Monday, January 31, 2011

Last Book I Loved: My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris

With four children and a business to keep up with, the kind of books that I find time for these days is pretty much limited to bedtime stories. The last book my five-year-old son discovered (and timely at that) on his book shelf was My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Christine King Farris.

This book gives a glimpse into the childhood of Martin Luther King Jr., through intimate stories shared by his older sister, and heartwarming illustrations by Chris Seontpiet. I love how the stories and illustrations weave together a memoir filled with tenderness and compassion, and yet evoke a sense of vibrancy, purpose, and character.

This book offers a very gentle and thought provoking way to introduce the struggles of the civil rights era to children, and the progress that our country has made due to the sacrifices of people like Dr. Martin Luther King. When we finished reading the book, my son said, "I want to be like Martin.", which can only make a mama feel good.

-Dana Scherer

--Dana Scherer keeps herself enchanted with little ones, both as a mama and a local children's photographer. She lives in Germantown and is a proud parent of two students at Wissahickon Charter School. You can find more on her photography and family adventures at Bamboo Photography.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Jen's Five Years of Resolve

Perhaps you are looking for New Year’s resolutions -- or revolutions! Here are 5 year-long experiments, described in 3 books that I’ve read (including one that entirely changed the way I eat) and two I am most curious to read.

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Steven Hopp, and Camille Kingsolver (and their younger kid, who wasn't old enough to have her name on the book) (HarperCollins, $15.99)

[Editor's Note: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is also one of Nif's April 2010 Picks. Which is not unconnected to the fact that it entirely changed the way I eat.]

Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon (Random House, $13.95)

A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy by Sara Bongiorni (Wiley Press, $14.95)

No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process by Colin Beavan (Picador, $15.00)

A Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs (Simon & Schuster, $15.00)

January 2011, Jennifer Sheffield

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Staff Book Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

jie: u totally have to read this amazing book, will grayson, will grayson. there's this guy, will grayson, whose bff is this huge sweet,but self-centered gay dude, tiny. tiny falls in and out of luv everyday. will's rules are shut up and don't care too much...except that he starts to totally like this girl, jane. in comes the 2nd will grayson who is destroyed by an e-mail relationship which is not entirely fake. then comes this reference to this physicist dude, schrodinger, who does some kind of experiment with a cat in a box that may or may not kill the cat. so while the cat is in the box, no one knows if the cat is alive or dead or both at the same time. and that is totally the analogy for all of us who are caught in a box. jane knows all about this experiment. she is totally smart. then u find out about falling, falling in a big, tiny way. dude, it's a book about life. i know how cheap you r but buy it anyway at bbmb.

p.s. the ending is cool but i can't tell u about it.

Reviewed by Janet Elfant

Friday, January 28, 2011

Kate's Five Young Adult Series You Should Read If You Liked The Hunger Games

If you like dark, action-packed young adult sci-fi/fantasy novels that are full of romance and adventure, you will love the following series!

Science Fiction:

The Uglies Series, by Scott Westerfeld: Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras (Simon Pulse, $9.99 each)

The Maximum Ride Series, by James Patterson: The Angel Experiment, School's Out Forever, and Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports (Little Brown and Co., $7.99-$8.99)

Incarceron and Sapphique, by Catherine Fisher (Penguin, $17.99)


The Mortal Instruments Series, by Cassandra Clare: City of Bones, City of Ash, and City of Glass (Margaret K McElderly, $9.99-$17.99)

A Modern Faerie Tale Series: Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside, by Holly Black (Margaret K McElderly, $8.99 each)

January 2011, Kate Musliner

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Last Book I Loved: Gumbo Tales by Sara Raohen

I bought Sara Raohen's Gumbo Tales at the airport on the day I was leaving New Orleans and, as I read, I wished that I had picked it up the day I arrived. Raohen is a master at bringing the eclectic tastes of New Orleans cuisine alive on the page and conveys the city's pride and heritage to the reader. I read this book hungrily on the flight back to Philadelphia and upon landing, immediately sought out local restaurants that may just deliver Roahen's described oyster po-boys, okra gumbo, and olive-salad muffalettas. Whether or not they will be accurate to Roahen's experience I'll never know until I go back to New Orleans (which I will) to sample from the restaurants she highlights.

