A Literary Survey

bookcase
I love this kind of post.  (You know that, right?  Because I’ve totally done it before.  And also here.  And also here, and probably elsewhere!)  This time I stole it from my friend Maggie.  You can read her version here.  (And then read more of her blog because she is FABULOUS.  Many of her posts are like prose poems.)
  • Author you’ve read the most books from (the grammatical construction of that question is NOT MY FAULT):  Isn’t that an interesting question!  If we could count Carolyn Keene as an actual person, and only one person, then she might win, since I once had about 50 Nancy Drew books.  I’ve read all 23 of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone mysteries (three letters left in the alphabet!).  No, wait!  I know, it’s Agatha Christie!  She wrote around 80 books, and I have almost all of them.
  • Best Sequel Ever: don’t ever read a “sequel” to a classic novel that you loved written by some new person after the copyright on the original expired.  Just. Don’t. Do. It.  ACTUAL good sequels I have read:  Little Men and Rose in Bloom (both by Louisa May Alcott), Innocent by Scott Turow, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet (both by Madeleine L’Engle)  I’m sure there are more that are not rising immediately to mind.
  • Currently Reading: I’m embarrassed to admit I am not in progress on anything at the moment.  My problem is I get so absorbed in my books that I neglect everything else in order to read.  So sometimes I have to neglect reading in order to get things done.  I am SUPPOSED to be reading Something Wicked This Way Comes for my book club.  I had better get on that!
  • Drink of Choice While Reading: Coffee.
  • E-reader or Physical Book? Physical book.  Bet you could have guessed that!
  • Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School: Jamie Fraser comes to mind. 😉  Seriously, just about anyone would have done, I was so desperate at that time.
  • Glad You Gave This Book A Chance: Pillars of the Earth, which my sister kept badgering me to read.  It was WONDERFUL.  Now she is badgering me to read the sequel.
  • Hidden Gem Book:  While I wouldn’t exactly say they are hidden, when I hear people talking about the Anne of Green Gables books I always put in a plug for the Emily of New Moon series by the same author, which in many ways I like even better, with their hint of the supernatural and a heroine who is in my opinion more flawed than Anne.
  • Important Moment in your Reading Life:  Either when my mother first pulled out the giant card with the word MOMMY on it in red, when I was about two years old, thereby initiating me into the wonderful world of reading, or when after all my books burned up, and I couldn’t even bring myself to read for an entire month, I started reading and collecting books again.
  • Just Finished:  I recently finished W is for Wasted, Sue Grafton’s latest.  Before that I read How Shakespeare Changed Everything, and before that it was Damned by Chuck Palahniuk .  Oh, and I also re-read The Runaway Jury somewhere in there, just for fun.  I know, John Grisham, but the plots are engaging.
  • Kinds of Books You Won’t Read: Anything that is going to scare me.
  • Longest Book You’ve Read: I read some Civil War novel in high school that was around 1,500 pages long.  If you consider (as did its author!) The Lord of the Rings to be one book, that’s 1,200 pages and I’ve read it out loud!  Also Gone with the Wind is 1,034 pages and I’ve read it uncountable times, the first when I was only 8.
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  • Major book hangover because of:  Even though everyone else is saying it too, I’d have to go with Harry Potter.  I read the last book from midnight to 6 a.m., then immediately read it again.
  • Number of Bookcases You Own:  Pre-fire, we owned at least fifteen, from floor-to-ceiling built-ins to nightstand sized.  I always dreamed of a library in which to put the boxes of books stored in the garage, but I don’t need that any more. 🙁  We have purchased only two pieces of furniture for this house (all the rest was given to us), and one was a bookcase (pictured above).  Scattered throughout the house are four others, and then the sooty books are on a couple of utility shelves in the garage.
  • One Book You Have Read Multiple Times: SO MANY.  I love re-reading old books more than reading new ones, honestly.  It’s so comforting.  In fact, any book I keep will be re-read!
  • Preferred Place To Read: In my wonderful spa tub.
  • Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read: “It’s a known fact . . . yuh got to go there to know there.  Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh.  Two things everybody’s got to do fuh theyselves.  They got to go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.” (From Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston)
  • Reading Regret: That working, exhaustion, and the internet keep me from reading as much as I used to; and the loss of my favorite, most comforting books in the fire.
  • Series You Started And Need To Finish (all books are out in series): If I like a series and all of it’s out, I’ve already read it!  I would like to re-read the Sookie Stackhouse series from the beginning, though.
  • Three of your All-Time Favorite Books: The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy, The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  (And y’all know that’s really an impossible question, don’t you?)
 
  • Unapologetic Fangirl For: The Lord of the Rings
  • Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:  I guess the next thing to get excited about is Patricia Cornwell’s next book.  There aren’t many books I buy new, but I always buy hers.
 
