importance. I spent many hours in the stacks exploring ideas and satisfying my curiosity.

Thanks very much to David Kidder (and vicariously to Noah Oppenheim) for the brilliant book, and for their generosity with their time.

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These days, when good news seems a lot harder to come by, it’s easy to fall into despair thinking there’s nothing good happening in the world anymore. But when a project like this one comes along, it’s encouraging to know there are still unselfish people out there working very hard to help make their own corners of the world a little brighter.

Open Books is just this sort of organization. When they open their doors in 2008 they will have the distinction of being Chicago’s very first non-profit literacy bookstore. Their plan is to sell books on the first floor of the shop, and use the proceeds from that to fund literacy programs on the second floor.

A very ambitious undertaking, but from the sounds of it Becca and Stacy, the two dedicated women who are organizing the project, have things very well in hand. Right now they’re busily collecting book donations from all around the Chicago metro area, from the kind of people who care about the plight of those less fortunate than themselves. My own library has, I’m proud to say, donated books to the Open Books project. If you’re in the Chicago area please encourage your library to do so, too. Or, if you have books of your own to donate, please consider this very worthy cause. Becca and Stacy pick up large donations, so it’s not even a matter of getting to them. If you’re local, and have books to donate, let them know and they’ll come to you.

Open Books has a goal of opening their doors with a 50,000 book collection. Right now they have in the neighborhood of 20,000 + books. Their dedication and drive are so impressive I have no doubt they’ll meet or surpass their goal by the time the ribbon is cut and the doors are opened. Of course, the more benevolent souls who donate, the better their chances will be.

The location of the Open Books facility will be 1449 S. Michigan Avenue, in the South Loop of Chicago. The building is currently being remodeled to suit their needs, with a goal of opening about a year from now.

You may contact Becca and Stacy via their website at www.open-books.org If you’d like to get involved give them a call or shoot them an email. Book donations are greatly needed, and though I’m not sure about other specific volunteer opportunities I’m sure they’ll be glad to have every pair of willing hands they can get.

Open Books will be working with Literacy Chicago: www.literacychicago.org in order to bring literacy programs to those in need.

Media Contact

Becca Keaty
Director of Marketing and PR
bkeaty@open-books.org
888-851-0701

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Dominic Cibrario, author of the the “Garden of Kathmandu Trilogy” will present a travel lecture titled “The Animals of Nepal” at the Algonquin Area Public Library’s branch location:

115 Eastgate Drive
Algonquin, IL
Saturday, March 24
1:00 p.m.

Following the informational lecture he’ll talk about his books and the craft of writing. All are welcome to attend!

The Garden of Kathmandu Trilogy features the titles: The Pomelo Tree, The Harvest and The Shamans

Within the scope of his books, he presents a lot of information about Hinduism and eastern philosophy via the framework of an exciting adventure tale featuring anthropologist Carl Brecht. In the first book Brecht becomes embroiled in an apparent murder investigation after a child dies under mysterious circumstances. Soon after another child is kidnapped. When he finds out the mother of the child had been involved in a London coven, from which she’s fleeing to Nepal, he undertakes to solve the mystery himself and bring her son back to her.

Much more information about Mr. Cibrario may be found at his website.

Mr. Cibrario kindly agreed to answer a few interview questions for me, which follow:

LG: What is it about Nepal that speaks to you?

DC: When I first went to Nepal (1962-1664) with the Peace Corps, I was deeply moved by the beauty of the country, the simplicity of the life style of the mountain people, and the depth of wisdom found in Buddhism, not to mention the living mythology of Hinduism with its numerous and colorful gods and goddesses.

LG: Aside from the fact you’ve visited that country, what was intriguing enough about it to set your novels there?

DC: Nepal, is located between China and India. In the north is the Himalayan Mountains, a Mecca for trekkers. It is an intriquing country with numerous ethnic groups and diverse languages.

Nepal is also an anthropologist’s paradise since there are so many tribal people with their own customs and culture. Kathmandu is filled with temples and shrines, tourists and trekkers. It’s a bustling urban center with a great deal of political tension due to poverty. The Maoists now have 72 seats in the Parliament of about 312 members.

My main character is an anthropologist, Carl Brecht, who took a sabbatical leave from the university, to do research on Shamanism in Nepal during the peak of the annual animal sacrifices. He befriends a British woman, Margaret Porter, and her two small children. Carl soon discovers that they are fleeing from a London Coven.