My favorite part of the whole book is her explanation of why Monday's meal, in the whole of New Orleans, is red beans and rice. Roahen writes, "If there was a first pot of red beans in New Orleans, documentation of it has not been found. Everyone here knows, though, that whether truth or myth, red beans and rice became a Monday staple for two reasons: it made good use of the ham bone from Sunday dinner, and cooks could stir the low-maintenance dish infrequently while tending to housework back when Monday was laundry day and people still set their washtubs over charcoal furnaces in the backyard." To know that, even today, Monday's meal is red beans and rice where the washing machine and dryer will dutifully do New Orleans laundry any day of the week is so comforting to me, someone who likes to know what's coming up next. And the fact that the whole city participates shows the tight-knit community that is New Orleans.

I fell in love with New Orleans while I was there and Roahen's Gumbo Tales made me love it even more. If you want to get a little taste for this wonderful city, please read this book.

-Lucia Gunzel

--Lucia Gunzel is the author/publisher of the children's book, Cranky Pants.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Poetic Profile: Dr. Niama L. Williams

1) How would you describe your poetry?

Like a running river that is full of glass, shards, lilies, roses, carnations--all things bright and beautiful and remnants of what has broken our souls. Our lives are often like that: we are made up of what has nearly broken us and what has solidified the weak parts. I bring both together in poetry and prose, my prose particularly, that runs the path of stream of consciousness. A good friend once said she would not buy my book if she found it in the bookstore. I laughingly queried, why? "Cause I had to work too damn hard!" she exclaimed. "I was lookin' shit up in the dictionary, reachin' for the thesaurus; I was workin' too damn hard! One minute you sound like Fifth and Central; the next like a Ph.D.!" I had to agree, and yet my friend in Tennessee's mother read THE JOURNEY and loved it--she with an eighth grade education.

2) How does poetry fit into your everyday life?

It keeps me sane and breathing calmly. Without poetry I would stumble at understanding and comprehending my world. The difficult things don't make sense if I cannot think about them and then sit down and write what God says about them and sends over the transom. For me, poetry and prose are about listening; picking up the pen, or sending out a message, "I want to write about x" and waiting for God to send the words. When He does, whatever I am struggling with begins to make sense and ceases to terrify or humiliate. That is something for which I thank the heavens daily, and the angels routinely.

3) What poets and/or authors inspire you?

An easy one!!!! Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison (THE BLUEST EYE is THE perfect novel just as BELOVED is THE best film), Alice Walker (whom I routinely refer to as "Auntie Alice" her work hits so close to the bone!), Andre Dubus's House of Sand and Fog (the book, not the film), John Edgar Wideman, especially his DAMBALLAH; T. S. Eliot and his Prufrock, also The Wasteland (hard as hell to read, but oh the joy in deciphering!); Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes; for fun, Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware novels and Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone and Spenser novels.

4) How does the community of Philadelphia play a part in your poetry?

Where else would I read??? :-) My first venues were in Philadelphia and I am determined to make it here. That is not easy. I am devoted to Panoramic Poetry; Crucial and Lamar and the Redcrosses have done so much to help poets and artists. Yet making it as a poet in this city is no easy thing. Takes money, time, and effort; I am determined to do all three differently in 2011. 2012 will not find me scraping the bottom of the barrel to survive; not if I and the Lord have anything to say about it!

5) What is the last book you have read that you enjoyed? Tell our Big Blue Marble community a little about it.

Andre Dubus' HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG was a stunner. Every page I turned I THOUGHT I knew what was coming next, and every time I turned that page I was shocked out of my shoes. This man, this writer, had me pulling FOR the former Iranian general and AGAINST the blond white woman! I found this novel astounding for those two reasons; I never anticipated one plot point and I became firmer and firmer in my desire for the Iranian general to just destroy this woman and make short work of it too. He had me going against everything that represented the American dream, and happily too. Masterful.

