Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bookshelf Reading Browse

A Sunday New York Times writer this week rued the loss of books from home bookshelves as a result of the electronic revolution. Books were to be one way to obtain an insight into the personality of the holder.

What would a filled bookshelf say about you? It caused me to consider my latest books read, not to evaluate my personality, but to examine the vibes I may be spreading by reading in public.

Here's the three books in no particular order.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Copyright 2006.

This memoir of a divorced woman traces her personal journey across Italy, India and Indonesia. The three Is are a nice point although the text refers more to Bali as the final stopping point. The reader will never know the specifics of the failed marriage that provided the sendoff for Ms. Gilbert, although referring to it often, refuses to tell the reader. Thus, the critical point of why this memoir is nothing more than a travelogue remains vital and unanswered. There are multiple holes in the narrative. Ms. Gilbert late in the book mentions about coming home for the Christmas holidays and then drops the reference.

That the book was made into a recent movie of the same name and already shows up on my cable TV free-movie selections suggests it wasn't a box office hit. Why? Can't say since I've not viewed it.

I doubt the average reader will gain much useful relationship advice. Going to an idyllic Pacific island could be a fantasy. However, be apprised that the locals will be out to drain every resource the visitor brings by every available tactic, including creating guilt to a hurting psyche.

Hannah's List by Debbie Macomber. Copyright 2010.

The prolific output of romance writer Debbie Macomber hangs several character sketches on the clothesline of a cancer victim's one year delayed letter to her pediatric doctor husband offering three women for him to create a new romantic life with. Adding bulk, if not focused on the husband, are the stories of two females selected to be marriage candidates.

Be prepared for repeated references to how depressed the husband is, which borders on on being off-putting even if considered necessary to refocus the reader after a voyage into the relationships of the two women not selected. That shouldn't be a game spoiler for this is a romance with its required happy ending. I'll not tell you who, but it should be obvious early.

Romance genre readers will find this a good read, others probably not so.

"D" Is for Deadbeat by Sue Grafton. Copyright 1987.

Yes, this is an early novel in Ms. Grafton's march to touch every one of the 26 alphabet letters that she is soon to complete. The use of the word "Deadbeat" is a stretch. With a deadbeat being defined as one who tries to evade paying for things.does not match the victim. There is another D word that better describes the victim: "Drunk." He's often referred to as one and his drinking is a driving force in the story's events.

In 1987, this novel probably pushed the sexual envelope of genre mystery novels, although not the pacesetter for literary novel writers such as John Updike written approximately two decades previous. That the PI is named Kinsey Millhone, at least the first name, may be an inside joke on the sex researchers who issued a 1960s decade report.

This novel is a classic mystery where suspects are multiplied and then ruled out. With a few humorous moments, the pace moves with steadiness. The heaviness is in the abundant metaphors and casting eyes always at the weather which rarely changes.

Greed, murder and false piety constantly stirred by Ms. Grafton creates the desired and expected turmoil. One will always ask why the PI didn't consider modes of travel other than a taxi in an urban area.

Your comment always welcomed.

Donan Berg is an offer of novels A Body To Bones, The Bones Dance Foxtrot, Abbey Burning Love, Baby Bones.  Baby Bones  His debut novel named his website home at .

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quotes Over Time

Quotes by Donan Berg from days past.

"Don't let a storm of words be a drought of common sense."

"Reverse gear doesn't signal your power's off."

"Rudeness, like paint, doesn't hide rot underneath."

"The heart has two chambers - one to collect and one to dispense love."

"Cruel criticism is a ruler without markings."

"Ridicule by another can authenicate one's worth."

"To depend on fate is to wait for train when there's no track."

And, a personal favorite:

"Human hearts die but don't retract love given."

To be continued without notice or prearranged schedule. (Ps, that's not a quote.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Reviewer You?--Yes, you

Many a book reader enjoys giving a review of a book read, usually oral to friends, but what about online? This article will explore how you approach the task. (Note, two cautions will be mentioned at the end of this article.)

Here's my take on Book Review 101.

1. Read the book, the whole book. Taking notes is optional. If you're a reader that sketches out character outlines, plot twists, or memorable quotes, sentences and words you mean to check out in a dictionary, keep doing it.

2. Consider the theme. Examples are a) loss and reconciliation, b) life and humanity, c) emotional and physical slavery, d) choices and, when they are present, sometimes not the choices we'd want to make, e) using knowledge to gain freedom, and f) forgiveness. Look at the world. There are many themes. Did I list the generic good versus evil?

3. Do the characters realistically interact? Are the scenes rationally and casually interrelated? Characters go from point A to point B for a reason, even if that reason is they don't have one. Has the author kept you in a constant point-of-view (POV) with clearly defined POV shifts. Emotional relationship to a character is strengthened by a consistent POV. The story, if not linear in time, should give mileposts to keep you informed.

