Monday, August 31, 2009

Booking It--Recent Fluff

What’s the lightest, most “fluff” kind of book you’ve read recently?

I've read a lot of Jodi Picoult lately. However, as readable and enjoyable as her books are, I'd never call them "fluff." Hands down, my most recent fluff reading would have the be the Twilight series that I read this past summer. And my regular readers know what I thought of it--I wrote a whole series of posts about the novels. If you're interested, just type "Twilight" in the "Search Blog" space above. Happy reading!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sesame Street Revisited

Remember that old Sesame Street song: "One of these things is not like the other . . . One of these things is not quite the same . . ."

(This picture first appeared on Elrod's blog. Due credit has now been given.)

Saturday, August 29, 2009


I received some good news yesterday. The paper that I'm presenting at the Jane Austen conference in Philadelphia this October has been accepted for publication in this year's edition of Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal.

The paper is a version of one of my dissertation chapters. It's nice to get a little extra mileage out of all that hard work.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What's Up? If I'm not careful, it's gonna be my weight

This place is gonna get me in trouble. We had cake during orientation. There are soft peppermints on the secretary's desk. Yesterday morning there were donuts, and by lunch slices of homemade carrot cake appeared in the breakroom. It's easy saying "no" when all you have in the fridge are fruits, veggies, and whole grains. It's a lot harder when you're surrounded by the enemy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Michael Vick's Not That Important

The other day, I tuned into NPR and found myself right in the middle of another discussion about Michael Vick. I started to change the station--first of all, because Michael Vick's just not that important to me; secondly, because I've heard enough about him lately; and thirdly, hearing about some of the things he did to animals makes me physically ill. I didn't feel like subjecting myself to it again. But before I could push the button, I actually got hooked by the conversation:

First guy: People will forget about it. People don't care. They didn't care very long about the guys who got caught using steroids.

Second guy: Wait a minute, wait a minute. This is different. Some things are a crime of the soul. Steroids you do to yourself, but harming women, children, or animals? That's a crime of the soul. And especially if you're a believer. I mean, God gave you dominion, and you do that?

I love NPR.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Women's Equality Day, 2009


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release August 26, 2009

- - - - - - -


Today, our country renews its commitment to freedom and justice for all our citizens. As we prepare to celebrate this women's day of equality, we reflect on the sacrifices once made to allow women and girls the basic rights and choices we freely exercise today. The future we leave to our daughters and granddaughters will be determined by our willingness to build on the achievements of our past and move forward as one people and one Nation. The fight for women's equality is not a woman's agenda, but an American agenda.

We honor the resilience, accomplishments, and history of all women in the United States. We celebrate the courageous women who fought to uphold a fundamental principle within our Constitution the right to vote and in so doing, protected the cornerstone of our vibrant democracy. These visionaries of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 sought to ensure that our country lived up to its founding ideals. Although only one, Charlotte Woodward, at the age of 81, had the opportunity to exercise her newfound right, the struggle reminds us that no righteous cause is a lost one. We also commemorate women like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a poet and lecturer who formed the National Association of Colored Women; Antonia Pantoja, a tireless advocate of education equality within the Latino community; Sarah Winnemucca, a voice for peace within the Native American community; and Patsy Mink, author of Title IX and the first woman of color and Asian American woman elected to the United States Congress. These women's talents, and the contributions of countless others, built upon the framework of 1848 and forged paths for future generations.

Our Nation has come a long way since that ground-breaking convention in New York. Women have occupied some of the most significant positions in government. They have delivered justice from the bench of our highest court, fought for our country in foreign lands, discovered cures to diseases, and joined the ranks of the greatest business leaders of our time. Female college graduates now outnumber their male counterparts. Women have sought equality through government, demonstrated by the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, and the establishment of the White House Council on Women and Girls. They have sought equality through advocacy, exemplified by the efforts of thousands of women's organizations. America has made significant progress toward becoming the fair and just society the suffragists once envisioned.

