Friday, April 30, 2010

Another Ad

OK. I know I usually post these on Sundays, but it's Dead Week dear readers, and so is my brain.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Vicarious Progress?

Question: I know that some people think that avid readers "read their lives away," living life vicariously through the characters in novels instead of experiencing their own lives, however promising or humdrum they may be. I don't agree.

However, I do notice in myself that, when I read books that might help make my life better, let's say a book about a spiritual practice such as meditation or personal reflection, I can easily read and read and keep reading about the spiritual topic, giving mental assent, and I begin to feel as if I'm growing in that area without actually ever practicing the spiritual discipline I'm reading about. Is it, I wonder, a form of spiritual procrastination? Assumed vicarious spiritual growth?

And more importantly, has anybody else noticed this in themselves? Comments, please.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Stealing from Jennifer

Jennifer posted this on her blog yesterday, and I just couldn't help myself. I had to repost it here. Isn't this just sad?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Anthology II

I'm gonna be a story teller tonight. Come join us, if you'd like:

Anthology Vol. 2
Type: Music/Arts - Listening Party
Date: Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Time: 7:30pm - 9:00pm
Location: The Underground Coffeehouse

Description: Anthology is a night of live storytelling.

Come live vicariously through people instead of computer screens.

The night's lineup includes:
Tyler Jones
Julie Harris
Jonathan McRay
Alex Ritchie
Stephanie Eddleman
Patrick Garner

Monday, April 26, 2010

Booking It--Earth Day

Last Thursday was Earth Day … what are you reading? Are your reading habits changing for the sake of the environment?

Well, I can't say that my reading habits have changed because of Earth Day, and I don't know that I've read anything lately that's applicable to Earth Day, so I guess I don't have much to say today. Sorry, guys. But I do use a reusable water bottle instead of buying all of those plastic ones. Doesn't that count for something?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Brain Dead

You know what steals creativity? Grading. My brain feels dead, my eyes are strained, and my back hurts up between my shoulder blades. So there.

I hope my brain revives sometime soon. Maybe then I'll have something interesting to say.

I'm trying, folks.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Orange Prize Short List

Here's the short list for this year's Orange Prize.The Orange Prize honors female writers of any nationality for the best full-length novel written in English:

The Very Thought of You, Rosie Alison

The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver

Black Water Rising, Attica Locke

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel (it's already won the National Book Critic Circle Award and Man Booker Prize)

A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, Monique Roffey

Marilynne Robinson's Home, her sequel of sorts to her wonderful novel Gilead, was last year's winner.

I've read Gilead, and I've bought Home but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. But summer's coming! I think I may use this list as a guide for upcoming audiobooks, if the novels are available in that format.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What I'm Reading Now

"Wally Lamb's two previous novels, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, struck a chord with readers. They responded to the intensely introspective nature of the books, and to their lively narrative styles and biting humor. One critic called Wally Lamb a "modern-day Dostoyevsky," whose characters struggle not only with their respective pasts, but with a "mocking, sadistic God" in whom they don't believe but to whom they turn, nevertheless, in times of trouble (New York Times).

In his new novel, The Hour I First Believed, Lamb travels well beyond his earlier work and embodies in his fiction myth, psychology, family history stretching back many generations, and the questions of faith that lie at the heart of everyday life. The result is an extraordinary tour de force, at once a meditation on the human condition and an unflinching yet compassionate evocation of character.

When forty-seven-year-old high school teacher Caelum Quirk and his younger wife, Maureen, a school nurse, move to Littleton, Colorado, they both get jobs at Columbine High School. In April 1999, Caelum returns home to Three Rivers, Connecticut, to be with his aunt who has just had a stroke. But Maureen finds herself in the school library at Columbine, cowering in a cabinet and expecting to be killed, as two vengeful students go on a carefully premeditated, murderous rampage. Miraculously she survives, but at a cost: she is unable to recover from the trauma. Caelum and Maureen flee Colorado and return to an illusion of safety at the Quirk family farm in Three Rivers. But the effects of chaos are not so easily put right, and further tragedy ensues.

