Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Some Observations on Blogging at Year's End

I started blogging this past July. Although I was a little hesitant to begin, I’ve found that I really enjoy it. I thought that, at year’s end, I’d share a few of my observations about blogging:

1. No skill improves without practice, and writing is no different. Blogging is a good way to regularly exercise my “writing muscles.”

2. Blogging encourages me to be more observant.

3. Knowing that I have a daily post to write makes me more thoughtful—about life, about what I read, about what I think, about what others say—about everything, really. And that’s always a good thing.

4. It’s rewarding to see my words in print, even if it is online.

5. I always wondered how columnists regularly came up with things to write about. Now I know.

6. Writing and reading blogs lets me regularly participate in conversations with people—intelligent people, witty people, thoughtful people, geographically-distant people, something that otherwise would be nearly impossible.

7. Knowing that others are reading my blog is motivating. I never could keep a personal journal going, but blogging has a built-in incentive.

8. My blog is an archive of my daily thoughts, ideas, and observations, something that I find personally valuable.

9. It’s fun.

10. It’s addictive.

Here’s to a great year of blogging in 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It May Have Been Funny, But . . .

Ok. They got me.

Today's post may have been funny, but I've been (kindly) informed that it is a fake.

You can check it out HERE.

This Is Not a Political Statement . . .

Jenna Bush's response to reporter Ann Curry's question about what the American public should know about her father: “That he’s incredibly open-minded, that he’s smart, incredibly smart.”

Read the statement above and then take a good long look at the picture.

Okay, no matter your political leanings, you just have to admit this is funny!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Booking It--Highlights

It’s an old question, but a good one . . . What were your favorite books this year?

List as many as you like … fiction, non-fiction, mystery, romance, science-fiction, business, travel, cookbooks … whatever the category. But, really, we’re all dying to know. What books were the highlight of your reading year in 2008?

Here are mine, in no particular order:

Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns
Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees
Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth
Mary Ann Schaeffer and Annie Barrow’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Naomi Shihab Nye’s Fuel
Sarah Waters’ Affinity
Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones
Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Ranier Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet
Anita Shreve’s The Weight of Water
Charlotte Brontë’s Villette
Jane Spencer’s The Rise of the Woman Novelist from Aphra Behn to Jane Austen
Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women
Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel

If you read a book this year that you’d like to recommend, please share it here. Maybe it’ll make my Highlights list in 2009.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gleanings from My Readings

“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”
---Jane Austen, in Persuasion


“Few of us have the temperament of monks. Most of us draw sustenance from the human drama. We might recognize the tremulous signals emanating from some invisible inner universe, but most of us see no choice but to live in the world, to engage in commerce, to seek delight in people and things around us. Perhaps when we knock wood to preserve our luck, what we’re really doing is convincing ourselves of the solidity of the present, distinguishing the actual from the wishful.”
---Philip Martin, Arkansas Democrat Gazette columnist


Actual title of new workout video: Bollywood Booty. I’m not kidding. Not only will this video help you “stay fit and get firm,” it will also “help you release your inhibitions.” Isn’t that what everyone looks for in a workout?


“To me, letters have always been a robust medium of sublimation. I don’t remember what I was like before I learned my ABC’s, but for as long as I can remember I have made them with my fingers and felt them in my bones.”

“I do hope you realize that every time you use disinterested to mean uninterested, an angel dies, and every time you write very unique, or “We will hire whomever is more qualified,” thousands of literate people lose yet another smidgen of hope. And please promise me you will never lose your grip on the subjunctive.”

---Ray Blount, Jr., in the Introduction to Alphabet Juice


“The problem with God—or at any rate, one of the top five most annoying things about God—is that He or She rarely answers right away. It can take days, weeks. Some people seem to understand this—that life and change take time. . . . I, on the other hand, am an instant-message type.”
---Anne Lamott, from Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith


John Donne’s “A Hymn to God the Father” (1633):

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,

Which was my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I run,

And do run still, though still I do deplore?

When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;

For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won

Others to sin, and made my sins their door?

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun

A year or two, but wallow'd in a score?

When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;

For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I've spun

My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son

Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore:

And having done that, Thou hast done;

I fear no more.


Happy Reading!

Friday, December 26, 2008

More Breaking News

According to an article in Prevention magazine’s January 2009 edition, we each have only a limited amount of willpower. It is not, scientists have discovered, an unlimited “cognitive currency.”