Yet, today, our work remains unfinished. Far too many adult women remain mired in poverty. Women are still subject to pervasive discrimination at school and harassing conduct in the workplace. Women make, on average, only 78 cents for every dollar paid to men. Underrepresented in many facets of our economic and public life, from government to boardrooms to the sciences, women have yet to eradicate all barriers to professional development.

We stand at a moment of unparalleled change and a time for reflection and hope. We cannot allow the vibrant energy and passionate commitment of our trailblazing women to fade, and we can never forget the responsibility we bear to the ideals of liberty and equality for all. Each generation of successful women serves as a catalyst to empower, enlighten, and educate the next generation of girls and boys, and we must devote ourselves to promoting this catalyst for change now and in the future.

On this Women's Equality Day, we resolve to continue the important work of our Nation's foremothers and their successors, and turn their vision of a more equal America into our reality.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim August 26, 2009, as Women's Equality Day. I call upon the people of the United States to celebrate the achievements of women and recommit themselves to the goal of true gender equality in this country.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-fifth day of August, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.


Presidential Reading

President Obama's headed to Martha's Vineyard, but he stopped at a bookstore first. Here's what he bought (according to the Los Angeles Times):

George Pelacanos' The Way Home

Kent Haruf's Plainsong

Richard Price's Lush Life

David McCullough's John Adams

Thomas L. Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded

Nice choices. Wish I had time to lie on the beach and read. Life at HU's rough.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Love My Family

Look what was delivered to my office yesterday:

Isn't being part of a family that loves you one of life's greatest blessings?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Booking It--Best Recent

What’s the best book you’ve read recently? (Tell me you didn’t see this one coming?)

Hands down, it's got to be Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. And this novel would not only be my best recent read, it would go on my best-all-time list.

Gilead is set in Gilead, Iowa in 1956 with the minister, John Ames, facing death from heart disease. He has a young wife and son whom he loves deeply and decides to leave his son a family history. He tells of his grandfather, also named John Ames, a fire and brimstone preacher from back east who went to Kansas to fight for abolition and then went to fight in the Union Army during the Civil War. John Ames, his father, reacted strongly to his father's violence and became a pacifist preacher. The Ames household when all three generations lived together was one of an uneasy truce. As Ames realizes his time on earth is limited, a friend from earlier in his life who left in disgrace returns to visit. Ames' life had been a solitary one before the blessing of his cherished wife came late to him in life. As he watches his friend and wife begin to bond, he must decide whether to tell his wife of his friend's past. Marilynne Robinson (author of Housekeeping) has written a novel about fathers and sons, loneliness and love, faith and family and Gilead has received high praise. The Washington Post says Gilead is "so serenely beautiful, and written in a prose so gravely measured and thoughtful, that one feels touched with grace just to read it."

Next on my list of recent favorites would have to be Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

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The Female Preogative

The hardest part of doing syllabi is planning the Reading and Assignment Schedule for the whole semester. I have trouble deciding what I want to wear the next day, much less what I want to talk about in class every day for the next sixteen weeks. That's why I often put the word "Tentative" in front of the "Reading and Assignment Schedule" heading.

Hey, can't a girl change her mind now and then?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dashed Hopes

Back at the beginning of summer, I had high hopes. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I'd finish my doctoral studies in time to have a week or two to do nothing but read for pleasure before I had to start preparing for Fall classes. One whole week to put chores and responsibilities on hold while I curled up in a comfortable spot and read, read, read. Not too much to ask, I thought.

Well, that didn't happen. My neglected house needed cleaning. The farm bookkeeping had to be done. So far this year the house had received only a lick and a promise, and the extent of my bookkeeping had been to pay the bills on time and keep the checkbook caught up enough to know that I wasn't writing a hot check.

I guess there's always next summer. *Sigh*

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What I'm Reading Now

Heilbrun, author, humanities professor, and one of our most astute feminist thinkers, shows how throughout the centuries, those who write about women's lives have suppressed the truth of the female experience in order to make the 'written life' conform to society's expectations of what life should be. Drawing on the experiences of celebrated women, from George Sand and Virginia Woolf to Dorothy Sayers and Adrienne Rich, Heilbrun examines the struggle these writers undertook when their drives made it impossible for them to follow the traditional "male" script of a woman's life. Heilbrun also examines literature's silence on such vital subjects as friendship between women, the female physical experience, and the richness that often imbues a woman's later years.