While Maureen fights to regain her sanity, Caelum discovers a cache of old diaries, letters, and newspaper clippings in an upstairs bedroom of his family's house. The colorful and intriguing story they recount spans five generations of Quirk family ancestors, from the Civil War era to Caelum's own troubled childhood. Piece by piece, Caelum reconstructs the lives of the women and men whose legacy he bears. Unimaginable secrets emerge; long-buried fear, anger, guilt, and grief rise to the surface.

As Caelum grapples with unexpected and confounding revelations from the past, he also struggles to fashion a future out of the ashes of tragedy. His personal quest for meaning and faith becomes a mythic journey that is at the same time quintessentially contemporary—and American.

The Hour I First Believed is a profound and heart-rending work of fiction. Wally Lamb proves himself a virtuoso storyteller, assembling a variety of voices and an ensemble of characters rich enough to evoke all of humanity."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Isn't this an interesting picture? As soon as I saw it, I knew I'd have to post it here. In my Honors Human Situations class this semester, one of the things we've been talking about is the question/problem of the Self and how it's expressed through art. I wish I'd found this picture before I introduced that unit.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Latest Listen

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
Publisher: Recorded Books
Length: 18 hrs and 54 mins

"Sarah Waters, whose works set in Victorian England have awards and acclaim and have reinvigorated the genres of both historical and lesbian fiction, returns with a novel that marks a departure from nineteenth century and a spectacular leap forward in the career of this masterful storyteller. Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked-out streets, illicit liasons, and sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch tells the story of Londoners; three women and a young man with a past--whose lives, and those of their friends and lovers, connect in ways that are surprising and not always known to them. In wartime London, the women work--as ambulance drivers, ministry clerks, and building inspectors. There are feats of heroism, epic and quotidian, and tragedies both enormous and personal, but the emotional interiors of her characters Waters captures with absolute clarity and intimacy. Waters describes with perfect knowingness the taut composure of a rescue worker in the aftermath of a bombing, the idle longing of a young woman for her soldier lover, the peculiar thrill of a convict watching the sky ignite through the bars on his window, the hunger of a woman stalking the streets for encounter, and the panic of another who sees her love affair coming end. At the same time, Waters is in absolute control of a narrative that offers up subtle surprises and exquisite twists, even as it depicts the impact of grand historical events on individual lives."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Booking It--Which End?

In general, do you prefer the beginnings of stories? Or the ends?

The ends, I guess. I've always been fascinated by the way intricate strands of multiple (and seemingly unconnected) plotlines can come together into one satisfying, and often surprising, conclusion.

However, you must have beginnings to get to that denouement, and I do love a great first sentence . . .

Here are the first sentences from the two novels I'm reading now:

From The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb: "They were both working their final shift at Blackjack Pizza that night, although nobody but the two of them realized it was that."

And from Sarah Waters' The Night Watch: "So this, said Kay to herself, is the sort of person you've become: a person whose clocks and wrist-watches have stopped, and who tells the time, instead, by the particular kind of cripple at her landlord's door."

Got a good first sentence to share?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Human Rights

I warn you: This movie is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it is painful to watch, but if you care about Human Rights and the fate of women worldwide, this is a film you should see.

From a producer of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST comes this chilling true story. Academy Award® nominee Shorheh Aghdashloo stars as Zahra, a woman with a burning secret. When a journalist (Jim Caviezel) is stranded in her remote village, Zahra takes a bold chance to reveal what the villagers will stop at nothing to hide. Thus begins the story of Soraya (Mozhan MarnĂ²), a kind woman whose cruel, divorce- seeking husband trumps up false charges of infidelity against her, which carry an unimaginable penalty. Soraya and Zahra attempt to navigate the villagers’ scheming, lies and deceit to prove her innocence. But when all else fails, Zahra must risk everything to use the only weapon she has left – her voice – to share Soraya's shocking story with the world. Her shocking story exposes the dark power of mob rule, uncivil law, and the utter lack of human rights for women under Islamic law.

