Friday, February 26, 2010

WINGS 2010

Tomorrow I'll be speaking at the 2010 WINGS conference here at Harding. The theme this year is "Come Fly with Us!" which, I must admit, sounds more like a VBS theme than the theme for an adult women's conference. (I'm sorry, but it does!!)

My assigned topic? "Airplane Maintenance." Yep. You read that right. But I just couldn't force myself to title anything "Airplane Maintenance" or to put it up on my Powerpoint introductory slide. So I cheated a little. My working title is "Spiritual Maintenance," which, I think, is a very important topic.

Here's the schedule if you're interested.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What I'm Reading Now

From the Back Cover

There have been times when you've felt that if there isn't a God, there ought to be. Swept up in the mystery of the night sky, you've felt the closeness of its designer. Nature's extravagant diversity, unfolding in living color, has made you long to know the artist who dreamed it all up. Imagine what that might be like---to actually know God in a way that fills your heart and whispers tremendous value and purpose to something deep within you. But how can you experience a being you're not even sure exists? Religious jargon and games can't satisfy such a longing. It's got to be real ... or nothing at all. A Search for What Is Real helps you sort through the questions, objections, and concerns that arise when you consider God not as some theological abstraction, but as someone you can actually connect with ... and want to connect with, perhaps more than you know. FINDING FAITH The Finding Faith books A Search for What Makes Sense and A Search for What Is Real don't try to tell you what to believe; they are guides in learning how to believe. If you think the spiritual journey requires turning your back on honesty and intellectual integrity, these two companion volumes will speak to both your mind and your soul.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What I Just Finished

From the Back Cover
Does having faith mean abandoning reason? It's easy to get that impression. Still, it seems reasonable that a supremely intelligent God would want you to use your God-given intellect on your spiritual journey as much as in any other aspect of your life. Faith may not stand on rational thinking alone, but a solid faith should walk hand in hand with intellectual integrity. Does it really matter what I believe? What is the relationship between faith and knowledge? Why are there so many religions? Do all paths lead to the same God? This book helps you sort through the questions, objections, and concerns you can't help but raise. A Search for What Makes Sense will help you think your way clearly and honestly to answers that satisfy because they're your answers---conclusions you've arrived at personally without manipulation, coercion, or game-playing. For faith to exist and grow it's got to make sense---good sense, carefully-thought-out sense. And chances are it does. FINDING FAITH The Finding Faith books A Search for What Makes Sense and A Search for What Is Real don't try to tell you what to believe; they are guides in learning how to believe. If you think the spiritual journey requires turning your back on honesty and intellectual integrity, these two companion volumes will speak to both your mind and your soul.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Somebody Stop Me

I haven't been perfect in my quest for simplification so far, but I feel like I'm making steady progress--except in one area: Single-tasking instead of multi-tasking.

I decided to try to do only one thing at a time--no working while eating lunch, no checking email while working on a project, no sorting papers while talking on the phone. But IT'S SO HARD!! Not because I love multi-tasking so much--I don't!-- but because I'm always struggling so hard to get it all done.

Last August, a dear friend (some of you know who I'm talking about) invited me to a Saturday for the Soul that she was leading on the topic of Time. And it was wonderful--just what I needed to hear. But mentally assenting to what she said is one thing; putting her wisdom and insights into practice is quite another.

One thing that has really surprised me as I've tried to stop multi-tasking is how painful it is. It's as if I can't allow myself the luxury of doing only one thing. Somehow I feel compelled--and I mean that word in its most extreme sense--to do more.

I'm not giving up, but I am taking suggestions.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Booking It--Olympic Reading

You may have noticed–the Winter Olympics are going on. Is that affecting your reading time? Have you read any Olympics-themed books? What do you think about the Olympics in general? Here’s your chance to discuss!

(And for the record? My favorite Olympics book is Joy Goodwin’s The Second Mark which tells the story of the three figure skating pairs involved in the 2002 Salt Lake City controversy. The controversy is actually the smallest part of the story–the fascinating part is learning about the training of the three teams–Canadian, Russian, and Chinese. Just saying. And yes, I AM watching the Olympics on tv each night.)

Yes, I have noticed. No, it's not affecting my reading time. And no, I haven't read any Olympic-themed books.

Well, that didn't take long.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I Don't Usually Watch Horror Films, But . . .

. . . I did watch this one, and if you care about what you put into your body, you should, too.

"In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, herbicide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won't go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli—the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults.

Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms' Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising—and often shocking truths—about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Not Exactly the 10 I'd Have Chosen

I did post a Valentine cartoon, but I didn't post anything book-y about Valentine's Day. However, I just ran across a list of Ten Great Novels of Love on the blog of the Florida Center for the Literary Arts at Miami Dade College and couldn't resist posting them here to see what you think about the choices.

Blog author Chauncy Mabe writes: Here’s my beginners’ list of Ten Great Novels of Love, just to get the conversation started. These are given in the order I thought of them, no qualitative ranking is implied.

1. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. Yes, this is a story about pedophilia, but Humbert Humbert, while a genuine comic villain, is a most romantic pedophile.

2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Including this title is so obvious, it’s like saying the sky is blue. Still, its greatness transcends its popularity, and it may be the only novel on this list with a genuine happy ending.

3. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. Darden Pyron, author of Southern Daughter, a biography of Mitchell, convinced me that GWTW is that rare popular novel that also has literary merit. Interestingly, in his landmark book The Mask of Sanity, pioneering psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley analyzed Scarlett O’Hara as a prime example of a psychopathic personality.

4. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles. Despite some modernist literary trickery, this is one of my personal favorites.

5. Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin. Still a young black firebrand, Baldwin risked his career when he published this daring story of gay love in 1956.

6. Madame Bovary, by Gustav Flaubert. One of the greatest of all time, Flaubert’s novel of Emma’s doomed search for romantic love is, with its emphasis on personal identity and fulfillment, possibly the first 20th century novel. It was published in 1856.

7. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yes, I know this is really Nick Carraway’s story, but Gatsby’s pining for Daisy Buchanan is the engine that drives the plot.

8. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway. An axiom of literature is that the biggest romantics are always the tough guys. I could as easily have listed The Sun Also Rises or For Whom the Bell Tolls. The late dialogue between Henry and Catherine goes on and on and on, and gets pretty funny at times, surely not Hemingway’s intention, but it’s a great love story nonetheless.

9. Emma, Who Saved My Life, by Wilton Barnhardt. Another personal favorite, and another story of unrequited love. Published in 1989, it’s one of the best coming-of-age-in-NYC novels I’ve ever read. Hilarious, too. It never gets the attention it deserves.

10. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera. The story of a philandering doctor during the blooming freedoms of the Prague Spring, it’s a novel unlike any other in my experience, with it’s digressive mixture of intellectual power, romance, sex, liberty.

11. Okay, I’m cheating, but I can’t end a list like this without mentioning Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, four novels that tell the same stories from different points of view. Set in Egypt during the ’30s and ’40s, it’s central love affair is that of an impoverished English writer and a rich and beautiful Jewish socialite. It’s possibly the most romantic thing I’ve ever read.

I’ve left out a world of great love novels. What are some of yours?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Left You Hanging?

I know. I know. You want to know what I'm listening to, right? I chose The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I'm only about an hour and a half into the 18hr 19min running time, but oh my goodness, I can already tell this novel's going to be wonderful.

From The Washington Post
Reviewed by Sybil Steinberg

Southern whites' guilt for not expressing gratitude to the black maids who raised them threatens to become a familiar refrain. But don't tell Kathryn Stockett because her first novel is a nuanced variation on the theme that strikes every note with authenticity. In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, she spins a story of social awakening as seen from both sides of the American racial divide.

Newly graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in English but neither an engagement ring nor a steady boyfriend, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan returns to her parents' cotton farm in Jackson. Although it's 1962, during the early years of the civil rights movement, she is largely unaware of the tensions gathering around her town.

Skeeter is in some ways an outsider. Her friends, bridge partners and fellow members of the Junior League are married. Most subscribe to the racist attitudes of the era, mistreating and despising the black maids whom they count on to raise their children. Skeeter is not racist, but she is naive and unwittingly patronizing. When her best friend makes a political issue of not allowing the "help" to use the toilets in their employers' houses, she decides to write a book in which the community's maids -- their names disguised -- talk about their experiences.

Fear of discovery and retribution at first keep the maids from complying, but a stalwart woman named Aibileen, who has raised and nurtured 17 white children, and her friend Minny, who keeps losing jobs because she talks back when insulted and abused, sign on with Skeeter's risky project, and eventually 10 others follow.

Aibileen and Minny share the narration with Skeeter, and one of Stockett's accomplishments is reproducing African American vernacular and racy humor without resorting to stilted dialogue. She unsparingly delineates the conditions of black servitude a century after the Civil War.

