Contemplating the Western Canon: What’s Wrong, What’s Right, And Why We Should Care

I am currently reading a non-fiction book about classic literature “from Homer to Faulkner;” and in the introduction to the book the author states that she will be addressing Western literature as we traditionally know it, without attempting to redress imbalances or redefine the canon.  This statement got me thinking about “the Western canon”: What is it? What does it include? And what is its relevance and meaning in our culture and academic institutions? Continue reading


Three Smart Writers Who Will Knock Your Socks Off


I love Smart Writers.

Now, when I say “Smart Writers” I don’t mean stuffy academic writers (although let’s tell it like it is, I like reading them too). When I say “Smart Writers” I mean authors who write books that express new and thought-provoking ideas with beautiful, playful, intelligent language. When I say “Smart Writers” I mean writers that I want to pluck off the page and bring home for coffee and conversation. I’m talking about writers who inspire and challenge me, and who make me laugh. Writers such Continue reading

A Fundamental Shift in How I Look at Literature

In the most recent issue of The Believer magazine there is an article by Colin Asher about writer Nelson Algren which states that “… every word Algren wrote was guided by the belief that writing can be literature only if intended as a challenge to authority.” I didn’t know much about Nelson Algren before this, but the article was very good, and it got me thinking about this idea that literature must challenge authority. My first reaction is to disagree. I believe that literature is complex and varied, and that putting parameters or limitations on our definition of it does the idea of literature—and ourselves as readers—a disservice. But. . .

. . . But then I started thinking about all the books and writing that I consider “literature” and I found that most of them DO challenge authority in one way or another, even those works that I consider the most tame. Pride and Prejudice challenges the social and economic conventions of the time. Lolita challenges the idea that a pedophile is a monster who can neither elicit nor deserve sympathy from the moral majority. The Hobbit challenges the assumption that the smallest and quietest among us can’t change the course of history. These are just a few examples, but the more I thought about it the more I began to convince myself that great literature does indeed pose a challenge, if not always to authority, then at least to the status quo. Continue reading

A Revolutionary Reading List to Educate and Inspire

Books can inspire revolution

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A thought, a word, a sentence… these have the power to change the world. Which is why so many powerful books have been banned over the years. You are what you read, and if you’re reading revolutionary literature then you might just become a revolutionary yourself.

If you, like me, are unhappy with what you see in politics lately and think it’s time for a change, the following list of reading (mostly) material will educate, inspire, and possibly frighten you, but mostly I hope these will light a fire under you.

As with just about any great literature, these are best when discussed with others (possibly over wine–or whisky if that’s what gets your blood pumping) so share, share, SHARE with friends. Encourage each other to read and encourage each other to ACT. As Margaret Mead said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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10 Commuter Podcasts for Ravenous Thinkers & Learners

For a brief moment in time I’ve found myself with a long commute to work. As an avid reader (actual reader, not audiobook lover–no judgment on audiobooks, just my personal preference) I quickly became frustrated with this “wasted” time. I’m used to reading a book a week. Ever since I started this commute, I’ve dropped down to a book a month. I’ll be honest, it’s a blow to my ego. But more than that, it was a blow to my ravenous need for constant learning.

But no more! I’ve found myself a small group of podcast connoisseurs and they have opened up my tiny listening world! I went from having 2 podcasts I listened to regularly, to now having 10 casts I subscribe to, and at least 15 more that were either finite and came to a timely end, or that I continue to check in with on a regular basis. And thanks to my new super-sized commute, I’m generally able to get through all of these amazing shows.

Right here, right now, is truly a Golden Age of Podcasts.

Here are my 10 favorite smart, funny, thought-provoking podcasts you should be listening to.

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Politics and Woe; Ardor and Action


At the March for Justice in Ventura, CA. Photo by Jenni Buchanan

These next few years will be an opportunity for some of us to rise up and become leaders, revolutionaries, and heroes.

I’m an optimist and a dreamer, the kind who puts presents under the tree in Santa’s name for my kids, but still somewhere deep down believes that this magical symbol of goodwill and charity actually exists out there. So I’m not exaggerating when I say that up until the very last minute, I truly believed something would happen to prevent the inauguration last Friday.