Friday, April 16, 2010

You Gotta Love the 17th Century

A friend of mine who's doing her PhD in Renaissance studies posted this manuscript cover on her FB page, and I couldn't resist stealing from her and posting it here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

2009 Challenged Books

One of my favorite authors (Jodi Picoult) and one of my least favorite--and that's being very kind--(Stephenie Meyer) have an interesting connection. Both are on the ALA’s Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2009:

1. ttyl, ttfn, l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs

2. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality

3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide

4. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

6. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

7. My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence

8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

9. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

10. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Generation Gap

I saw this great cartoon the other day, and I wish I could reproduce it here. Alas, words must suffice.

Two couples were sitting at restaurant table--an older couple and a younger couple. The older couple are obviously enjoying their time together, talking and looking into one another's eyes. The younger couple both have their cell phones in their hands. The caption?

"I hope when we're old we don't just sit at a table not texting."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Latest Listen

I chose this audiobook because it just keeps turning up. I recently finished Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, which definitely earned its place on my list of all-time favorite books, and this novella is mentioned in it (along with a lot of other books, most of which I've read and enjoyed--the novel is definitely a reader's novel). I took a Gothic Lit class at Ole Miss, and although we didn't read The Turn of the Screw for that particular class, the novella kept coming up in discussions, and the professor showed a clip from the film. So I figured, why fight fate?

"The Turn of the Screw is a novella by Henry James, published serially in Collier's Weekly in 1898 and published in book form later that year. One of the world's most famous ghost stories, the tale is told mostly through the journal of a governess and depicts her struggle to save her two young charges from the demonic influence of the eerie apparitions of two former servants in the household. The story inspired critical debate over the question of the "reality" of the ghosts and of James's intentions. James himself, in his preface to volume XII of The Novels and Tales of Henry James, called the tale a "fable" and said that he did not specify details of the ghosts' evil deeds because he wanted readers to supply their own vision of terror."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Booking It--Plotting

Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness? Which would you rather read?

Please, please, please give me a plot. I prefer stories with beginnings, middles, and ends.

It's not that I don't appreciate the art of stream-of-consciousness or the skill it takes to write it well; it's just that I'm a fan of traditional storytelling. I can handle a flashback or two, multiple interpolations, or even an unreliable narrator. In fact, sometimes the interpolations can be more fun than the main story, and being taken in by an unreliable narrator can be delightful.

But I must have a plot!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

What I Just Finished

"No matter how sophosticated or wealthy or broke or enlightened you are, how you eat tells all. If you suffer about your relationship with food -- you eat too much or too little, think about what you will eat constantly or try not to think about it at all -- you can be free. Just look down at your plate. The answers are there. Don't run. Look. Because when we welcome what we most want to avoid, we contact the part of ourselves that is fresh and alive. We touch the life we truly want and evoke divinity itself.

Since adolescence, Geneen Roth has gained and lost more than a thousand pounds. She has been dangerously overweight and dangerously underweight. She has been plagued by feelings of shame and self-hatred and she has felt euphoric after losing a quick few pounds on a fad diet. Then one day, on the verge of suicide, she did something radical: She dropped the struggle, ended the war, stopped trying to fix, deprive and shame herself. She began trusting her body and questioning her beliefs.

It worked. And losing weight was only the beginning.

She wrote about her discoveries in When Food Is Love, her first New York Times bestseller. She gave huge numbers of women their first insights into compulsive eating and she changed huge numbers of lives for the better.

Now, after more than three decades of studying, teaching and writing about what drives our compul-sions with food, Geneen adds a profound new dimension to her work in Women, Food and God. She begins with her most basic concept: The way you eat is inseparable from your core beliefs about being alive. Your relationship with food is an exact mirror of your feelings about love, fear, anger, meaning, transformation and, yes, even God. But it doesn't stop there. Geneen shows how going beyond both the food and feelings takes you deeper into realms of spirit and soul to the bright center of your own life.

With penetrating insight and irreverent humor, Roth traces food compulsions from subtle beginnings to unexpected ends. She teaches personal examination, showing readers how to use their relationship with food to discover the fulfillment they long for.

Your relationship with food, no matter how conflicted, is the doorway to freedom, says Roth. What you most want to get rid of is itself the doorway to what you want most: the demystification of weight loss and the luminous presence that so many of us call "God."

