Monday, September 27, 2010

Learning New Things All the Time

In my challenge to get outside my comfortable box of fiction, I picked up Ben Carson's book, Gifted Hands. For those of you who don't know, Ben Carson is a world renowned doctor who specialized in neurosurgery and gained significant fame for separating Siamese twins that were joined at the head. I didn't know. This is, obviously, not my field of expertise or (typically) interest. But my husband's twin just went through an intensive brain surgery called a hemispherectomy that Dr Carson helped establish as a viable surgical option to decrease seizures, and I wanted to know more, both about the surgery and about the man who made it a possibility. And surprisingly, I really enjoyed reading about Dr Carson. I didn't even get lost in all the medical terminology, and I actually read (without skimming) the parts when he detailed the surgeries. Yes, I'm proud of myself.

On the whole, I find Dr Carson to be an inspiration. He speaks honestly in his biography about the challenges that he faced growing up as a black kid in Detroit and the racism that he had to confront as a doctor, but he doesn't indulge in whining or self-pity. Instead he saw adversity as a challenge to better himself and set himself up to be the best that he could possibly be with God's help. And he succeeded--brilliantly.

I was talking with the Man about Dr Carson last night, and we had a long discussion about Seventh Day Adventists (which was what Dr Carson was), and the Man filled me in some on what Seventh Day Adventists believe since I had no clue. While theologically they are evidently off, what I read in Gifted Hands about Ben Carson's relationship with the Lord encouraged me greatly. I do hope that he had a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ and one day I'll get to see him in heaven. In the meantime, I'm just glad I read his book and now feel significantly more intelligent and medically savvy. Although I guess the words "savvy" and "medical" should never be in the same sentence. Maybe "intelligent" shouldn't be in there with "savvy" either.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ah, Bliss, Rapture...

french press coffee and home made chocolate almond biscotti
home cooked dinner with the Man who is not at work (incroyable!)
sleeping Littles
family and friends to love
learning new things every day
no more headache
time to read about Jesus

it is well...

but now there is no more of numero tres. too bad Little Man doesn't like coffee. I'd share. maybe.

I'm A Big Fat Liar

I said I was going to put a hold on my rabid novel reading. I lied. Here's the truth though: I picked up three nonfiction books (and all the children's books) and was on my way out of the library when, what did mine eyes spy but the fourth in a series that I absolutely love, the fourth that was newly put to print, copyrighted 2010. How could I resist? I couldn't. And I didn't. And I read it that very day. While walking around the block. Speaking of which, we never came up with a good name for that.

Anyway, the series is by Megan Whalen Turner, who unfortunately failed to give her own books an all inclusive catchy title that I could use for this blog (what is her problem!?). The first book of the series, The Thief, is a Newbery Honor Book, and then she wrote The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia. I'm seriously obsessed with these books. I own all three of them, although I may have stolen The Thief from one of my sisters, and yes, I realize the irony of that, but I'm a book thief as well as a chronic liar. At any rate, I found book four, A Conspiracy of Kings, on the new books shelf at the library, and it was totally worth this confession. And then some. I love the ancient Greek feel to the books, and her plot twists always make me happy. Plus, Turner's characters are flawed but lovable and frequently funny. And just darn enjoyable to read about! Seriously, reading A Conspiracy of Kings was like going back a former home to spend time with old friends that I love.

I feel no shame. Oh, Megan Whalen, thank you for writing more young adult fiction to make my life a better place. Your swashbuckling tales have brought a little more joy into my already book happy life.

I just did some research, and the series has a name! The Queen's Thief Series. So quick, go find them! And read about a rascally thief, a (sometimes) bumbling prince, a crafty magus, and two queens, each different and wonderful in their own ways, but mostly read about the thief, because if he wasn't a fictional character, he would be my best friend. Seriously. Okay, I would want him to be my best friend, and yes, I realize that's not at all the same thing.

Writing About Books

It's the end of a long day, and all I want to do is sit in the recliner with the cat and write about books. So here I am. Doing exactly what I want to do. Expect multiple posts tonight, depending on my time constraints. I've been reading like a fiend.