The murders of Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. are seen through African American eyes, but go largely unobserved by the white community. Meanwhile, a room "full of cake-eating, Tab-drinking, cigarette-smoking women" pretentiously plan a fundraiser for the "Poor Starving Children of Africa." In general, Stockett doesn't sledgehammer her ironies, though she skirts caricature with a "white trash" woman who has married into an old Jackson family. Yet even this character is portrayed with the compassion and humor that keep the novel levitating above its serious theme.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Finding Time

I know that people who are not readers would think that I read a lot. And I do. But unfortunately, most of my reading time is dedicated either to things I'm teaching or things I'm thinking about teaching, which is all good and well I suppose, but does not fulfill my need for recreational reading or for keeping current.

So, I'm trying something new. I've blogged in the past about how I listened to audiobooks on my commute back and forth to Ole Miss, and I loved it. It made the drive go by more quickly, of course, but it also let me read for pleasure when almost every non-driving minute of my day was dedicated to reading, studying, or writing for classes. The eight-or-so miles in to HU in the mornings doesn't quite qualify as a commute, though, so I hadn't rented an audiobook in more than a year. But lately I've been feeling desperate. There's so much I want to read, long to read, need to read, but I just didn't see it happening.

My solution? I joined For $7.49 per month for the first three months I get one audiobook download per month--my choice--and they have lots of books to choose from: bestsellers, fiction, nonfiction. After three months, the price goes up to $14.95 a month, but I can cancel at any time, so I figure I'll know before three months are up if this is worth it or not. My plan is to use my daily exercise time to listen to a book. I walk or run listening to music on my ipod anyway--why not use that time to read?

Maybe I'll even be tempted to exercise longer.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Booking It--Encouragement

How can you encourage a non-reading child to read? What about a teen-ager? Would you require books to be read in the hopes that they would enjoy them once they got into them, or offer incentives, or just suggest interesting books? If you do offer incentives and suggestions and that doesn’t work, would you then require a certain amount of reading? At what point do you just accept that your child is a non-reader?

In the book Gifted Hands by brilliant surgeon Ben Carson, one of the things that turned his life around was his mother’s requirement that he and his brother read books and write book reports for her. That approach worked with him, but I have been afraid to try it. My children don’t need to “turn their lives around,” but they would gain so much from reading and I think they would enjoy it so much if they would just stop telling themselves, “I just don’t like to read.”

Boy, what a question. I know when my children were young, I read books and articles that recommended letting them see how important reading is to you by reading in front of them, making reading material readily available in your household, reading aloud to them, talking about books you've enjoyed, etc. I did all of those things. Probably to excess. I wanted my kids to be readers.

My success rate? 1 out of 3.

My oldest is a reader. He reads for pleasure, and he reads for knowledge. We discuss books and recommend books to each other. There is no doubt that reading is an important part of his life. My daughter reads only rarely and my youngest son not at all.

I don't think that my efforts were in vain, however, even if I didn't have a 100% success rate. The books that I read aloud to my children gave us some wonderful shared memories. They'll see or hear something and say, "Oh, Mom, that's like what we read in . . ." Or "Mom, do you remember that book you read us about so-and-so? . . ." And they still laugh at me for the time I couldn't finish reading Sounder to them because I was crying too hard. My oldest son said, "Here, Mom, give the book to me" and finished reading the last chapter.

I know that you can encourage reading in children, but I don't think there are any guaranteed methods for turning your children into readers. I really do believe it is at least partly born in a child. My reading was encouraged by my parents and my aunt who read to me and by teachers and librarians who recognized and encouraged my love of reading, but I truly believe I would have been a reader anyway. I need to read. However, my brother, who NEVER read a book in his life that he wasn't made to (and even then, he probably read the blurb and only enough of the book to fake a book report) has a daughter who is a voracious reader.

Of course, that's a neat thing, because she and I get to talk books.

So, what do you do? The best you can.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Do Libraries Need Books?

No, that's not a rhetorical question.

It's a question The New York Times asked after learning that a New England prep school was giving away all its books and turning its library into a "digital center."

I'm all for doing research online and having access to texts that were once only locked away in climate controlled rooms, but a library without books? That just makes me sad.

Friday, February 12, 2010

What I'm Reading Now & Why It Matters to You

I've been asked by Quirk Books to review this new novel--a prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies--which won't be released until March 23. I'll post my review here on March 3, 2010.