Oh, really? And it took a (well-funded, I’m sure) scientific study to discover that?

I could have proved it with a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Card

Merry Christmas! I hope you got every book on your Wish List and that you have time to read them in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I'm Not Making This Up

Great eavesdropping doesn’t just happen in Walmart. Monday I was in Little Rock, trying to finish up my Christmas shopping, and while waiting in the checkout line at Best Buy, I overheard a priceless conversation.

An elderly couple was in line behind me. I heard him say to his wife in a shocked voice, “Look over there at that yellow thing. It says, ‘Kill Bill.’”

“I think that’s the name of a movie,” she informed him.

“Oh,” he said. “I thought maybe it was talking about Bill Clinton.”

I hope they couldn’t see my shoulders shaking.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cajoling Myself

No, I’m not writing this post just because I want to use the word “cajoling,” although it is a great word, isn’t it? Say it out loud. See? It even sounds like you’re giving yourself a pep talk, kind of like poking yourself in the ribs. And it has a happy sound. You’re encouraging yourself, not beating yourself up (that would be “manhandling” or “coercing.”)

Okay, enough about words and down to business. I’m actually writing this post because this morning, I realized something about myself. I’m not organized or disciplined or driven to achieve. I simply cajole myself through life.

Today was weightlifting day, something that comes around about three times a week for me. Some days, I really enjoy it. I’m eager to begin, and each lift feels great. My body feels fit and strong. I am joyously alive. I even feel a little righteous. Today was not such a day.

I told myself, “Just do your run, and if you don’t feel like lifting, you don’t have to.” Of course, this is a sneaky move. First of all, it gets me in my exercise clothes and out the door, which is half the battle. Then after my run I’m already sweaty, so I can’t use the excuse that I don’t want to get that way. I told myself, “Well, you might as well go ahead and lift a few weights. If you want to quit after the first set, you can.” Then, of course, it was “Well, just one more set.” Then, “You don’t want to be a quitter, do you?” And finally, “Come on. Just one more set! Think of all those hump-backed little old ladies you see in Walmart who struggle to lift their groceries from the cart to the checkout. You don’t want to end up like that do you?” And before I knew it, I was done.

See, it wasn’t will power. I just cajoled myself through it, a strategy I knew would work because I’d done it before. And not just with workouts.

I got through my undergraduate years this way. I was driving two hours one-way, with three children at home, and when I’d get overwhelmed, I’d tell myself: “You can quit tomorrow, but you’re not going to quit today. All you have to do is what’s required today.” And I didn’t quit. Certainly I’ve gotten through my doctoral program by cajoling myself. “Wow, that’s a really long checklist of really hard requirements. Maybe I can’t do this. Well, I’ll just get through the coursework and worry about the rest later.” When it got time for my comps reading, it was: “Just start the first book. Okay, check. Now the next one . . .” And writing papers? “Okay, just do the research. Now an outline. Just write an introduction . . .” I plan on completing the dissertation using the same method.

Writing teachers always say to stay away from clichés, and I understand why. They are “tired language,” and writers want to be original and striking. But clichés become clichés because they are true to life. “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” “Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. Yard by yard, it’s too hard.”

Works for me.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Booking It--Conditioning

Are you a spine breaker? Or a dog-earer? Do you expect to keep your books in pristine condition even after you have read them? Does watching other readers bend the cover all the way round make you flinch or squeal in pain?

No. No. Yes. Yes.

Oh, maybe I should elucidate.

I am very picky about the condition of my books. I don’t break spines and I don’t dog-ear, but I do write in them. For the uninformed, these actions are not in the same category AT ALL. Spine breaking and dog-earing show disrespect to books (and dramatically shorten their life span). On the other hand, underlining and writing in margins show a love and deep respect for books and the ideas they contain.

Of course, I’d rather buy all new books in hardback, but that can get expensive. So, I do buy a lot of used books, but even there I’m picky about the condition. An excellent-condition used hardback trumps a new paperback any day. Sometimes, a book I need has been out of print for a really long time, and I pretty much have to settle for the best of what’s available. But if I can, I’ll be choosy. Of course, like-new condition is best, but I’ll take a hardback with a missing dust jacket and worn edges over one that’s already been underlined or (horrors!) highlighted.

