Friday, June 28, 2013

The Lost Art of Mixing - A Must Read

She dragged a chair across the kitchen to the counter and clambered up, stabilizing herself with a hand on the cabinets.  She reached up for the first bulb in the string of recessed fixtures and gave it two quick, firm twists.  On the third turn, the heat from the bulb met her fingers and she jerked back, the bulb falling through her hands, cracking on the tile floor in loud, spectacular pieces.
     She looked down, shocked.  The house seem to shimmer in the aftermath of the noise.  The edges of the broken bulb winked up at her, bright and sparkling, seductive as diamonds.  Slowly, Louise smiled.
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Tom stood looking at the hunks of wood—a half-cord, easily, he figured, although the logs he had chopped in his teenage years had been clean, consistent lengths, redolent with the smells of alder and maple, their bright surfaces almost begging to be cut.  He remembered the joy of his growing muscles, the loft of the axe as it swung up in an endless arc and then came slamming down.  The complete and utter satisfaction of a smooth surface cleaving into air as the pieces went flying to either side of him.
     This was not going to be like that, he could tell, looking at the haphazard jumble of gnarled stumps and logs, half of it wet and rotting, the other portion hard and glistening and green.  This was wood that defied the axe, a living lesson that when it came to heat, sometimes it was better to use man’s other inventions—electricity, gas, propane.
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As a reader, who can't read these words from Erica Bauermeister’s novel The Lost Art of Mixing and not create an image that sucks you into the writing?

The Lost Art of Mixing is the sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients.  Both books were recommended to me by my friend, Mimi Brown.  Mimi is a literacy virtuoso who works in the Issaquah School District.  Whenever we chat on the telephone, it always includes a discussion of books (new titles, old titles, no matter).  

If you are a foodie, you will love both books (although there's less of a food focus in the sequel).  Erica Bauermeister is a character crackerjack.  When you read one of her books, you leave the last page knowing (sometimes becoming) one of the characters.  The prose-like nature of her words creates ripples of texture, emotion, and images that, as a reader, suck you into the story gracefully.  Her words mix the power of food, the power of love, the power of "being" with another person together in the most artful way. 

Not to sound cliche`, well okay, to sound cliche`... there's a deliciousness that permeates her writing.  Each chapter of this book focuses on a specific character's life... and as I read, I was drawn in to the smells, the tastes, the feelings of each character's being.  In this book, you read about the familiar characters you grew to love (or not love) from The School of Essential Ingredients and you grow to love (or not) new characters that she brings on board in her second book.

When I talk to my students about evoking, or creating, sensory images, we come to know the importance of being "drawn in" of "knowing" how those images help us understand, help us remember, help us extend meaning, or help us make our reading experiences memorable (see Conferring the Keystone of Reader's Workshop, page 25).  As Amanda noted in her reader's notebook during our study of sensory images this year, "I think that sensory images help me by comparing what I got a sense of to what really is... I can see something, taste something, hear something, feel something, or smell something.  It can connect my connections because it makes the details come alive!"

So, as a reader, I'm always on the search for text that helps me revisit and revision my own use of "thinking strategies."  If I'm helping my students come to rely on a strategy more explicitly as a tool, I too must learn how it helps me.  As an adult, the idea of "evoking sensory images" seems clearcut, something "we automatically do because we're proficient readers," but is it?  With each close read, with each nuance, with each "How the heck did she do that?" I think I become a little better at using and noticing this strategy as a reader, as a thinker.  My awareness of what's going on "inside" nudges me to better understand how to express my thoughts to those who sit "outside" my thinking processes.

It's the same with my students.  When we've experimenting enough with a strategy... as a whole group, during small groups, one-on-one, alonewe come to understand how the "behavior" of creating an image (or any other comprehension strategy) brings power and fortitude to our understanding.  We dig around a bit, figure things out, toss out ideas, play... and that can only be done in text that's meaningful to us as readers.

The Lost Art of Mixing is such a book for me.  You should give it a go as a reader.  In her Acknowledgments, the author writes:  Words need ears to hear them and eyes to read them long before they can every be considered a book.  Now that it's a book... oh such words!  Try focusing on the sensory images you're creating and how they are helping you understand Erica Bauermeister as a writer.  Ms. Bauermeister's writing style is powerful... joyous... intriguing.  Often she throws in a word, a sentence, a paragraph that makes me stop in my tracks.  I pause.  I consider.  I reflect.  Briefly.  Then, I move on as not to lose the image created for me as a reader.

Imagine you're Louise wandering in to this bookstore... The bookstore was small and elegant, its books carefully chosen to appeal to both the casual tourist and those who stayed through the long and stormy winters.  A mix of bright and subtle covers, rough-edged pages and slippery paperbacks.  A flurry of handwritten notes hung from the bottom of the shelves, offering recommendations and brief synopses, inviting hands to open the books above.

Now run to your independent bookseller (or library) and get The Lost Art of Mixing.  Then head to the beach (you'll know why I wrote this after you read it).

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I also wrote a blog about Joy for Beginnersanother of her books.  Click on the title to the blog it!  Also recommended by Mimi!  

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