4. Is the setting realistic and actions consistent with the time period? Would you consider it disturbing if characters drank Tab before it came into being and/or watched color TV before its invention. That occurred in K. Sockett's bestselling The Help.

Considering the above points, what would your review consist of?

1. Go beyond "I liked the book." There should be many connection points in the book.

     a.  You can connect on a geographical level. The book takes place in your neighborhood or a place you visited. The protagonist is a Navy Seal, like you are or were. The neighbor bakes apple pie. You love to eat apple pie and just adore the smell of cinnamon.

     b.  You can connect on a personal human emotional level. You cry, laugh, or both.

     c.  Your passion is stirred. If not to action, you pound your fist on the table when crooks swindle the sweet older person out of a life's savings. You agree that the death penalty is wrong or that government is too big and taxes unfairly. You might even attend the next civic rally, or vote.

     d.  You agree with the author on an intellectual point. You understand the science.

     e.  You can't find any character depth. You're run across the stereotype before.

2. Articulate how the book made you feel and if it in any way changed your life, either permanently or temporarily.  If it didn't, was it merely a great time "passer."  Any book unliked at first reading can become an educational tool for a later read.

    To be continued....

    Referenced cautions: 1. You may be asked to do a review to snare an e-mail address and never receive any further reply. 2.  If you save ninety-nine cents ($.99) or more by doing a review, be honest and keep your integrity even if you feel compelled to "be nice" for the free book. You're not doing the author a favor, but building resentment against him or her by future readers. Visit Author's Website Read an excerpt of all Donan Berg novels at using their inside the book feature.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Book Discussion Guide - Stewart O'Nan

            Bettendorf, Iowa, Library Director canceled my appearance to lead 2010 Contemporary Book Discussion Group discussion of  Mr. Stewart O’Nan’s novel entitled Last Night at the Lobster. I had transmitted ahead of time these reader guide questions:

  1. What significance does the snow have other than portending an actual storm?
    2.   What memorable characteristic does Manny DeLeon, the leading character, have?

    1. Does his drug use alter your perception?
    2. What does this memorable characteristic present to other characters?
    3. If Manny were kind, why would Fredo slice his jacket? Did he? If a box cutter is missing, does that indicate Fredo acted on impulse or with premeditation? Is there any proven connection between the missing box cutter and Fredo?

  1. What does Manny as the central character want? In compelling fiction the hero desperately wants something. Does he want love, wealth, revenge, safety, redemption, freedom, or simple peace of mind? Did you think of something else?

  1. Are the restaurant diners believable individually and/or representative of a group?

  1. How many critical choices face Manny that last day? How do they affect the story?

  1. How do Manny’s managerial experiences on that last day change his interactions with others, employee and/or diner? If he doesn’t change, isn’t that also okay?

  1. How would you say Manny the individual changed from page one to the novel’s end?

  1. Who or what is the villain in the novel? Is it expressed or merely hinted at?

  1. Consider the following sentence as a given: A novel is an amplification of real life. Is this novel more fun, more romantic, more glamorous, and/or more dangerous? Is it wittier, braver, courser, faster, and/or bigger? Does it have more taste, smell, and sound? Are friendships closer and enemies crueler? Are children more mature and senior citizens more profound?

  1. At the end of the story did you feel satisfied? In what way? If not, why not? (Length of novel isn’t a relevant consideration.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Editing Never Easy or Ironclad

Every author needs practice at editing and feedback both before and after the revisions.

The following is an example of an author's draft, not mine, where I tried to enhance it in my personal way staying true to the author's original prose. If you'd share how you'd do it different, we all gain. An old adage never more important than practice, practice, practice.

Here is the original sample:

As dusk approached, Eric marveled at the rifle Zachariah had once ownedand now through the old man’s generosity, Eric owned. He grasped the barrel with one hand and the stock with the other. It was a handsome piece of craftsmanship of walnut stock and glimmering steel. He clicked on the safety button and pushed the locking lever to disengage the barrel. There were two cartridges in the chamber. As Zachariah always said, the rifle was useless unless it was always loaded. It was an impressive clicking sound when he opened and closed the chamber. He felt empowered by the heft to it. He took out the two cartridges, fondled them in the hands, a cool and somewhat unsettling feel to them and put them back in their chamber.