Once, though, I did get a book that had been highlighted and written in that I really enjoyed. The previous author had carefully highlighted only the words he or she didn’t know, then had looked them up and written the definitions in the margin with a very neat hand. The writer had also cross referenced passages in the text—“See page 153,” and on page 153, “Look back at page 19,” and made comments on writing style and organization--things like "Awkardly structured sentence," or “This should have been discussed back in chapter 2,” or “More examples would be helpful here . . .” I was really surprised that someone who put that much effort into a book would get rid of it, but it was a bonus for me. I felt as if I were reading the book and having a conversation about it at the same time.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Gleanings from My Readings

“If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.”
---Jane Austen, in Mansfield Park


“Direct and honest communication by an intelligent writer is more nourishing than partisan, dishonest theory.”
---Marc Smirnoff, editor of The Oxford American


“As I’m writing, I’m always reader-conscious. I have one reader in mind, someone who is in the room with me, and who I’m talking to, and I want to make sure I don’t talk too fast or too glibly. Usually I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem. Stepping from the title to the first lines is like stepping into a canoe. A lot of things can go wrong.”
---Billy Collins


“I thought I’d save it for the weekend, but maybe, just take a peek at it that night, you know, just to confirm my original suspicions. Five hours later, I’m a third of the way through the book. By the end of the weekend, I’m forcing myself to slow down so I won’t gobble the whole thing.”
---Sarah Prickett, about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love


“If there’s anything more punishing than writing a book, it’s being married to someone who’s writing a book.”
---Meghan Daum, essayist and novelist


From Steve Kowit’s poem, “The Grammar Lesson”:

“See? There’s nothing to it. Just
memorize these rules . . . or write them down!
A noun’s a thing, a verb’s the thing it does.” (16-18)

Kinda reminds you of Grammar Rock, doesn’t it?


“Monet Refuses the Operation”

Doctor, you say that there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don't see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

~ Lisel Mueller ~
(Sixty Years of American Poetry, The Academy of American Poets)


Happy Reading!

Friday, December 19, 2008

More Eavesdropping

Earlier, I wrote a post about Eavesdropping at Walmart. Here are two more overheard conversations:

One day, I was standing in line at the photo lab. The line was pretty long, and the young man in front of me finally made it to the counter. He then began—in Spanish—to explain what he wanted to the elderly woman manning the register. The woman waited until he paused, then said very loudly, as if he were hearing impaired rather than speaking a different language, “Sir, you need to leave now and come back with somebody who can talk.”


Just a day or two ago, I’d made my weekly grocery run and was piling items on the conveyor belt, all the voices around me melting into a low, easily-ignorable hum. As I stood, ready to slide my debit card, a distinct, little-girl voice rose above the rest. “It’s time for you to be quiet now, grandpa,” she said.

I guess she’d had enough of him for one day.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Feel the Shame

I’m in a group of intelligent people, enjoying the conversation, the banter, the witty repartee, when suddenly it happens. Someone in the group mentions one of THOSE BOOKS. You know, one of THE ONES I SHOULD HAVE READ. I grow quiet. It takes only a few seconds to discover that EVERYONE ELSE in the group has read THIS BOOK. My chest tightens, my stomach begins to ache, I feel my face begin to flush.

I’m at work. Colleagues gather in the hall, talking, laughing. Suddenly the conversation is about one of THOSE BOOKS. I cringe inwardly.

A colleague stops by my office. We begin to chat, to talk about something a student said, a class, a current project. “You’ve read THAT BOOK, right?” I’m asked. “No,” I’m forced to admit. I feel the shame.

Now I’m not talking about the latest best seller or some obscure book that one reads because it’s in her concentration area but no one else would be expected to be familiar with. I’m not talking about eighteenth century philosophy texts or the latest book on deconstruction theory. I’m talking about one of THOSE BOOKS—a literary classic that I should have read, wished I’d read, meant to have read, don’t know why I haven’t read, am embarrassed I haven’t read, even though I’ve been reading all my life.

I have no idea how these particular novels have slipped through the cracks. For really long ones, I think it’s because it’s hard to find a big enough chunk of time to devote exclusively to it. But whatever the reason, I’ve been whittling away slowly on my list. Last summer, I read Les Miserables (yes, the unabridged version). The summer before, I read Nobokov’s Lolita. This summer, I read Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy. Surely they count, even if they were on my comps list.