"Accessible, engaging and compelling."
The New York Times Book Review

Writing A Woman's Life, a wide-ranging study both personal and feminist, asserts that patriarchal culture has not only defined the limits of women's lives, it has determined what stories about women will be told...If it moves readers to write the full truth about female lives or live lives that are not scripted by others (male or female), its effect will be indisputably emendatory."
San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bringin' Home the Bacon

It's official. The school year has begun. English Department meetings today. University-wide meetings tomorrow. Classes start Monday. My fervent hope is that I can maintain balance in my life, just like the Enjoli woman.

It's called sarcasm. Get it?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The religious tradition in which I was raised does not practice any type of liturgical prayer, so I was not exposed to the beauty of it while growing up. But in my readings over the last few years, I've run across references to and quotes from different liturgical prayers or written prayers that are simply beautiful. So, as I usually do, I've been following the book trails. When I read a quote from a prayer that moves me, I track down the work it came from and do my best to acquire it.

When I was reading Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World, she quoted a line from a prayer that came from a book called Gates of Prayer: for Shabbat and Weekdays, a Jewish prayer book. I've been reading it lately, and came across this beautiful prayer (the italicized portion is the responsive part of the reading):

There are days
when we seek material things,
and measure failure by what we do not own.
On Shabbat we wish not to acquire but to share.

There are days
when we exploit nature with reckless greed.
On Shabbat we stand in wonder before the mystery of creation.

There are days
when we think only of ourselves.
On Shabbat
we open our hearts to the needs of others.

Therefore we welcome Shabbat--
day of rest, day of joy, day of peace.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Booking It--Worst Recent

What's the worst book you've read recently? This should be a lot easier than the worst book ever, because you don't have to think back too far.

I hate to say it, and its certainly not the worst book ever for me, but the worst book I've read recently is The Moviegoer by Walker Percy.

I know, I know, it's a classic, but it just never "hooked" me. I simply didn't care about any of the characters, and I had no curiosity about what was going to happen next. I had to force myself to finish the book.

I don't know, maybe it's that I'm still really tired from the last three intense years and have been looking only for entertainment and escapism from my reading lately.

Maybe I should wait a while and give it another try.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saturday for the Soul

Here's what I'm doing today:

Saturday for the Soul:

Making Peace with Time, Making Time for Peace

A gathering for women who want to develop healthier ways of living in Time and connecting with Eternity. We will hear stories from each other and see what Scripture says about Time. Through sharing, prayer, journaling, and meditation, our goal is to leave with down-to-earth understandings of how to bring more peace into daily life.

I'm really excited about having a "Saturday for the Soul." I know I need it. A friend of mine teaches this workshop, and she said that she invited a few friends whom she thought would really benefit from the day. Their reply? "I'd love to, but I don't have time." She laughed when she told me about it. "They're stressed out about time, but they don't have time to learn how to manage their time."

I'm always stressed about time. And I definitely need more peace in my life. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Academic Fashion

I was thinking of ordering this and wearing it periodically throughout the semester. Whatcha think?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Dreaded Syllabi

I'm very excited to start teaching again in a couple of weeks. What I'm not excited about is writing the syllabi for my classes. Planning a whole semester's worth of work at one time can be overwhelming. I'm teaching two new classes this Fall--British Lit I and Honors Critical Thinking and Speaking, and I'm teaching two sections of Comp I, which I've taught many times before. But, for some unknown reason back in the Spring, I decided that it would be good to adopt a new textbook instead of just keeping the one I'd been using. What in the world was I thinking?

So, now I have three syllabi to design. Being the on-top-of-things type of person I am, I went in to the office the other day to get started. I'll just do the one for Comp I, I thought, and get it out of the way. After all, that should be the easy one. I worked on it a little while, left to meet my husband for lunch, and came back to a computer that refused to boot up because, it kindly informed me, there were important files missing.