LG: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

DC: I wanted to be a writer when I was in high school. I started my first novel at that time, but I didn’t finish it. I went back to Nepal in 1976 and wrote my first complete novel several years after the Peace Corps experience. I then worked with Mable Haughen a literary agent from Beloit. She helped me edit four different manuscripts involving four different novels that I wrote from 1978-1981.

LG: Have you always had an interest in writing, or was there a cathartic moment for you?

DC: I’ve always had an interest in writing, but I also had a carthartic moment in Kathmandu. I was writing a review of Chandra Man Maske’s paintings, hoping to put together a book with photographs of his work He was an 80-year-old artist, who taught drawing and painting to the children of the king and queen of Nepal. After working with him for quite a while I eventually decided to write my own novel. I was influenced to do my own novel by Kesar Lall Shrestha. He encouraged me to go forward with my own project since I had reached a stalemate with Chandra Man Maske, who lost interest in book about his paintings.

LG: Do you keep a strict writing schedule?

DC: Yes, when I was writing the first draft of the trilogy, I usually worked a minimum of two hours a day, including weekends. While editing and proofreading the second and third drafts, I would write from four to six hours a day. During the fourth and fifth drafts I would work sometimes for eight hours, until the proofread manuscripts were ready for the publisher. I am currently trying to get on a roll with my third draft of “Secret On The Family Farm.” The setting is 1951, rural Wisconsin.

LG: What writers have most influenced your writing, or your desire to write?

DC: I especially like Thomas Hardy’s “The Mayor of Casterbridge,” and “Jude, The Obscure.” I like John Steinbeck’s, “The Grapes of Wrath,” and “Of Mice and Men.” I’ve read all of Herman Hesse’s novels. I especially like “Siddhartha,” and “Steppenwolf.” During college, I enjoyed Shakespeare and English Renaissance Drama more than any other courses. I admire the influence of the settings on the lives of the characters by these authors.

LG: How much of your writing is autobiographical?

DC: I believe that the settings of my novels are grounded in reality. I have been to the places in my books. Do you identify very closely with your main character? Some of the material is autobiographical, but my main characters possess their own unique identity, which is quite different from my own. Characters take on lives of their own.

LG: Are you an avid reader?

DC: Yes, but when I am writing, I do not read fiction. I spend time reading non-fiction such as “Why People Don’t Heal” by Carolynn Myss or “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. I also do research and read about the history of a location. While working on my trilogy I read much of “Spirit Possession In The Nepal Himalayas,” a compliation of anthroplogical studies from 1976, edited by John Hitchcock as well as “Massacre At The Palace,” involving the assassination of the royal family of Nepal. Have you read anything lately that you’d recommend. I enjoyed “The Story of Ruth” by Jane Hamilton. I recently went to hear her speak. I purchased her current novel, “When Madeline Was Young.”

LG: Aside from writing, what are your pastimes?

DC: Every week I study oil painting for three hours at Wustum Museum. I am currently studying with John Hoffman. In addition I have been studying scupture for the past four years, which meets every Tuesday evening. The teacher is Gerhard Kroll. We will be having a joint show at the Racine Arts Council on April 21st. The reception is from 2:00-4:00pm. The doors will be open from 10:00am-8:00pm at 505-6th Street, Racine, Wisconsin. I also study Sanskrit, the classical language of ancient India. I first studied at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago at Lemont for three years by attending classes the first, third, and fifth Sundays of the month. I then went to the Hari Om Temple for several months at Medinah, Illinois. I am currently studying once a week by telephone with Ganesh Narayan in Naperville.

LG: What role have libraries played in your love of reading and writing?

DC: I love books and libraries. I telephone the reference department almost every week in Racine. The staff is always helpful, locating information for my novels. I belong to Friends of the Library and attended the monthly meetings for two years. I am still a member and occasionally do volunteer work. I used to check out a stack of books every week. I have curbed reading since I now am writing my own novels. The library here has been very supportive of my power point presentations and continues to give me publicity about my books. I can’t praise the hard working librarians enough. They are pillars of the community.

Thank you very much to Nick Cibrario for so generously agreeing to answer my interview questions.

After a day spent cooped up in a NY hotel room, arguing, discussing and probably ordering an awful lot of take out, the members of the board of the NBCC chose the winners of this year’s awards.

