If Only THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT WERE as Interesting as the Title and Cover

Dear Reader,

I found THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT dull. I understand it deals with loss experienced by almost all characters, but the loss became boring, heavier than the elephant, yet hollow. Maybe it’s because there are too many characters to cover in too few pages. Maybe it’s because philosophical concepts are dealt with almost in a childlike level, but without childlike wonder.



CORALINE: “… after all, it is always easier to be afraid of something you cannot see”

Dear Reader,

I finally read CORALINE because I’d heard lots of people say they loved it. I did not love it. I did not much like it either. It didn’t scare me. And I don’t know if it would have scared me when I was a kid. It’s hard to say. I think now, as then, I need more depth of story, more than the premise of a bright girl being ignored/neglected then scooted to a new reality, where she realizes “there’s no place like home” and Mom.

The best line of the book is the title of this review: “… after all, it is always easier to be afraid of something you cannot see.” I absolutely believe this.

Note: Kindness Does Not Win Over Genocide



Dear Reader,

(This review is based on 1993 edition, Macmillan Publishing)

For the most part, I thought treating others with compassion is the only way to treat others, that is, until I read Premo Levi’s almost how-to memoir. Survival in Auschwitz. If while in Auschwitz Levi had helped those in need around him, shared his rations, carried the fallen, given up his blanket, he would have surely died. He surrounded by less than enough, so to give up any of what he had would have been suicide. Read the book to find out what I mean.


Elie Wiesel’s DAWN, my Tears, and a Baby’s Smile

Dear Reader,

The words of the novel Dawn, by Elie Wiesel, affected me as much, or more, than its content. As in Night, Wiesel writes with pointed prose, much the way a poet does. There are no superfluous words. There is only repetition with purpose. His sentences are taut but not tight. His poetry invites me to participate in his narrator’s disgust, struggle, fear, and forced numbness. He asked that I sob with his victim’s good humor even though he has no idea why he is supposed to die.

I did what he asked.  And tears fell on the baby in my arms, my 3-month old granddaughter.  She looked into my eyes and smiled.


Dear Readers,

I recently finished reading Colin Fletcher’s The Man Who Walked Through Time (1968) and Caroline Bancroft’s Silver Queen: The Fabulous Story of Baby Doe Tabor (1955). I didn’t plan to read either book; they just appeared while I was sorting books for Westminster Public Library’s used book sale.

I decided to read The Man Who Walked Through Time because it deals with the author’s two-month walking trip, under the Rim, from from one end of Grand Canyon National Park to the other. I plan to write a story about my experience of being stranded just west of the park, so I thought I would study how he describes the canyon then borrow some of his geological vocabulary, as I have few words of my own.

I read Baby Doe Tabor because I’d kept hearing her name in conjunction with off-kilter legendary Colorado figures, plus I’d been wondering why anyone would be called Baby Doe. Was she tiny with childlike features, doe-like eyes? Was she considered a great beauty because of this?

As it turned out, Baby Doe Tabor’s family in Oshkosh, WI gave her the pet name Baby when she was a child, and somehow Central City, CO silver miners got wind of this and decided to call her Baby too. And Doe? No exciting explanation. It was her first husband’s last name.

But I learned other things too, like who the heck was Horace Tabor, the guy responsible for building opera houses in the late 1800s (and whose name is attached to a Colorado bill that has hog tied the state government).

And The Man Who Walked? Fletcher painstakingly, even boringly sometimes, recounts setting up and breaking camp as well as his decision making processes. Yet his in-depth descriptions of canyons, ledges, eddies, vegetation, and wildlife reflected his intense appreciation of this land and gave me clues for how to describe it in my story.

Have I answered the question How much should I expect to get out of a nonfiction book? Maybe.

I should expect as much as I can find.

Should I or Shouldn’t I Recommend THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG?

Dear Reader,

I’m stumped by how to review Muriel Barbery’s novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog. For the most part, I found it boring, but my sister-n-law recommended it, so I forced myself to read the whole thing. Nothing much happens besides a middle-aged well read concierge and a bright twelve-year-old girl’s toughts while they narrate their own chapters. (Some reviewers said the narrators were pretentious. Which is what people who don’t understand people like these two would naturally say.)  I often thought what they said could have been condensed; but, at the same time, they seemed to be journal entries, which are prone to long windedness and frequent sections of little point. It’s clear the novel wasn’t plot driven; but then it wasn’t so much character driven either.

For the lesser part–or is it the greater?–Barbery wrote several things that I just had to record so I could savor them later. For example:

  • “Art is life, playing to other rhythms.”
  • “As for me, I implore fate to give me the chance to see beyond myself and truly meet someone.”
  • “… the capacity to do harm is often and item of family capital.”
  • “Apparently, now and again adults take the time to sit down and contemplate what a disaster their life is. They complain without understanding and, like flies constantly banging against the same old windowpane, they buzz around, suffer, waste away, get depressed then wonder how they got caught up in this spiral that is taking them where they don’t want to go. The most intelligent among them turn their malaise into a religion…” 

But do a few memorable lines negate a lot of unmemorable ones? Or the other way around? I don’t know. Do I have to give this book a grade, a # of stars?

What do you think?