So, I just called tech support and went to Little Rock instead. The best laid plans of mice and men . . .

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Benefits of Being a Reader

There are many benefits to being a reader--you're never bored; you have a great vocabulary; you do well on the SATs . . . But the main one is all the important stuff you learn.

For example, just yesterday I was reading the latest issue of Prevention magazine and encountered this life changing fact:

72% of women having a good hair day have more spring in their step.

Good job, Prevention editors. I feel both smarter and healthier now that I know that.

Don't you?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Food Fight

The other day my husband walked in the door and yelled, "Come here and look at our mail."

Well, that's kinda scary. I figured either we'd won the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes or we'd gotten in a bill we'd never be able to pay. So I walked into the kitchen where he stood, smiling. "Just flip through it," he said.

I did, and I noticed something odd. There were pink blotches all over every piece.

"Keep going," he instructed. (There was a lot of junk mail that day.)

Finally, I saw what he was grinning about. Attached to a now-pink-and-white envelope was this sticky note:

I'm not joking. Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction.

Maybe jello needs to come with a warning label.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Booking It--Recent Serious

What’s the most serious book you’ve read recently?

Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. I highly recommend it.

"In her critically acclaimed Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about leaving full-time ministry to become a professor, a decision that stretched the boundaries of her faith. Now, in her stunning follow-up, An Altar in the World, she shares how she learned to encounter God beyond the walls of any church.

From simple practices such as walking, working, and getting lost to deep meditations on topics like prayer and pronouncing blessings, Taylor reveals concrete ways to discover the sacred in the small things we do and see.

Something as ordinary as hanging clothes on a clothesline becomes an act of devotion if we pay attention to what we are doing and take time to attend to the sights, smells, and sounds around us. Making eye contact with the cashier at the grocery store becomes a moment of true human connection. Allowing yourself to get lost leads to new discoveries. Under Taylor's expert guidance, we come to question conventional distinctions between the sacred and the secular, learning that no physical act is too earthbound or too humble to become a path to the divine. As we incorporate these practices into our daily lives, we begin to discover altars everywhere we go, in nearly everything we do."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What I'm Reading Now

I'm always following a book trail. Sue Monk Kidd mentioned Margaret Atwood's novel Surfacing in her Dance of the Dissident Daughter, and it sounded interesting. I'd already read and enjoyed Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, so based on Kidd's recommendation and my prior experience with Atwood, I'm going to give it a try.

"Part detective novel, part psychological thriller, Surfacing is the story of a talented woman artist who goes in search of her missing father on a remote island in northern Quebec. Setting out with her lover and another young couple, she soon finds herself captivated by the isolated setting, where a marriage begins to fall apart, violence and death lurk just beneath the surface, and sex becomes a catalyst for conflict and dangerous choices. Surfacing is a work permeated with an aura of suspense, complex with layered meanings, and written in brilliant, diamond-sharp prose. Here is a rich mine of ideas from an extraordinary writer about contemporary life and nature, families and marriage, and about women fragmented...and becoming whole."

Friday, August 7, 2009

In the Bag

I'm taking suggestions. I've decided to buy myself a nice leather messenger bag, but I've had trouble finding one that meets my specifications. I want it to have a professional look--for work and conferences, but I don't want it to have that "briefcase" look. I want it to be quality leather, one that will last and age well. I don't want it to be huge, but I do need it to be big enough to hold papers to grade and a book or two, or my laptop, and it also needs to have pockets for my cell phone and ipod.

I shopped around when we went to Oklahoma City and earlier this week in Little Rock, with no results. I found this Coach bag online, and I'm leaning towards it, but I'm afraid it's gonna be a tight fit for my laptop. Any recommendations?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Different Kind of Postmodern Novel

I've discovered a new author to add to my "Favorite Authors" list--Jodi Picoult. A friend at Ole Miss recommended her books to me a while ago, but I've only lately had time to start reading her. So far, I've read My Sister's Keeper, Plain Truth, Change of Heart, Vanishing Act, and I just finished The Pact. I'm addicted.