Packed with revelations on every page, this book is a knock-your-socks-off ride to a deeply fulfilling relationship with food, your body...and almost everything else. Women, Food and God is, quite simply, a guide for life."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Female Malady

Again, from The Thirteenth Tale by Dian Setterfield:

Dr. Clifton came. He listened to my heart and asked me lots of questions. "Insomia? Irregular sleep? Nightmares?"

I nodded three times.

"I thought so."

He took a thermometer and instructed me to place it under my tongue, then rose and strode to the window. With his back to me, he asked, "And what do you read?"

With the thermometer in my mouth I could not reply.

"Wuthering Heights--you've read that?"


"And Jane Eyre?"


"Sense and Sensibility?"


He turned and looked gravely at me. "And I suppose you've read these books more than once?"

I nodded and he frowned.

"Read and reread? Many times?"

Once more I nodded, and his frown deepened.

"Since childhood?"

I was baffled by his questions, but compelled by the gravity of his gaze, and nodded once again.

[ . . .]

He removed the thermometer from my mouth, folded his arms and delivered his diagnosis. "You are suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination. Symptoms include fainting, weariness, loss of appetite, low spirits. While on one level the crisis can be ascribed to wandering about in freezing rain without the benefit of adequate waterproofing, the deeper cause is more likely to be found in some emotional trauma. However, unlike the heroines of your favorite novels, your constitution has not been weakened by the privations of life in earlier, harsher centuries. You'll survive."

[ . . .]

"Treatment is not complicated: eat, rest, and take this . . ."--he made quick notes on a pad, tore out a page and place it on my bedside table--"and the weakness and fatigue will be gone in a few days."

[ . . .]

I reached for the prescription. In a virgorous scrawl, he had inked: Sir Author Conan Doyle, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. Take ten pages, twice a day, till end of course.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I Understand Completely

"All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes--characters even--caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you. Well, it was like that."

--from Dian Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Next Thing

For the last few years, getting a PhD completely took over my life. All my time, all my energy, all of me, it seems, was put into the effort. But I missed doing other things, having other goals. And one of the things I missed was music.

I've always loved to sing, and I used to do community chorus and community theater, but I became too busy for that once I was both teaching and working on a degree. I had taken piano lessons for years during my childhood, but I quit the lessons and even quit playing when I reached my early teens. I deeply regret that, now. Both of my sons play guitar, and I love listening to them. We often have sing-a-longs when they are home, and hearing them play made me long to play an instrument. I'd love to be able to play along with them, but I'd also like to play just for my own pleasure--one more of those joys I was talking about the other day.

I thought about starting piano again, and I'd really like to, but that's a pretty big investment--both in money and in floor space. I'd always wanted to play a violin (or a fiddle, depending on what type of music I was in the mood for), and I've mentioned it several times in the last few years. When I get through with this degree I'm going to learn to play . . . was my refrain. My sons thought it was a good idea and encouraged me. "You should do it, Mom. You should . . ." But I just hadn't gotten around to it yet.

Well, guess what? No more excuses! For my birthday, my family gave me a beautiful new violin! And I start lessons today!

My New Violin

I'm very excited, but I'm also a little scared. Or maybe "scared" is not the right word. Intimidated? Anxious? Isn't it terrible what we do to ourselves as adults? When we are children, learning something new is an adventure. We can't wait to get started. We're all anticipation. Adults, on the other hand, are afraid of looking stupid, afraid of messing up in front of somebody else, afraid of embarassing ourselves. I'll admit, I have thought those things, but you know what? I'm not going there. I can do this. And it's gonna be fun.

Who knows? If this turns out to be wildly successful, I may relearn piano, too.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Booking It--Learning

Do you remember learning to read? What’s your earliest reading memory?

Some of my earliest memories are of being read to, and I've been told that I memorized my favorite books and would correct my Mom or my aunt when they read to me and changed a word or left something out.

My first memory of actually learning to read is a little embarrassing. I remember the teacher writing the words "was" and "saw" on the board and me being terrified that I'd NEVER learn to read because it was impossible to tell the difference between those two words.