Why does this matter to you? Because on that day, I'll post a link where readers of my blog can register to win one of 50 Quirk Classic Prize Packs. Each Prize Pack will contain

  • An Advance copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls

  • Audio Books of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

  • A password redeemable online for sample audio chapters of Dawn of the Dreadfuls

  • An awesome Dawn of the Dreadfuls Poster

  • A Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Journal

  • A box set of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies postcards

Could life get any sweeter than that? Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Second Class Sandra

From "Oscar Roundtable" in the February 8, 2010 Newsweek:

Let's do some more hyping. Did you guys know that with The Blind Side, Sandra became the first female star to have her movie make more than $200 million?

Sandra Bullock: First chick.

Jeff Bridges: Beautiful!

Bullock: It's nice, but it's odd. It's like, you're female and you've done this! And I go, I know I'm a second-class citizen. I've been aware of that since I reached puberty.

Do you think studio heads are finally realizing that women can open movies just like men?

Bullock: That women are worth something? I don't think they've learned that 100%. It's a business. It's show business. . .

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Back to the List

At the beginning of my Simplifying and Decluttering quest, I told you that I planned to pick a few items from the list I posted and work on them for a while. Then, once they'd become somewhat-routine, I'd pick one or two more to begin practicing. Here's my next one:

#47 Single-task. Multi-tasking is more complicated, more stressful, and generally less productive. Instead, do one task at a time.

I SO needed to implement this suggestion, in so many areas. One of the neat things about writing my dissertation was the intense concentration I could achieve when I sequestered myself upstairs with only one task to do and with all distractions minimized. That's how I got my dissertation written and defended in a six-month period. But now, trying to work on something with my BlackBerry blinking right beside me and TweetDeck chirping on my computer and people sticking their heads in to say hello really slows down my productivity.

Additionally, since I've felt so snowed under (pun intended) this year, I wouldn't even let myself eat lunch without also grading, or checking email, or reading over my lesson plans for the next class. The result? Not much work got done, and I didn't taste a bite of my lunch. And although my intention in working through lunch was to get more done so I wouldn't feel as stressed, combining the two actually had the opposite effect. I felt more stressed, AND I wanted to eat more because I never even let myself enjoy my food. Really? It's all gone already?

So, what am I doing now? I work on one task at a time, and I turn off all electronic notifiers and put my phone out of sight. I close my door unless it's during posted office hours. I have a checklist, and I work through it methodically. As expected, I'm getting much more work done!

And as for lunch? I shut the door, spread out my food on my desk, turn away from the computer and the BlackBerry, and simply eat. I'm trying to slow down and actually taste my food,which is more enjoyable on some days than others, depending on what I've brought for lunch, but is always less stressful, no matter what I'm eating.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Booking It--Wintry Reading

The northern hemisphere, at least, is socked in by winter right now… So, on a cold, wintry day, when you want nothing more than to curl up with a good book on the couch … what kind of reading do you want to do?

If you've been reading my blog for any time at all, you'll know I've gotten hooked on Jodi Picoult. I've got four new, unread novels by her on my nightstand. I've also got a new Patricia Cornwell, a new Barbara Kingsolver, and a new Daniel Silva, all unread. A new Sarah Waters novel rests on my shelf, taunting me. I also really, really want to read Kathryn Stockett's The Help, but when am I going to find the time? Aaarrrrggggh.

Alas, griping does no good. But spring break's coming.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What Women (Should) Read?

These are the top 100 Books Every Woman Should Read, at least according to See what you think.

Kate Chopin's The Awakening is #1. Pride and Prejudice doesn't show up until #4. Something must be wrong here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

It's Better Than It Could Have Been

I've been thinking that yesterday's post didn't quite fit with my Simplifying and Destressing theme, but then I realized that without my simplifying and destressing efforts, my stress level right now would be even higher than it is. My decluttering and simplifying efforts at home are really going well. I have such positive feelings about my progress in that area. Because of some of the new habits I'm cultivating, my house is staying cleaner and clutter free, so although I may be stressing about work-related things, my home is not adding to the problem and it's a haven at the end of the day instead of one more thing to stress about.

And even though I'm not progressing as swiftly on the Simplifying and Destressing at the office as I am at home, a few things I'm doing there are at least keeping me sane in the middle of all the grading and prep. I've already told you about never leaving the office without a clear desk, and I would never have believed just how effective a strategy this is. I feel a sense of order when I walk out the door in the evening, and when I walk in the next morning things seem to be a little more under my control.