What's so wonderful about Picoult is that her books are great reads, yet at the same time they are well-written and thought-provoking. You get all the fun of recreational reading without the guilty feeling that you're wasting time reading junk.

Her novels that I've read so far have dealt with the medical ethics of bioengineering, teenage pregnancy, religious fundamentalism, family relationships, faith and doubt, legal ethics, truth, organ donation, the death penalty, the "kidnapping" of a child by her own parent, alcoholism, teenage suicide, and more. Picoult explores these relevant and intriguing issues with respect, never over-simplifying them or using her novels as a soap box.

Another thing I really like about her novels is that she constantly surprises me. I can't always figure out what will happen, and she doesn't take the easy way out. Her endings are unpredictable, no deux ex machina or pat solutions.

Postmodernism is not my field (wanna weigh in here, Ian?), but, in a way, it seems like she's using postmodern techniques, but not to the extreme of Pynchon or the other famous postmodernists (this is not a criticism, just a comparison of styles). In each of these novels there is a search for "truth," yet she reveals the story through multiple perspectives and shifts in time (but it still feels linear because the reader is never confused about where a scene fits in the story) without ever revealing the one "truth" a reader of traditional novels looks for. The narrative feels "finished," yet there is rarely complete closure. She explores big questions without giving definitive answers, yet it is an honest exploration. I never feel that she's toying with the reader.

If you haven't read her yet, you should.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

S & S & SM

I told you Monday that Quirk is planning a follow-up to its wonderfully successful Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This one? Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. No. I am not joking.

According to Publishers Weekly, "The Dashwood sisters, evicted from their childhood home by their conniving stepmother, land on a mysterious island full of man-eating sea creatures, instead of a nearby, downgraded, English cottage."

P&P&Z author Seth Grahame Smith kept 85 % of Austen's text untouched, but Ben H. Winters, author of the upcoming S&S&SM, maintains a 60/40 ratio. Rekulak, the editor, says they were inspired by "a wide range of cultural sources, both high and low. To that end, Rekulak said they looked to everything from Jules Verne novels to Lost to SpongeBob SquarePants."

I don't know. Jules Verne and Lost could work. But I'm a little put off by the SpongeBob thing.

It'll be published September 15th. Of course, I'll have to read it. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Amazon Recommends

I've bought a lot of books from over the last few years, and one of their marketing tools is "Amazon recommends" e-mails. They suggest books that are related to the books you've been buying. So, when they send me recommendations for 18th century novels, or novels by women, or books related to language or women's issues or Christianity, I understand. It makes sense. But here's today's recommendation: Mallarme, Manet, and Redon: Visual and Aural Signs and the Generation of Meaning (Cambridge Studies in French).

As Ricky Ricardo would say, 'Splain that.

Oh. Maybe it's because France is near England.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Booking It-LOL

What's the funniest book you've read lately?

Well, that's gotta be Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. But I've already written a post about it. If you want to, you can read it HERE.

And there's another JA spoof coming out soon. I'll tell you about it later.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Try This

I just finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World, and in her chapter "The Practice of Saying No: Sabbath," she includes an exercise that I've adapted a little and am going to try. I invite you to try it, too.

First, get a pencil and a piece of paper and find a few minutes that you can be alone. Then, on one side of the paper, list "all the things you know give you life that you never take time to do." What makes life meaningful to you? What's the life like that you live in your innermost dreams? What do you do in the life you meant to live but haven't gotten around to yet? Think about standing at the end of your life looking back over it: what would you wish you had included? changed? left out? Do not judge yourself or edit your list. "Promise not to shush your heart when it howls for the list it wants," Taylor encourages.

Now, flip the paper over and "make a list of all the reasons why you think it is impossible for you to do [or be] those things." That's all.

But now a seed has been planted. Maybe your longing heart will find a way through all those excuses. I hope mine does.