Here’s a list of some of the books I feel I should have read but haven’t yet:

1. Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina
2. George Eliot’s Middlemarch
3. William Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying
4. Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange
5. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged
6. James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
7. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses
8. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov
9. Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie
10. Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum
11. Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago
12. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
13. Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook
14. Willa Cather’s My Antonia
15. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22

Prior to this, my list has existed pretty much only in my head, so I’m sure that after pushing that magical “Post” button I’ll think of some I wish I’d included.

Okay. Time to ‘fess up. What are you embarrassed that you haven’t read?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Misery Loves Company

Last week on one of my posts , Ian, a McCarthy enthusiast who’s pursuing an MA, posted a comment about the newest book on my must-read list: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It’s on his to-read list, too--and has been since last December--but, as he so eloquently put it, “due to time constraints and life” he hasn’t been able to read it yet.

Ah, Ian, I feel your pain. Sometimes, it feels like I’m so busy reading what I “have” to read and taking care of inconsequential items like buying groceries, doing laundry, and making sure the health department doesn’t condemn my house, that there’s not enough time to read what I “want” to read. And I feel guilty even writing this because I actually do like what I’m studying.

Maybe it’s just that old stubborn childishness surfacing: “Nobody’s gonna tell me what to read!” Maybe it’s laziness—Instead of working, I want to be entertained. Maybe it’s jealousy. When you’re working hard on a degree, it seems like everybody else is getting to read whatever strikes their fancy, while poor-old-me has to keep my nose to the grindstone. Of course, the same thing happens when you’re teaching. You spend all your time reading and preparing for the classes you teach, and recreational reading time is all too short and precious.

Oh well. At least I know I’m not suffering alone.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Remember the Alamo!

My husband, who believes he was born not only in the wrong geographical region but also the wrong century, loves all things western (as in Old West) and loves to vacation there. After seeing a Travel Channel feature about San Antonio’s River Walk, museums, and regional color, I was on board. (San Antonio is also the home of one of my favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye. If you haven’t yet experienced her poetry, I recommend starting with her collection Fuel.) And who doesn’t want to see the Alamo? So for about a year and a half, we’ve been planning and anticipating our getaway.

Between my work and his, though, we’ve had trouble actually taking the trip. Since he farms and does precision land forming, winter is usually a slow time for him. And, since I was defending my dissertation prospectus on the 4th, our anniversary was on the 6th, I hadn’t taken any time off from my studies in who can remember when, and I didn’t really want to jump into the dissertation proper until after the holidays—voila! The perfect time had come.

He accompanied me to Oxford for my defense, and the next morning we headed south, through Jackson, down into Louisiana, then over to Houston—a full day of driving. Then, back in the car the next morning and on down to San Antonio. We’d reserved a room in a downtown hotel, right on the Riverwalk, and we drove the car into their garage and did not get in it again for three whole days.

It was so relaxing. We could walk everywhere we wanted to go. Up and down the Riverwalk, to the Alamo, to the Spanish Governor’s Palace and San Fernando Cathedral, to the Farmer’s Market, through Hemisphere Park to the Tower of the Americas. The second day we were there, I’m sure we walked ten miles. I am not kidding. It was absolutely wonderful. And, as a side benefit, we didn’t have to feel guilty about indulging in a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s at the end of a long day.
And our anniversary? A delicious, leisurely dinner, followed by a boat ride to view the decorated-for-Christmas Riverwalk. Hard to top that in Searcy.

We had planned to return through Dallas because I wanted to go to the King Tut exhibit, which hadn’t been in the States since 1979. We drove back to Fort Worth, walked through the Stockyards District, tried on hats in the Western stores, peeked in the coliseum, and watched a (staged but fun) cattle drive on the old brick streets.

The next morning is when I began to truly appreciate our San Antonio walking experience. As we made our way downtown to the Dallas Museum of Art, him driving, me with the map, cars whizzing around us, missing roads on the map, confusing road signs, and generally high stress levels all around, I remembered how peaceful it was to just get up, have a cup of coffee, decide where we wanted to go, head out the door, and simply walk there.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Booking It--Time is of the Essence

This week’s Booking through Thursday questions:

1. Do you get to read as much as you WANT to read? (I’m guessing #1 is an easy question for everyone?)
Well, of course not. I don’t think any book lover ever gets to read as much as she wants. It’s the impossible dream.