This post is dedicated to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named who is currently out for the count in the nursery. I picked up several books to read to him this week, and I've got to say: they were hits. Or maybe my ever expressive reading voice was what did the trick. Either way, the Hubs was in disbelief when I told him Little Man sat through 4.3 books in a row, absolutely hypnotized. And I wasn't lying. Although I do have more to say on that later. Lying, that is.

So. A few of the best:

We're going in order of favourites here, and this was definitely it. I have no words to say how much I loved this book, and Little Guy was a fan too. In fact, I love it so much that I almost want to buy it for him. But that's what libraries are for. At any rate, Go To Bed, Monster! tells the story of a wakeful young girl who decides she wants to draw instead of going to bed. She ends up drawing a monster, and they have all sorts of fun times together until she gets tired and has to convince the monster to go to sleep. My favourite part: the monster has incredibly expressive eyes. Sylvie Kantorovitz, the illustrator, is a genius. Seriously. I have no idea how she managed to take something that genuinely looked like a child's drawing and manage to give it so much character. Love, love, love. But if my child decided to draw instead of going to bed, there would be words. And then some.

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed was a close second for the number one pick this week. I admit: I have a thing for naked mole rats. I always have. And no, I don't have a good reason for it. I don't like moles or rats or nudists, but there's just something about naked mole rats that makes me laugh. So I thoroughly enjoyed Mo Willems book about the naked mole rat named Wilbur who bucks convention to get dressed. There was a lot of understated humour, and the drawings were simple but fun. I loved the character of Grand-Pah, the big cheese of the naked mole rat world, who, when faced with the question of clothes or no clothes finally settles the matter with: WHY NOT? Which is as much of an endorsement as I need for getting dressed.

Last little note this time around is on the Guess How Much I Love You books. Someone gave us the original at one of our baby showers (yes, I know it's horrible that I can't remember who, but my memory is terrible at best and was five times worse when pregnant, so calculate whatever five times worse than terrible is, and you get the picture). Anyway, so I've been reading the original to Alex at night and picked up Colors Everywhere at the library. I love the Nutbrown Hare family and their books. They're sweet. And I'm occasionally a sap. So if you haven't read them to your children, make that happen. They really are classics.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Before I Forget

I read another Artemis Fowl book last week and keep forgetting to put a note on here about it. I occasionally pick up one of Eoin Colfer's books just for kicks and always enjoy reading about the young Irish master-criminal. I've read most of the Artemis Fowl series completely out of order, and I maintain that it's not my fault. My sisters gave me the fifth one for Christmas one year, assuming that I'd already read the first four. Who does that? SERIOUSLY. And I've never gotten them back in line since then. The books, not my sisters. Although I guess it carries over either way.

At any rate, if you're looking for a few hundred light hearted pages of fantasy, Artemis Fowl is not too shabby. It's a nice blend of real world and fairy-land with some genuinely funny moments. I, personally, imagine Artemis to look something like Macauley Culkin, which is odd, because he's not even Irish. There is actually a movie currently in the works, which I will probably watch and be disappointed in. Funny how that happens.

I'm making a trip to the library this afternoon to return Artemis Fowl: the Opal Deception and Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions. We'll see what else I pick up. I already have three books in the lineup for the next week or so. And I think I'm going to take a break from novels for a bit after I finish off Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union. But don't hold your breath.

So. Kurt Vonnegut.

Where to start? I just finished Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, and when I say "just" I mean: I closed the book, having read the last page, and opened a new window in Safari, and TA-DA here I am. There are so many things that I want to say about this book that I'm somewhat at a loss.

To start off: having been an English major and an avid reader, I'm a little surprised that it's taken me this long to read a Vonnegut novel. I've spent years feeling guilty and sub-par and unintellectual for not having read one of his books. No more. I've now checked that one off my list and feel no need to ever read one of his books again. As I told one of my friends: I learned words that I didn't know I didn't want to know.

With that said, I found the last half of the book infinitely more intriguing than the first; Vonnegut is an exceptionally intelligent writer; Breakfast of Champions gave me a lot to think about; and, surprisingly, I (mostly) don't regret reading it. There were many times in the first hundred pages or so when I wondered why I was still reading, but when everything came to a head and Vonnegut actually began tying things together...then I started feeling like it was worth it. I think the turning point for me was when Vonnegut introduced himself into the novel as a sort of deus ex machina, which added a whole new level of interesting crazy. Personally, I'm glad I don't live in his head. I may not have a bunch of best selling novels under my belt, but I manage to ape at least some measure of sanity.