Why I Like Jon Krakauer’s Writing Style

Dear Reader,

I like Jon Krakauer’s writing style in UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN: A STORY OF VIOLENT FAITH, just as I did in his books INTO THIN AIR and INTO THE WILD. He starts with a single event, in this case a murder, diverges, diverges some more, then returns to the murder and asks the reader to look at it through a variety of lenses (defined by me): insanity, fanaticism, passion, stupidy, belief, and more. He explores the history of Mormonism, but he could just as well have focused on Christianity or Islam–with a great deal more difficulty, of course, as they are centuries old, compared with Mormonism, which is still in its infancy–and how easily people hijack religion to further their non-spiritual agendas. Krakauer’s style leaves room for readers to develop their own questions and draw their own conclusions, which is much better than putting up with a didactic author. I picked up this book because the title intrigued me, and because I wanted to learn a bit about the history of the Mormon faith and, thereby, something about the religion as it is practiced today. I learned enough about the history to know there’s a lot more to learn, and very little about the practice of Mormonism, which is really okay, by me; that would require serious study. (It’s interesting that as I reread the subtitle of the book I realized I’d repeatedly thought it said “A Story of ‘A’ Violent Faith,” which states that Mormanism is violent. Take out “A” and it refers to any faith, as an act.)

What’s an ARTObiography? Read STORM OF THE i to find out

Dear Reader,

Tina Collen’s Storm of the i: An Artobiography is an autobiography/memoir that is:

  • Satisfyingly heavy (a compact paperback weighing as much as a hard-core tabletop book),
  • Densely appointed (composed of luscious illustrations; touching, humorous, and/or clever photos; pop-ups; foldouts; cutouts; and other surprises),
  • Beyond creatively designed (the author is also a visual artist with a strong graphic design background), and
  • Compellingly written (utilizing journal entries, hers and others’ poetry, snippets of letters, casually written notes, song lyrics, and personal narrative).

Collen’s words keep the reader asking questions like:

  • What is Collen going to discover next?
  • What is her problem with her father?
  • What is her father’s problem with her?
  • Is there really a problem between them, or is she just imagining it?
  • Will her perceptions change as the book progresses?
  • Will she change as person as a result of writing this book?
  • Will she accept responsibility for who she was and is, or will she just cast blame?
  • Why was she driven to write this book?
  • Will I, the reader, change as a result of reading this book?

How did Storm of the i affect me?

  • I began to urge myself to explore my creativity/thoughts through making colleges.
  • I re-remembered that I want to try sculpting with clay.
  • I realized I’ve used the excuse of not being a trained artist to keep me from making art.
  • I began to question my assumptions about the meanings behind “hurtful” things my parents said in my past.
  • I wondered how other women might learn about themselves through combining visual art and writing.

Dear reader, Storm of the i is an experience you’ll want to share with (buy for–you’ll want to keep your copy) people you love.




If you’d like to see a bit more about how Artobiography came into existence click here.

To purchase a personally autographed copy of Storm of the i go to www.TinaCollen.com

(In the comment box include how you’d like it signed.) Books are also available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon. If your favorite bookstore doesn’t have it on the shelf, they can order it for you.

Tina Collen is giving an autographed book away in a contest, asking people to leave a comment answering this question:

Oftentimes the objects we hold onto contain cryptic clues that point towards something deeper about ourselves. Take a look around your house (or your room) at the things with which you have surrounded yourself. Is there anything you are still hanging onto that seems to contain a hidden message for you? What do you think it is?

Descriptions in New YA Novel, DARK WATER, are Reminiscent of those in THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET

Dear Reader,

Dark Water (Sept. 2010)  is a YA novel in which the setting of the story–rural Fallbrook, CA–is a character in the plot-driven story. Author Laura McNeal asks her 15-year-old narrator Pearl to lyrically describe the land where she lives, the avocado groves, the river, the roads, the hills, and so on with careful, but never overwrought, detail, much like Sandra Cisneros asks Esperanza Cordero in The House on Mango Street. This makes the book a refreshing, yet up-to-date, breather from the many character-driven YA novels.       

Dark Water’s topics are timely–forbidden love, illegal immigration, devastating wildfires, divorce, loyalty vs. common sense, guilt, and the breadth of responsibility for one’s actions.

This book is sure generate lots of thoughtful discussions between young adult and/or adult readers.

Note: This book was a National Book Award finalist

New Book to Help Toilet Train Children w/ Autism and Other Developmental Disorders

Dear Reader,

(My review is based on a bound galley, which is not the final corrected book.)

In Ready, Set, Potty (Aug. 2010), author Brenda Batts breaks down and explains the many faceted process of toilet training children with autism and other developmental disorders, basing this process on “order, predictability, and routine.”

The crux of this book appears in chapter 8, which includes 16 steps:
1. Pick a target day
2. Establish a baseline
3. Pick a theme
4. Decorate
5. Make diapers a thing of the past
6. Decorate underwear
7. List child’s favorite MOTIVATORS (they are different than rewards)
8. Celebrate the night before
9. Use footprints
10.Customize the toilet seat
11.Create behavior strip
12.Use bathroom basket
13.Give a REWARD
14.Create a potty story
15.Bowel movements
16.Night training

I do not have young children with developmental disabilities, so I cannot comment on the effectiveness of Batts’ process, but because I have read a great deal about autism, I can say that it reinforces how time consuming it is to teach certain skills to children with autism.

Ready, Set, Potty is a quick read. The table of contents is extensive, which is great for easy reference. Many of the techniques may be applied to toilet training any child, not just those with disabilities.