2. If you had (magically) more time to read–what would you read? Something educational? Classic? Comfort Reading? Escapism? Magazines?

Most of my reading now could be classified as “educational,” so if I had more time to read, I’d read for escapism—Crime Drama is a favorite of mine. In fact, I just bought Patricia Cornwell’s new release Scarpetta. It’s a series I’ve followed for years. I’m trying to take time to read for pleasure during the holidays because come second of January, it’ll be all dissertation all the time.

I’d also love to have more time to read classics that I’ve missed. I have a list of books I feel I should have read, and I try (among all my other reading) to get to at least one or two of them a year, often in the summer.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gleanings from My Readings

“My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”
---Jane Austen, in Persuasion


“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean, nothing more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
---Lewis Carroll


“One can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s personality. Good prose is like a window pane.”
---George Orwell


“A book is still [an] incredibly lovely, respectable gift.”
---Jamie Raab, publisher


“It took me a long time, into my sixties, to own my own narrative.”
---Jane Fonda


“I think that people have not been reading for the past year because they’ve been checking political blogs every 20 minutes. At some point, I think people are going to say, ‘You know what, this is not nourishing.’ I think and I hope—and maybe it’s just blind hope—I think there is a yearning for authenticity out there, and people are going to go back to the things that really matter, and one of those things, I hope, will be reading books.”
---Larry Weissman, literary agent


“Barn’s burnt down—
Now I can see the moon.”
---Masahide (17th century Japanese poet)


Happy Reading!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Just Passin' Thru

One of the greatest simple pleasures of Fall for me is moving through leaves. I know it sounds childish and maybe even silly, but being in the middle of autumn leaves really makes me happy.

Several stretches of the road to our house are tree-lined, and I love it when the wind blows the leaves from the trees as I’m driving through—it’s like speeding through a blizzard of color. Then, the next day, the road is covered with the leaves, and as I drive through them, I look back through the rearview mirror and watch them swirl. I’m kicking up jewel-toned dust.

I also love jogging through blowing leaves. They are above me, below me, around me. I feel like I’m in my own personal kaleidoscope. The other day, I was out for my run and one beautiful, perfect leaf was caught in a breeze, dancing like the feather in Forrest Gump, and I just stopped and watched it until it settled at my feet.

You know it must be really special when a Type A personality stops and admires nature in the middle of her run.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Quiz--a la Ashley

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?


2. Real tree or Artificial?

Artificial. It’s easier.

3. When do you put up the tree?

Mine’s not up yet. Maybe today? Lest you think I'm a Scrooge, putting up my tree this late is not my usual modus operandi. I never put it up before Thanksgiving, but I usually do have it up sometime during the first week of December. This year, though, I was working on my prospectus defense for the 4th, then we left the next morning for a long-anticipated trip to San Antonio. So I do have an excuse. If I were rolling in the dough (which I'm not) I'd hire a decorator to deck my halls. I love how a decorated house looks, I just don't love being the one to do it.

4. When do you take the tree down?

I have been known to take it down Christmas night, but for sure by a few days after Christmas. I’m always ready to get the house back in order.

5. Do you like eggnog?

I’ve only had the bought, pre-prepared kind, and I like it okay. I think I’d probably really like the homemade variety.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?

Books. Surprised?

7. Hardest person to buy for?

My husband. He doesn’t want a lot of stuff, but when he does, it’s usually something that’s important to him, and I hate to buy a “big” gift for him and it not be exactly what he wanted in every way.

8. Easiest person to buy for?

My daughter.

9. Do you have a nativity scene?

Yes, a small crystal one that sits on a mirror. It was a gift from my aunt.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards?

Lately, neither. When I used to have the time to do it, I patronized our wonderfully efficient, always reliable, and surprisingly inexpensive US postal service. Lighten up--it's Christmas!

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?

A doll from one set of my grandparents when I was about fourteen. And, no, it was not one of those dolls that you sit on a shelf and admire. It was a doll you play with. I was mortified.

12. When do you start shopping for Christmas?

After Thanksgiving, unless I just happen to make a great discovery before.

13. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?

Not as a gift. I have passed on something I’ve gotten and couldn’t or wouldn’t use to someone else, but it was more like “I’ll never use this. You want it?”

14. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?

Fudge. Italian Cream Cake. Homemade rolls.