  • Worst Bookish Habit: I just can’t seem to get into bookmarks.  I’ve stopped dog-earing the pages but now I leave the book lying open.
  • X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book:  Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (not really necessary in this Internet age, but nice to have on the shelf)
  • Your latest book purchase:   W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton.  Usually I get her latest as a Christmas gift but I saw it in Kroger on sale and couldn’t resist.  I don’t buy books, in general–I get them from McKay’s, or the church book swap, or as gifts.
  • ZZZ-snatcher book: (last book that kept you up WAY late): See above.  However, I will stay up way too late virtually any time I read something at all absorbing, which is one reason I have been avoiding absorbing reads lately!
And there you have it!  Feel free to play along in the comments or on your own blog if you have one!  I’d love to read your survey.

books

He who does not weep does not see

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Y’all, I am OBSESSED with Les Miserables right now.   Searching Twitter and Tumblr tags, listening to every soundtrack I can find on Spotify pretty much nonstop, reading reviews and analyses online . . .  I cannot WAIT to see it again.  Let’s not call this a review, exactly–it’s more of a tribute (or a gush) because this movie is WONDERFUL.   It rose to the top of my favorite movie list like a rocket.
Here’s where I would normally tell you that if you aren’t interested in this movie and don’t plan to see it, you should move along.  But I won’t say that, because everyone should see this movie.  You just don’t know what you are missing.   Some are avoiding it because they think it is depressing.  No.  It’s sad.  Very, very sad. But SAD and DEPRESSING are different.  This movie–this story–is UPLIFTING.
I learned about catharsis in high school English, but I didn’t understand the point of it then.  Why seek out emotional experiences in fiction?  Aren’t our tears over the reality of life enough?  Now, though, I love me some catharsis and Les Miserables has been a source of it for me for many years.
I saw the musical on stage probably 20 years ago.  I purchased the soundtrack–on cassette–and when my big kids were little I was in the habit of listening to it regularly.  I remember clearly standing in my little yellow kitchen, chopping vegetables for supper, tears rolling down my face.  It was Fantine’s death scene that always got me then.  I only had to hear the opening line for the tears to start.
As for my kids, they grew to love the songs as well, especially “Master of the House” because of the bad words (okay to sing but not to say!).  I was so excited when almost 12 years ago the play came back to Knoxville.  I wanted the kids to see it, and we spent over 80 dollars we could ill afford then on the tickets.  My dream was squelched when I (nine months’ pregnant with #4) got put on bedrest for high blood pressure just days before the show.
John and the kids got to go, though, and in the years since we’ve kept the magic alive, frequently bursting into the initial sung conversation between Javert and Valjean. (Things like that happen around here a lot.)
I’ve never seen it since, and I was beyond excited for the movie, and especially to finally get to experience the story with the big kids. (They loved it too.)
You always wonder and worry a little about seeing an adaptation or a remake of a much-loved book or show or movie.  You know there are going to be changes.  And the newer version is going to stick in your head.  Will it spoil the old one?  If you haven’t seen this movie yet for those sorts of reasons, don’t let it hold you back.  Of necessity, a film is different from a play.  And there are some small changes.  But the changes add rather than detract.  Where additions are made they come from the book or reflect its spirit.  Here is the first of several blog posts I’ve been reading that explain this beautifully, along with quotations from the book.  Read them all.
Having experienced the story onstage and onscreen and through the music now over so many years, one thing that has interested me how my own reactions to the material have altered.  Part of that has to do with the differences in media but I also think it reflects where I am in my own my life.  As I said earlier I used to find Fantine’s death the most devastating part (it’s still sad!).  I think that was because I was empathasizing with her as we were both mothers of little children.  This time I was most moved by the death of the young men on the barricade.  Why?  Because I am now the mother of two almost grown up boys.  They reminded me of Jake and Teddy and their friends.
young rebels
 
One virtue of the movie format is that you get to know the minor characters so much better.  Even with the best seats in the house you can’t see individual faces at a play the way you can on a screen.  The young men on the barricade were humanized and individualized in the movie version.  The tragedy and waste of their deaths became personal.
Some reviews I read criticized what I saw as a strength:  the way the movie showed the characters in closeup while they were singing their big numbers, never leaving their faces for the duration of the song (which by the way were actually sung while filmed, not lip synched and added later).  Me, I thought it was amazing.  THEY were amazing.  No, they didn’t always belt out the tunes, Broadway fashion, because this was a different format, and not necessary in a film.  They ACTED the songs.  The feelings they showed were amazing.  They cried while singing.  Their voices broke with emotion.
Anne Hathaway should get an Oscar.  What everyone is talking about is The Song, and The Song is amazing, but to me her acting was just as moving in the small parts.  The way her lips trembled and her eyes filled when she knew she was about the lose her job.  The way she cried while her hair was being cut.
fantine hair cut
 