Dr. Niama L. Williams
is the guiding force behind Blowing Up Barriers Enterprises, a company that specializes in leading you to the life you have dreamed of living but can't quite seem to get to on your own. She is the author of 11 books, each describing her survival of trauma and celebrating those who have assisted her as she's walked her path. Dr. Ni also facilitates two workshop series, "Affirming the Fully Imagined Life" and "It"s Okay To Want: Eroticism and the Survival of Sexual Trauma" and interviews authors on "Poetry & Prose & Anything Goes with Dr. Ni" under the auspices of Review her credentials, publications and workshop descriptions at her website: or peruse one of her books for yourself at her storefront:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Last Book I Loved: Most Good, Least Harm by Zoe Weil

Between the snowstorm, holidays, and my glorious new Kindle, I've had plenty of time to read this winter. And I am so glad I was able to read Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life by Zoe Weil right before the new year.

Most Good, Least Harm book delves into some of the issues covered in my own book. Weil gets to the core of conquering eco-anxiety and environmental guilt, using information and consumer power to improve and enrich your life. The book is truly inspiring and the perfect thing to read entering the new year.

-Paige Wolf

--Paige Wolf is a publicist, author, and green living expert who uses her media savvy and personal moxie to promote manageable eco-chic living. After working as a journalist, publicist, and communications manager, Paige founded Paige Wolf Media & Public Relations in 2002.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Poetic Profile: Crystal Bacon

1)How would you describe your poetry?

My poetry is rooted in the lyrical tradition of creating a snapshot of a moment. Typically, I’m not drawn to writing about large public topics. Most of my poems start with something personal, an experience, an insight, a question that I’m dealing with. I’m usually interested in seeing what these small moments can say about the human experience. How our individual moments of experience link us to each other and to nature.

Nature plays a large role in my creative imagination. Even though I live in the city and have done so for many years, I still see trees, which I love as a class of beings with a great passion, as essential to our human-nature. I can find a meditation on nature just looking out my window at the large dogwood tree in my front yard. Sound is also very important to me. All my life, words have played around in my mind, my inner ear, ringing off each other. Usually, poems come to me in this way. I’ll see or feel something, and then I’ll say a few words about it. I work on making the words memorable, since I’m not writing them down at this point, I’m just storing them in my mind. The words become a few lines, and the lines will hold together usually because of the sound or rhythm, and this is when I get ready to actually “write” them at the computer.

2)How does poetry fit into your everyday life?

I spend a lot of time thinking about poetry. I start each day with a spiritual practice that includes chanting and meditation. This appeals to my sense of devotion and the role of sound, metaphor and image in devotion. Chanting Sanskrit or Pali mantra is good for my ear and my heart, which we could argue are the same, meeting in what the Buddha called the Chitta, the heart-mind. I always love to read poetry, but I read it sparingly these days. I’ll keep a book by my bed and read a little of it every night before I go to sleep. Every couple of semesters, I teach a poetry writing class at the Community College of Philadelphia, and this brings poetry into my day to day life with more regularity. So it sort of comes and goes. There’s a wave of poetry that runs through each day, sometimes a big uplifting one, and sometimes small gentle ones that just tickle my senses.

3) What poets and authors inspire you?

Personal favorites are Elizabeth Bishop, who was very important to me while I was really finding my voice during my MFA days, Jane Hirshfield, CA Conrad, who is a great friend and an amazing poet, totally unlike me in style, which is always good. Mary Oliver is always a pleasure to read. Rilke, Hopkins. My former teachers Larry Levis, who was an amazing poet, and Debra Allbery, who was also his student, and whose new book just won the Grub Street National Book Prize. I nearly memorized her first book, Walking Distance. I enjoy Robert Pinsky, who I think is a genius. I’m pretty eclectic. Stein, O’Hara, Lux. If the poems are well crafted and bring out a clear sensation in my body when I read them, then that is what inspires me. I also read deeply in the spiritual traditions of the East. I’ve been reading lots and lots of Buddhism for the last year: Chodron, Bikku Bodhi, Ajahn Cha, Thich Nhat Hanh. All of these books have shaped my aesthetic as well.

4) How does the community of Philadelphia play a part in your poetry?