15. Lights on the tree?

White lights. I love the look. (Sorry to disappoint you, Ashley!)

16. Favorite Christmas song?

"The Christmas Song.” You know, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire . . .” I like all the classics sung by Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Burl Ives, etc. But one Christmas carol I’ve never liked is “The Little Drummer Boy.” The “pa rum pa bum bum” just gets on my nerves.

17. Go out for Christmas or stay at home?

We do grandparents before Christmas and stay home Christmas Day. But it has become a tradition to go see a movie on Christmas night.

18. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer's?

Ashley said it best: “Only if I sing the song.”

19. Angel on the tree top or a star?

Neither. It’s a glittery ornament with a tall spire. Maybe it’s supposed to remind you of a star. Anyway, it’s pretty.

20. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?

Christmas morning. I never let the kids talk me into opening presents early. Nothing heightens pleasure like anticipation.

21. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?

Seeing others start Christmas too early. A three-month long Christmas season is tooooo much. And I hate that Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is often overshadowed by the mad rush into Christmas.

22. Favorite ornament theme or color?


23. Favorite for Christmas dinner?

We get so much of the traditional holiday meal items at the grandparents that we actually do barbeque with all the fixins for Christmas Day lunch. Funny that, although we get enough of turkey and stuffing, we never get enough of the pies and candies, and are able to incorporate them into our nontraditional Christmas meal.

24. What do you want for Christmas this year?

To finish my dissertation quickly and without pulling all my hair out or going insane, and get back to my (arguably) normal life.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I read. A lot. Reading is my job; it’s my homework; and it’s my hobby. And I read widely—fiction and nonfiction, classic literature and best sellers, crime fiction and books of poetry, memoirs and essay collections. That much reading translates into a pretty long list of books read. So how can this happen?

Every year Kane Webb, a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, writes an article I eagerly anticipate—a “Best Books of 20??” column. He chooses people he knows who are “reading addicts with interesting taste” and asks them this question:

“What was the best book you read [this year]? And why? It doesn’t have to be new, just new to you. Re-readings don’t count—unless you can make a great case.”

The column was long. It took up good-sized chunks of two pages and the whole back page of the Perspective section. And you know how many of the selected books I’d read? Two. Only two.

That’s depressing.

Of course, the brighter side is that I now have several books to add to my “must read” list. And one of those in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Two people selected it as their Best Novel and it popped up on quite a few of the “Also Recommended” lists. One reader, who’s also an English Professor, declared that this “relentless” novel caused him to “have to re-write his lectures on plot structure,” and the other said that, as soon as he finished the novel, he wanted to reread it. In fact, he says he often picks the book up just to reread the first sentence. That sounds like a book worth reading to me.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Booking It--Wish List

This week’s book questions are especially appropriate for the holiday shopping season. Post your answers, and maybe someone will take the subtle hint.

1. What’s on your book/reading wish list?
2. What books are you giving this year?

#1—I’d seem greedy if I listed all the books I actually wanted, so here are a few:
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (You’ll hear why tomorrow)
Billy Collins’ Ballistics
Stephen King’s Just After Sunset
Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter
Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food

#2—I’m not telling! Everybody I’d buy a book for reads this blog.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Gleanings from My Readings

“But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.”
---Jane Austen, in Northanger Abbey


“Arabella, whose Delicacy was extremely shocked at this abrupt Declaration of her Father, could hardly hide her Chagrin; for, tho’ she always intended to marry some time or other, as all the Heroines had done, yet she thought such an Event ought to be brought about with an infinite deal of Trouble; and that it was necessary she should pass to this State thro’ a great Number of Cares, Disappointments, and Distresses of various Kinds, like them; that her Lover should purchase her with his Sword from a Croud of Rivals; and arrive to the Possession of her Heart by many Years of Services and Fidelity.”
---Charlotte Lennox, in The Female Quixote (1752)


“I keep thinking about a story I heard somewhere. A child asks an old woman why she looks the way she does. “Because I’ve been living,” she says. A long life is a beautiful thing.”
---Judy Kirkwood


He who lends a book is an idiot. He who returns the book is more of an idiot. ~ Arabic Proverb


From Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

Horatio: My lord, I came to see your father’s funeral.

Hamlet: I prithee do not mock me, fellow student,
I think it was to see my mother’s wedding.

Horatio: Indeed, my lord, it followed hard upon.