It didn’t. And now the hard work of learning to live in this new and inconceivable reality begins.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps it’s better to say that now the hard work of changing this new and inconceivable reality begins.

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24 Hours of Reading! Dewey’s #Readathon



Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon officially begins, and I am still sleeping. My plans to get up early were derailed by one of my kids keeping me up talking until 12:30 last night. No matter. I’ll stay up longer at the end of day.


The Readathon finally begins for me! I start with an audiobook of Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk as I get dressed, make coffee, drive one kid to her volunteer location, and grocery shop for readerly snacks and beverages. I’ve had this book on my TBR list for a while and I am not let down. The first 3 chapters are moving and beautiful. I tear up when she talks about her dad and laugh out loud when she remembers secretly praying the the Egyptian god Horus because he has the head of a hawk. Delightful.

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Writing Down the Moon: Journal Prompts for the (August) Corn Moon


About the Corn Moon

New Moon: Aug 2
First Quarter: Aug 10
Full Moon: Aug 18
Third Quarter: Aug 25
Dark Moon: Aug 31

Sun Sign: Leo


I’ve heard it said that those born under the sun sign Leo are Drama Kings/Queens, but having a Leo child has taught me that it’s not so much about drama as it is about ENTHUSIASM; enthusiasm paired with extreme sociability. Leo energy is strong and vital, it’s full of optimism and excitement, and the desire to reach out and share this wonderful life-force with others.

This is the kind of high-energy you can expect from the August Corn Moon. Don’t fight it, take advantage of it. Take advantage of the momentum of the moon to get started on that project you’ve been thinking about. Invite some friends over for a get-together, say yes to the social invitations you receive this month. You may be yearning to make connections… Go out and do it! Just be careful not to exhaust yourself.

During this moon cycle the energy of the earth is that of fullness and completion. The grain crops are mature and almost ready for harvest. In agrarian cultures this is the beginning of the harvest season. It is a time of gratitude and reward for the hard labor put in during the spring and early summer.

This is a good time to: Be social, make contracts, interact with others in any setting, trust your wisdom and make decisions with confidence.

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2016 Challenge: 40 New Places In My 40th Year


“I dwell in possibility…” -Emily Dickinson

Less than a week ago I turned 40. I have some mixed feelings about this. If you ask me how old I am my brain starts at 26 and I have to wind my way up through numbers until I reach the right one. I’m always a bit surprised how high it’s gotten. On the other hand, 4 is my lucky number, so I can only predict my 40s will be amazing. (Especially 44–watch out!)

The big question I had going into this birthday was how to properly celebrate this milestone year and kick off the new decade in the manner it deserved. Fast cars and hot young men (typical midlife crisis reactions) just aren’t my style. So I did some soul-searching about exactly what I wanted to bring into my life.

I think as we get older we tend to feel like we’ve seen almost everything. We start to feel that the world is a known entity. No longer is there a new adventure waiting for us at the beginning of every day. We have our routine, we fall into a rut, and we tell ourselves we like it, that it’s security.

What I want for my 40th year is to bring discovery and wonder to my life. I want to go outside of my known world, and feel once again that something new and exciting might be waiting around every corner! As Emily Dickinson put it best, I want to “dwell in possibility.” Not just metaphorically, but literally.

To that end, I gave myself the challenge of visiting 40 new places during my 40th year. These new places could be as extreme as going to a new state or (should I win the lottery) a new country, or as simple as eating exotic food at a restaurant I’ve never been to before. The only rule is that these new places should have the possibility for discovery and wonder. A new hamburger joint doesn’t count, an authentic Ethiopian restaurant does.

I’ve already started making a list of potential places, but I’m hoping many will crop up (in true “dwell in possibility” fashion) spur of the moment. Books, nature, and food have always been the first things to make me feel young and filled with wonder, so I hope to go on a good number of those types of adventures throughout the year.

40 new places in 52 weeks. I’ll be back to tell you all about it!