Here is my suggested revision:

Dusk hovered ready to descend or be blotted out by the massing crow wings. Eric stood motionless, gravity tugging at his lower jaw, as curled fingers clutched the rifle Zachariah once owned, now his through the old man’s generosity. Eric thrust out both arms to again admire the everlasting craftsmanship of a polished walnut stock routed out for oiled glimmering steel. Bracing the rifle’s butt against his right shoulder, he clicked on the safety and pushed the locking lever to disengage the barrel. Two cartridges in the chamber. Why should he have expected otherwise? Zachariah repeatedly said the rifle useless unless loaded. An impressive sharp click sounded when he flexed the chamber open, closed and open again. The heft empowered him. He fondled the two cartridges in his left hand, the cool metal casing giving them an unsettling feel. Zachariah’s shells more at home nestled in their chamber ready for the firing pin.
Please note I added the crows which show up in the paragraphs after this initial chapter opening. The result for me more descriptive with a sense of drama and a link to the paragraphs that follow. Thank you for reading.

This and That Opinion

Iowa Writers' Workshop Tidbits

Two news items mentioning graduates of the Iowa Writers' Workshop came across the desk today. As a summer enrollee keeping the school on the radar screen, there's always been an interest in whether or not attending fulltime would be beneficial.

First Article. Awards story about M. T. "M.T. received her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in May 2011 and returned to waiting tables in Dallas."

Second Experience. From the library picked up the writing craft book written by Stephen Wilbers entitled (and it's hard to put title in writing for there's a three-key symbol and parenthesis around word "keys" above words "to Great Writing.") Obviously he's a professor who requires student book purchase. Inside the book he states he attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop and wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the history of the program. So far the book content has not been unique or absorbed with staying power. If you're a business student struggling with English, probably beneficial. Did enjoy the description of the city of Minneapolis, which book cover blurb gave as home of the author. But then again, I'm a fan of the Twin Cities, if not its sports teams.


After that last paragraph, perhaps it was good that Sunday's gospel lesson was Matthew 18:21-25.

The theme of forgiveness has multiple facets. Begin with the truth you've received forgiveness in your life. Someone has overlooked wrong that you've done. Someone has given you a new chance, a fresh start. Someone has released you from the ball and chain of your own wrongdoing. And, it need not be criminal in the eyes of the state. Thus, Matthew quotes Christ as being mad at one who does not forgive another.

Forgiveness is courage, endless courage.

Cutting for Stone

This book by Abraham Verghese was the subject this week of one of my book clubs. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that he too is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. While there was a group positive consensus for this New York Times bestseller, there was also a strong rip tide undercurrent of the book's verbosity. This latter comment exemplified by one person stating: "Should've cut 200 pages."

Other than wordiness, other writing examples surfaced. On page 319 at the top there is reference that character had no belt, no holster, no shirt. Then, at page 321, this character in the same continuing scene sticks gun deep into waistband "behind his belt buckle." What?

Readers got confused by numerous point of view shifts without warning and at one place where Thomas Stone could see the real world WHILE ASLEEP.  Or a character wears a gown and then is said to have tears on a blouse. Or a character's statement of what the future will be when he hasn't gotten there yet.

Trust Mr. Verghese will forgive for the above. The novel's passion burst forth even if the writing execution demonstrated faults. Should one also forgive if this blog is quoted as saying of Cutting for Stone that "The novel's passion burst forth...?"

Monday, September 12, 2011

Opening Day NFL Football

Missing the Chicago Bears/Atlanta Falcons home opener as the first Bears home game that didn't have me in a Soldier Field stadium seat wasn't as traumatic as expected. Partly because Da Bears defense showed up and played with a heart and vengence. "Old" hands such as Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman meshed well with new team members who created a defensive rush without blitzing. And, the offensive line, commendable with great hopes for the future.

Matt Forte did what he does best, most everything that a running back need do.

Yes, there will be a dent created in the recliner. After one game it appears to be a happy dent. Although the tailgaters atop the parking deck next to Gate 0 are missed. That happy throng of fans. Staying at home meant no one to loan condiments to or no one to trade use of a grill for left behind bbq sauce. The memories live. The Chicago Bears helmet grill not a relic, but a treasure. The picture of it in the Chicago Tribune two decades ago graces the Bears' wall with mementos of all sorts.

If the Bears play well, next game may see the first team TV broadcasters. Second thought, let's buck the trend and keep the Bears with the announcers and create a winning streak long into the season.

Former Bear note---

With Rex Grossman having a good day with the Washington Redskins, can one dye the white jersey I have with his name and number 8 into what "maroon and gold?" Might be the same colors of my alma mater?

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Welcome to the A Body To Bones mystery novel blog by author Donan Berg.

We welcome each of you on this day Americans remember 9/11 on the tenth anniversary of the infamous attack on three United States locations.

If you have a comment or input, please feel free to express your thoughts within the bounds of common decency.

We look forward to sharing with you excerpts of past novels, future novels, and short stories. Author Donan Berg has published four murder mystery novels: A Body To Bones, The Bones Dance Foxtrot, Baby Bones, and Abbey Burning Love.  He's also published a collection of short stories entitled Bubbling Conflict and Other Stories.

Visit this blog and help us grow. You can also visit author Donan Berg at