If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be far from civilization and close to nature, so being in Philadelphia has sometimes been challenging for me. That said, the trees and woods of Mount Airy populate my poems. I don’t write much about people in general, so there’s no concrete connection that way. But I’m a ferocious home body. My home is my sanctuary, and I’ve found great comfort in the neighborhood where I live now, in East Mount Airy. It’s safe and friendly, good for dog walking. I like the extended community, “downtown” Mount Airy, the Marble, the High Point, the Co-op. Last winter, I went through a deep personal shift in my life, and this community, that little intersection of Greene and Carpenter, fed me and gave me an anchor. Overtime, I’ve become more and more at peace in the inner community. As the saying goes, wherever you go, there you are. And this is where I am now, so here I am.

5) What is the last book you have read that you enjoyed? Tell our Big Blue Marble community a little about it.

The last book I read was Be Love Now, by Ram Dass. I’ve been living a yogic lifestyle for about the last five years pretty seriously, and I’ve always found Ram Dass’ teachings very heart opening and inspiring. He’s very funny and humble. The book is about his experience with the great Indian sage, Neem Karoli Baba and how these great realized beings like Babaji help us to open to love. Babaji told him early in their relationship as teacher and student, “Ram Dass, love everybody.” This was not surprisingly a difficult assignment. But Ram Dass has made it his life’s work to move more and more into love and away from the ego-based mind. The book has many wonderful stories about their time together in India and also includes a short “year-book” of other great Indian sages and teachers all of whom offer the same basic instruction: get out of the mind and into the heart. As this is my personal goal for this lifetime, I found this book deeply inspiring and useful.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bookstore Bestsellers 2010

Hi and Happy New Year! As I did last year, I would like to present our top 20 bestsellers of the past year and top 20 bestsellers overall.

Top 20 Bestsellers at Big Blue Marble in 2010:

1) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
2) The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
3) Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
4) Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
5) Food Rules: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
6) The Wisdom to Know the Difference by Eileen Flanagan (local author)
7) Little Bee by Chris Cleave
8) The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney
9) Tinkers by Paul Harding
10) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (selected as companion book for the 2011 One Book, One Philadelphia)
11) Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
12) Drizzle by Kathleen Van Cleve (local author)
13) Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
14) The Help by Kathryn Stockett
15) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
16) The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
17) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
18) Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
19) Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
20) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Top 20 Bestsellers at Big Blue Marble to Date:

1) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
2) Body Trace by D.H. Dublin (local author)
3) Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (local author)
4) The Daring Book for Girls by Miriam Peskowitz (local author) and Andrea Buchanan
5) Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
6) Good Night Philadelphia by Adam Gamble and Cooper Kelly (local setting)
7) Philadelphia Chickens by Sandra Boynton (onetime local author)
8) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
9) Blood Poison by D.H. Dublin (local author)
10) Flotsam by David Wiesner (local author)
11) Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
12) Green Jobs Philly by Paul Glover (local author)
13) The First 1000 Days by Nikki McClure
14) Philly Joe Giraffe's Jungle Jazz by Andy Blackman Hurwitz (local author)
15) The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
16) Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
17) Freezer Burn by D.H. Dublin (local author)
18) The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
19) The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
And tied for spot 20:
a) Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
b) The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

Magic Jewelry from ‘Found Paper’: Pop-Up Workshops for Kids

There’s nothing like learning from the master! Edward Maeder, former curator of textiles and costumes at the L.A. County Art Museum, will lead two workshops for young people in February, in Mt. Airy, at the Green on Greene Bldg, across from the Big Blue Marble Bookstore. These hands-on experiences will be embued with Maeder’s enthusiasm for clothing and its meanings.

No wonder Harry Potter so relished his magic jewelry!

The “Kids Workshop: Found-Paper Jewelry”, Sunday, Feb 10, is a chance for kids to build accessories from everyday papers such as napkins, crepe, tissue, doilies and coffee filters.
Boys and girls will create such accessories as bracelets, necklaces, arm bands. Inspired by Harry Potter? Already developing your own personal style? $12, 2 hrs. Additional studio time can be scheduled for free, at the event. 10 am-noon, ages 8 to 14.

Adults and kids are welcome for the “Old Fashioned Valentines Workshop”, Sun. Feb. 13, 1:30-3:30 pm. $12, 2 hrs* Bring one or more photos of yourself that can be cut or copied.