Hamlet: Thrift, thrift, Horatio, the funeral bak’d meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

(I can't help it. These are my favorite lines in the play.)


Happy Reading!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Last Lap

I remember, almost three years ago, looking at the checklist for the Ole Miss PhD program and thinking, “I’ll never be able to do all that.”

It seemed so overwhelming—each item on the list a major hurdle. To stop myself from hyperventilating, my mantra became, “One class at a time . . .one book at a time . . . one paper at a time . . .” and slowly but surely I made my way almost to the bottom of the list.

Now, after the approval of my dissertation prospectus yesterday, I’m on the last lap.

I can hear you laughing.

I know the dissertation itself is a huge project—a very long last lap. But just give me a minute here to catch my breath and delude myself. Reality will hit soon enough.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

In My Defense

Well, I’m headed to Oxford again today. This afternoon I defend my dissertation prospectus.

I have to admit, I’m not nearly as nervous about this as I was my oral comps. That was five months of intense reading followed by an oral exam. I didn’t know what they’d ask. I didn’t know if my memory would fail me. I didn’t know if I could absorb that much information and be able to analyze it, synthesize it, and give correct, coherent, thoughtful yet instant replies. Turns out, I could.

Today, my job is to convince my committee that I have a good idea for a dissertation—one that is worthy, that is original, and that will add to the existing body of literary scholarship. My topic must be narrow enough to be manageable yet broad enough to meet the requirements of the project. I have to discuss how I plan to approach my topic, how I propose to organize it, and what type of critical approach I will use.

I’m not expecting any major objections to my topic. I’ve already spoken with all my committee members informally about it and received much encouragement. Now that they’ve read my formal proposal, my director explained that, if I’ve done my work well, what goes on today will be more of a discussion, a brain-storming session, with questions and suggestions aimed at helping me begin my dissertation on solid ground.

I’ve got my note pad ready. I’ve never been one to ignore expert advice.

Fun Side Note: You’ve got to wonder about people. In preparing me for today, my excellent dissertation director told me that over the years he has developed a sort of check list of things to tell his students before the defense. He went over all his very helpful suggestions and then said, “Well, I don’t think that you need this advice, but it’s on my list, so here goes: It is best to refrain from arguing with your committee.”

I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. Seems like a pretty obvious observation to me. What kind of person can make it to the PhD level without learning that it’s smart to stay on the good side of the people who have to sign off on you before you can get your degree?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

O Overload

Am I the only one who's getting a little tired of Oprah being the self-appointed expert of EVERYTHING?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Breaking News: Scientists Validate the Metaphor

I read the other day about a recent scientific experiment. The scientists chose a group of people, secretly divided them into thirds, put them in a room, and instructed them to mingle. One third was “in the know,” one third was a control group, and those of the last third were the subjects of the experiment.

The “in the know” group had been instructed to treat the control group normally but to stare down, ignore, snub, and generally be rude to the subjects of the experiment.

Afterwards, both the control group and the subjects were interviewed about their experience. Among other questions, they were asked to estimate the temperature of the room. Those who were treated rudely consistently rated the room as colder than the control group.

From this, the scientists concluded that metaphors like “an icy stare” and “the cold shoulder” corresponded to actual physiological reactions, and were therefore valid.

My reaction to this newsworthy achievement? Boy, I could have saved them a lot of time and money.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Booking It--Honesty

Question of the Week:

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review.

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?

I have mixed feelings about reviews, especially the blurb-type ones that publishers put on the backs of dust jackets. Although I always used to read them before reading the book, now I try to wait until after reading it.

Why? Several reasons. One is that they often contain a spoiler, and I absolutely HATE that. Also, reading reviews can turn me into a lazy reader. I’ve already been instructed. I find myself expecting to think what they think, expecting to find what they tell me is there, rather than just experiencing the book for myself and making my own connections, discoveries, and judgments. I like reading to be active rather than passive.

But after I’ve read the book, I love to read reviews. Then I can feel validated—“Yes, my sentiments exactly!”—or I can argue—“No, you completely missed the point!” Either way, it’s fun. I engage with the text and with other readers.

Now to actually answer the question: Of course reviewers should be honest. Otherwise, what’s the point? The review should accurately represent the book and be a legitimate response to it. One of the risks of putting your writing out there is that some people won’t like it. If you can’t take the heat . . .