Interestingly enough, in my quick googling of Vonnegut, I found out that he graded all of his work. He gave Breakfast of Champions a C. Does that mean I should give one of his grade A books a try? I'm not sure I'm ready to plunge back into his odd little universe quite yet.

One last thing, I did kind of enjoy his hand drawn illustrations. How many authors tell you about a bucket of fried chicken and then say: "And this is what it looked like" and show you?

So. Kurt Vonnegut. All right then. And moving on...

Friday, September 10, 2010

T.S. Eliot Weather

It's in the sixties this morning, and I'm happily drinking coffee and eating danish while wearing a sweater dress. I have about twelve other things I should be doing right now, but for the moment, I'm reading T.S. Eliot. There's just something about this weather that makes me crave some Thomas Stearns. Best of all, T.S. is significantly more enjoyable than the novel I'm at present forcing myself to finish. More on that later. For now, go brew a pot of coffee, and (if you can) sit outside and take a deep breath of fresh air, let the coming of autumn seep happily into your bones, and read:

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, 'Do I dare?' and, 'Do I dare?'
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair--
[They will say: 'How his hair is growing thin!']
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--
[They will say: 'But how his arms and legs are thin!']
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all--
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
excerpt from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Not Too Far From the Truth

If I were to make a movie about the life of a military wife it would include at least one montage of said wife on the phone trying to get medical bills, legal matters, and other such things taken care of. First, there would be a ridiculously long recorded message as the sun comes up and she proceeds to drink her coffee, fold the laundry, straighten the house, jostle the baby on the get the picture. Followed by an even longer period of being on hold while listening to patriotic music. Big band will blare the Star Spangled Banner while she showers, eats lunch, runs errands, feeds the cat, gets the oil changed, picks the kids up from school, pulls her son's first tooth, welcomes her husband home from work and serves him a casserole she made from scratch, washes the dishes, reads the goodnight book, and then sits on the back porch to watch the sunset. Finally, as she crawls into bed (phone still attached to her ear), a helpful voice on the other end will tell her that she'll have to be connected to another office.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A (Tiny Bit Snobby) Note on Christian Romance Novels

I have an unhealthy habit of reading badly written books and mocking them. I used to take advantage of my fiction workshops in college for this same level of gratification. Snarky, I know. I admit that I (on occasion) read some of the more poorly written short stories out loud to my roommates so that we could laugh over them together. I read them stupid novels with much more regularity. And I still indulge myself even though I now laugh at them in the privacy of my own home.

So, were you to sample the plentiful market of less than pristine writing, I'd send you straight to your neighborhood Christian book store and tell you to check out the fiction section. Personally, I'm a fan of the Christian romance novel, which some term as "porn for women" and I like to call "darn good fun." Lori Wick, Janette Oke, Robin Jones Gunn... I've read them all and laughed uproariously over them. (Aside: this is not a comment on those writers as people. I'm sure that they are kind, wonderful women who truly love the Lord and I commend them for using their gifts to the best of their ability. I just question their editors' level of discernment.)

That said, the one Christian romance writer that I find to occasionally produce decent writing is Francine Rivers, and I picked up a book of hers while hanging out with my aunt last week: Her Mother's Hope. Not one of her best. I'm not saying that it was a complete cheese-fest, but it didn't stand up to some of her previous work (Leota's Garden and The Last Sin-Eater being some of the best works of modern Christian fiction I've read recently). Rivers' story covers a Swiss woman's journey to America, marriage, and family over the span of the two World Wars. Props to her for actually doing research and for not hitting me over the head with a Bible (if I have to read one more sermon in what's supposed to be a novel...). On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give it a "not too shabby." I didn't spend 483 pages giggling over gushing descriptions of the protagonist's eyes or howling at awkward conversations. And I will read the sequel when it comes out, mostly because she actually left me on a cliff hanger. Seriously. Christian fiction and she left me on a cliff hanger? I was surprised too.

In closing, why is it that so much Christian fiction is so poorly written? Aren't we supposed to do everything to the best of our abilities and didn't God give us the same amount of talent as the non-believer next door? Just wondering... Thoughts?