Workshop participants will also see dresses Maeder is creating on site. They are in the same body of work as the 18th century-inspired works Maeder exhibited at Historic Deerfield, built of q-tips, coffee filters and other found papers.

Edward Maeder has been making costumes since he was knee high. He will in residence in Mt. Airy, Feb 5 – 20, also holding adult workshops and giving a talk on color.

The Pop-Up Studio will be held in the anchor space at the Green on Greene building, Greene St. & Carpenter Lane, 6819 Greene St. For reservations (strongly advised!), call 215 842-1040, or email Check out MaederMade facebook page for updates.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Poetic Profile: Paul Siegell

1) How would you describe your poetry?

It’s like that feeling you get when you’re home and you realize, albeit too late, that you’re outta toilet paper and your jeans, yeah, they’re down around your ankles and you have to do that hilarious, wide-legged lurch over to the cabinet to get another roll. It’s kinda like that. Wait, what? It’s nothing like that at all!


what are these words, friends,
shuffling their letters, about? what star
ry-eyed sport could spell and cast them
into asterism, the unheard of listenables?
my notebook’s blanks are becoming few
er. let the nude let the bottle even milk,
let it all hours pour. let the pen drain die
scratch. the draft in the bathroom is flutter
ing the toilet paper dangling from the win
dowsill. waverly. ledge. the habits of the
horizon have my mind on a milk carton.
planet is greek for wanderer. is this wit
ness relocation? athletic letters ceaseles
sly switching teams? perhaps olympians
leapfrogging on and off the podium of
use? and from where will the next note
book come? it’s friends not facilities,
words not worries.

2) How does poetry fit into your everyday life?

If I had a cycle of only three types of heartbeats, one would be my fiancée/family/friends, one would be music, and the other would be poetry.

(My day job, thank goodness, how I bankroll all of it.)

3) What poets and/or authors inspire you?

All poets inspire me, even the ones I don’t find very inspiring. If it’s in front of me, I can learn from it.

4) How does the community of Philadelphia play a part in your poetry?

I go wiz wit, hot peppers. Philadelphia’s pretty much Poetry Central right now. Pick a night, there’s most likely a reading going on somewhere in Philly. Thank goodness I got here when I did. There are so many poets, groups of poets, reading series, all kinds of journals publishing here, plus all kinds of kind souls asking me to read for their series, it’s incredible. Philly’s a great place to be a poet. People really care here, and that encouragement really adds up.

5) What is the last book you have read that you enjoyed? Tell our Big Blue Marble community a little about it.

Sherwin Bitsui’s Flood Song (Copper Canyon, 2009). An all-around magical book of poetry that, if you let it, will open to you a multidimensional realm of perspectives, seemingly all at once. “Flood Song” is the absolute perfect title for such an abundance of imagery and emotional resonance. If you can handle being flooded, dive in. When you’re done, kick me an email and we’ll talk.

PAUL SIEGELL is the author of three books of poetry: wild life rifle fire (Otoliths Books, 2010), jambandbootleg (A-Head Publishing, 2009) and Poemergency Room (Otoliths Books, 2008). Trailers of his books are yours for the viewing [here]. Paul is a senior editor at Painted Bride Quarterly, and has contributed to APR, Black Warrior Review, Rattle and other fine journals. He has also been featured nationally in Paste and Relix magazines. Kindly find more of Paul's work, and get signed copies, at ReVeLeR @ eYeLeVeL.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Last Book I Loved: Room by Emma Donoghue

I am jumping on the bandwagon and singing the praises of Room by Emma Donoghue. The storyline itself sounds like something from a Lifetime Movie Of The Week, but what sets it apart and makes it unique is the author's choice to tell the story through the five-year-old boy's point of view. The reader sees things through his eyes and knows what's happening (like the tension between characters or the shrillness of what's not being said) but the boy is completely clueless. There's a naivety to the voice that makes many scenes quite disturbing. Had Donoghue told the same story from the mother's point of view, the book wouldn't have been nearly as effective.

-Robert Swartwood

--Robert Swartwood is the editor of Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer. Visit him online at