I soon got over my fear and caught on pretty quickly. My next memories of reading are of being in reading groups and loving to read out loud but hating having to listen to the really s-l-o-w readers. I'd always read ahead and then get in trouble because when it came back around to my turn, I had no idea where to begin reading.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Movie Time

Sometimes, you just can't grade another paper. And Thursday afternoon was one of those times. So what'd I do? Watched a movie, of course.

A young girl seduced by an older man may be a common story, but An Education is no common movie. As Jenny, a precocious middle-class British schoolgirl charmed by a small-time criminal, newcomer Carey Mulligan is luminous; her face can be plain and beautiful at the same time, her eyes expressing a restless intelligence and a hungry soul. As David, the seducer, Peter Sarsgaard (Year of the Dog, Garden State) gives yet another rich, thoughtful performance. The script, adapted by Nick Hornby (whose novels High Fidelity and About a Boy have been made into movies), is full of unexpected details that bring every moment to life. Director Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners) has made sure that every character is vivid and real; even seemingly minor moments have texture and vitality. The supporting cast--including Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson, Cara Seymour (Adaptation), Dominic Cooper (The History Boys), and Olivia Williams (Rushmore)--is simply impeccable. In a small but memorable part, Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) shows an unexpected (and marvelous) comic side. In short, An Education is a funny, smart, and compassionate movie that will launch a great career for Mulligan and be a jewel on the filmographies of everyone involved.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thoughts for My Day

Today is my birthday.

I remember when birthdays were exciting. They meant cake and presents and parties, or finally being old enough to drive, or at last being able to call myself an adult.

Birthdays, now, are very different. Oh, I still have a birthday cake--my family sees to that. I get a nice meal that I don't have to cook (or clean up after). And I usually get a present or two, which is nice, but the promise of gifts is no longer something that makes me too excited to sleep. And since I'm already driving and have been an adult for a pretty good while, I feel no need to mark the days preceding my birthday off the calendar in a vain attempt to push time forward.

Now, birthdays sometimes sneak up on me. They catch me unawares. I'm how old? Really?

It's not that I have a phobia about aging or mind telling my age. I guess it's just that I'm surprised at how quickly life passes.

Instead of cake and presents, what I now think about on birthdays is what a great gift life is, and how I only have one. I want to live it wisely. I've been making a point lately of seizing moments, usually small ones, and consciously living in them--experiencing them instead of letting them slip by, almost unnoticed. I've been asking myself what gives me joy, and then I've been trying to do more of those things.

I've been trying to finally give myself permission to be me. Real. Honest. Unedited. Wouldn't that be a great gift to receive?

By the way, in case you're wondering, this birthday's not one of the "big ones," so I'm not having a mid-life crisis--just a thoughtful moment.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What I'm Reading Now

I'm allowing myself another Picoult. She's like Lays Potato Chips. No one can read just one.

What would you do for someone you love? Would you lie? Would you leave? Would you kill? These are just some of the questions confronting the characters in Mercy, which follows the path of two cousins driven to extremes by the power of love.

Cameron MacDonald has spent his life guided by duty. As the police chief of a small Massachusetts town that has been home to generations of his Scottish clan, he is bound to the town's residents by blood and honor. Yet when his cousin Jamie arrives at the police station with the body of his wife and the bald confession that he's killed her, Cam immediately places him under arrest.

The situation isn't as clear to Cam's wife, Allie. While she is devoted to her husband, she finds herself siding against Cam, seduced by the picture James paints of a man so in love with a woman that he'd grant all her wishes… even the one that meant taking her life.

Into this charged atmosphere drifts Mia, a new assistant at Allie's floral shop, for whom Cam feels an instant and inexplicable attraction. While he aids the prosecution in preparing the case against Jamie, who killed his terminally ill wife out of mercy, Cam finds himself betraying his own wife.

Woven tight with passion and a fast-paced plot, Mercy explores some of today's most highly charged emotional and ethical issues as it draws toward its stunning conclusion. When you love someone, where do you cross the line of moral obligation? And how can you commonly define love and devotion to begin with? Long after you have turned the last page, you'll still be thinking about this rich novel, as well as questioning your own beliefs about love and loyalty.