Another thing I've been doing is keeping a "Most Important Things" list. Before I leave for the day, on the top sheet of my notepad I list the things that absolutely, positively must be done tomorrow. These usually have to do with the following day's classes, but not always. On another sheet, I keep a running list of things that need to be done, but not immediately. When I get to work, I immediately start in on my must-do list, doing nothing else (but teaching classes) until those are accomplished. Then, I know I'm at least ready for the next day. If there's extra time, I move on to an item on the not-so-urgent list. These lists don't lessen my load or get my work done for me, but they do remove the fear of realizing at the last minute that I'm unprepared or have forgotten something important.

Additionally, I keep reminding myself that the extra work I'm putting into Comp I now will pay off in less stress in the future. A stitch in time . . .

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Semester Stress

There is a time, every semester, when I feel in control. Prepared. On top of things.

That lasts about two weeks. Then I start having essays to grade, and real life hits me between the eyes. I think it's because I'm trying to do so much this semester. I have two new classes, which, of course, require constant preparation. Also, I'll be teaching a Women's Lit class this fall, so I'm doing some reading in preparation and trying to decide on which novels to teach. But I'm also re-working my Comp I classes. I've taught this course every semester since I've been at HU, and every semester I've done something different--used a new textbook or redesigned the course schedule.

So, this semester, I said "Enough." I've adopted a book I really like, and I'm sticking with it. I'm also carefully structuring the course, devising a generic syllabus that will let me make minor adjustments in what I do without changing the basic syllabus (so I can reuse it every semester), making detailed lesson plans, and compiling a course notebook. I'm tired of reinventing the wheel. All the work that I put in this semester is going to save me tons of time in the future. But the future's not here yet, and this semester's really getting to me.

Is it spring break yet?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What I'm Reading Now

From a book review by Jay Parini in The New York Times (March 27, 1994):

CAROL SHIELDS, the American-born Canadian novelist and story writer, is often mentioned in the same breath with Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, and her last novel, "The Republic of Love," attracted a small but enthusiastic band of admirers, myself among them. Last year "The Stone Diaries" was nominated for Britain's Booker Prize and acclaimed by many reviewers there. Now it has been published here, and it deserves our fullest attention.

The novel provides, glancingly, a panorama of 20th-century life in North America. Written in diary format, it traces the life of one seemingly unremarkable woman: Daisy Goodwill Flett, who is born in 1905 and lives into the 1990's. "The Stone Diaries" includes an elaborate family tree of the sort usually found in biographies as well as eight pages of family photographs. Surveying the faces in these photos of Ms. Shields's sharply drawn characters, the reader naturally wonders: are these "real" people or the made-up kind?

The question soon becomes irrelevant: indeed, the novel willfully smudges the already blurred distinctions between fact and fiction. "When we say a thing or an event is real, never mind how suspect it sounds, we honor it," writes one of Ms. Shields's several diarists. "But when a thing is made up -- regardless of how true and just it seems -- we turn up our noses. That's the age we live in. The documentary age."

So the novelist inserts her tongue deeply into her cheek and documents everything. But unlike the historian, who must cling to the enameled outer layer of reality, Ms. Shields plunges into the interior life of her characters with all the ferocity of a major novelist. As her readers, we are allowed to peer into the hearts of Daisy Flett and her family with gaudy indiscretion, and this voyeurism is at times unsettling. Humankind, as T. S. Eliot noted, cannot bear very much reality. . . .

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tents & Tarps

Wondering how you can help the people of Haiti? Go to Tents and Tarps for Haiti to see a video explaining how you can partner with the students of Harding University in their quest to provide safe, dry shelter to the people of Haiti. 200 tents and tarps were delivered Sunday. More information about this project is available at the website, and you can donate online.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Booking It--Twisty

“I love books with complicated plots and unexpected endings. What is your favourite book with a fantastic twist at the end?”

So, today’s question is in two parts.

1. Do YOU like books with complicated plots and unexpected endings?

2. What book with a surprise ending is your favorite? Or your least favorite?

Answer #1--Well, of course I do! It's hard to imagine a fiction reader who doesn't.

Answer #2--I've read lots of books with complicated plots and surprise endings, but I think the first one I ever read like that was Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, way back in the sixth grade. We were reading it out loud in class, something I've always had a hard time bearing because so many students read so poorly and so00000 slowly. So I was racing ahead, pulled along by the plot, and you guessed it--when it was my turn to read, I had no idea where to begin and was scolded by the teacher. The funny thing about this story is that, as I was leaving, she called me to her desk and told me, although I really did need to try to stay with the class, it made her very happy that I was enjoying the story so much I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. She's always been one of my favorite teachers.

I think that I was pretty much a Dickens addict for a few months after finishing Great Expectations, toting one of those huge novels with me wherever I went.

I'm still a Dickens fan.