Visit theNBCC’s blog (Critical Mass) for more info.

The Award for Fiction Goes To:

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The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

The Award for Autobiography Goes To:

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The Lost: a Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn

The Award for General NonFiction Goes To:

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Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution by Simon Schama

The Winner for Biography Goes To:

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James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips

The Award for Poetry Goes To:

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Tom Thompson in Purgatory by Troy Jollimore

The Award for Criticism Goes To:

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Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences by Lawrence Weschler

Congratulations to all the winners!

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Janis Kearney held the position of official White House Diarist to President Bill Clinton during his presidency. She’s also the author of two books, Cotton Field of Dreams: a Memoir and Conversations: William Jefferson Clinton, From Hope to Harlem.

In 2004 she established Writing Our World Press, an independent publishing house headquartered in Chicago. Writing Our World specializes in biography, non-fiction, fiction, children’s, women’s and southern literature. Its mission is to publish 1-3 quality titles per year.

Ms. Kearney gracious granted me an interview, in advance of her upcoming March 13 visit to the Algonquin Area Public Library’s Branch location, set for Tuesday, March 13. She’ll be speaking at the library beginning at 7:00 p.m., and will follow that with a book sale and signing.

The library is located at: 115 Eastgate Drive in Algonquin, IL, and the telephone number to call for more information is: 847.658.4343.

LG: Who were your influences, growing up? What shaped you into the person you are today?

JK: My parents – James and Ethel Kearney, and my fourth grade teacher – Rosie Jones were probably the greatest influences in my early childhood – and most responsible for shaping my decision to become a writer.

LG: What were your favorite books as a child? Was reading always important to you?

JK: My favorite books were A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and The Diary of Anne Frank. Reading has always been very important to me…a way of survival through my childhood.

LG: Did a public library play a role in your early life?

JK: The fact that during the pre-civil right years of my childhood, there was no public library available to black children in Gould, Arkansas played a HUGE role in increasing my hunger for books.

LG: Did you always want to be a writer, growing up, or was there some point at which you changed course?

JK: For as long as I can remember. My love for writing began very early at my father’s knee, nurtured by his amazing story-telling skills.

LG: What was your work week like as official diarist to President Clinton? Did you have the opportunity to explore other interests while you were in that post?

JK: As a Diarist, my week sometimes included the weekends. My day consisted of attending presidential meetings, traveling infrequently, and transferring notes I’d taken from my observations onto the dedicated computer which held my “diary.”

Our days began before 7 a.m., and could last as late as 9 or 10 p.m. While it always seems that my work was all-consuming, I did attend book publishing classes some nights during my time in D.C.

LG: We all know President Clinton’s image as a public figure. How was he different as a private citizen? Is there anything we may be surprised to know about him?

JK: He was much the same all the time. He was brilliant, had a great sense of humor, was compassionate, and full of interesting stories. He had a wide range of friends from all walks of life, all ethnicities and varied interests.

LG: Was there a stand-out experience that happened to you, or around you, while you were the presidential diarist? Anything that profoundly changed or impressed you?

JK: I always point to my opportunity to meet S. African President Mandela, and my trip with President Clinton to Africa as the two most profound events during his presidency. Many amazing events took place, but none touched me so profoundly.

LG: What is the focus of Writing Our World Press? If you could describe it in a few words, what is its mission statement?

JK: Writing our World Press is a small publishing house headquartered in Chicago. Our mission is to introduce new, and little-recognized voices to the literary community. While currently, there are only two authors on our list – within the next five years, readers can look forward to an increased number of new authors and genres…including fiction and children’s books.

LG: What projects are you working on now? What’s next for you?

JK: I am working on three book projects to be released in 2008: a sequel to my Memoir, Cotton Field of Dreams; an historical fictional based on a real murder case; and a new author, whose book is nonfiction .

LG: What contemporary writers do you enjoy reading? Is there anything you’d recommend?

JK: I love Ernest Gaines, Edwidge Danticat, Anita Diamant, John Irving…just to name a few. My favorite recent book and one I highly recommend was The Last Days of Dogtown, by Anita Diamant

LG: Finally, do you have a favorite quote, or saying, that sums up your philosophy on life?

JK: To paraphrase one author: “Each day is a gift…it is up to each of us to untie the bow.”

Thank you to Ms. Kearney for her generosity in taking the time to answer my questions.

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