I’ve got nothing negative to say about the casting or the music, although plenty of people seem to.  I concede that Russell Crowe’s voice isn’t on the same level as the rest of the cast.  However, I liked his Javert very much and I think his softer singing shapes his depiction of the character.  His Javert was meditative, thoughtful, driven but not fanatical, trying to do what was right but getting it all wrong.  I understood this Javert.  I felt sorry for him.  I didn’t want him to die.
Hugh Jackman’s transformation from convict to Monsieur Madeleine was impressive.  We couldn’t figure out how they could possibly pretty him up!  I only knew of him before this movie.  If you’ve thought of him as an action hero he will surprise and delight you here.
I won’t go through all the characters because you can read about them anywhere.  But I will say that I am a critical person, trained to be that way as an English major, and I wouldn’t–couldn’t–criticize anyone’s performance in this movie.
I have more to say–especially about the music and the religious themes.  Because this is a profoundly Catholic movie–more than the play–and I loved it for that as well.  But I will leave that for another day and here end with a plea:  GO SEE THIS MOVIE.
P.S.  If you have a heart, you should approach Les Miserables prepared to weep.  Don’t see it with people you don’t want to cry in front of.   I had to stifle an actual sob at one point.  You’ll cry because it’s sad, and you’ll cry because it is beautiful.
 

Spring Cleaning

Winter cleaning doesn’t sound right, and actually it was fall when we did it, but we (mostly me) thoroughly cleaned out our garage a couple of weekends ago in preparation for the arrival of the contents of Grandma’s house. [Update:  And I will be doing it again this week in preparation for the things we are getting as a result of my mother-in-law’s move to an apartment.]
Shortly after we moved in last September, we went to the storage space we had rented right after the house burned down and retrieved our belongings (except for our patio furniture and three other pieces we saved from the basement, it all fit in a 5 x 5 unit).  We brought the boxes home and put them in the garage, and there they sat for over a year.  Why?  Because they were boxes of movies and books (many, many books) that escaped burning but were thoroughly blackened with soot.
I’ve hated going into the garage because of the smell of fire.  And it was hard opening the boxes that had been closed, because the smell was even stronger.  But it was also good, because I found some things I did not know had been saved.  And even though it will blacken my hands to read them, I still can, if I want to.
The books that were in the basement were children’s books (left behind because at some point I got overwhelmed and just wanted to leave), homeschooling books, and series we had collected:  Star Trek (tons of these), Agatha Christie (I had them all!), Patricia Cornwell, Anne Tyler, and a few others.  We cleaned and covered the basement shelves, and now they are all out where I can see them.
Star Trek Books
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And now that it’s done, you know what?  The fire smell is going away!

Books Worth Reading

I’m cheating a bit on this post because it’s so late and I don’t have much time to make the NaBloPoMo deadline, but I’m a sucker for this kind of thing anyway.
Yesterday a Facebook friend invited me to do the following:
The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. 15 books that influence you or will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can think of in 15 minutes. Tag at least 15 friends, including me, because I am interested in seeing what books my friends choose. Copy the rules, list 15 books and tag 15 friends.
I produced the following list (many of which I blogged about before here), and I was so disappointed that only one of my friends joined in!  Feel free to join in yourself in the comments if you wish.
1. The Lords of Discipline (My favorite book by my favorite fiction writer, Pat Conroy–this is arguably my favorite book of all time.)
2. The Art of Natural Family Planning (This set me on the right path before I had a chance to make any mistakes and I am grateful.)
3. Let’s Have Healthy Children (I read it while pregnant with #1 and I credit it with the robust health enjoyed by all my children.)
4. Surrendering to Motherhood (I need to re-read this periodically to remind me of what’s REALLY important.)

5. Kids Are Worth It! (This is best parenting book I EVER read.)
6. How to Raise Healthy Children in Spite of Your Doctor (We rarely go to the doctor and this book is one reason.)
7. Between Parent and Child (I only wish I could always remember to speak to my kids the way Haim Ginott suggests.)
8. The Lord of the Rings (I’ve read it more times than I can remember, including once out loud.)
9. The Song of Bernadette (I understand and appreciate it more with every reading, and I am so grateful to have been able to visit the site where it all happened.)
10. The Greatest Salesman in the World (I’m not a huge fan of self-help but this is lyrical and inspirational with an awesome twist.)
11. Breastfeeding and Natural Childspacing (This was life-changing for me–I breastfed for 13 years.)
12. Humanae Vitae (I’d heard birth control was wrong but no one ever told me why until I read this beautiful encyclical.)
13. Childbirth without Fear (The first book I read on childbirth, it formed my views about what birth could be.)
14. Open Season (This led me to my triumphant VBAC of my 13 lb. 5 oz. son.)
15. Gone with the Wind (I first read it when I was only 8–I’ve read this one aloud as well!)
Won’t you play?  What are your favorites?

Reading Aloud: It's Not Just for the Kids

David Copperfield.
Gone with the Wind.
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The Lord of the Rings.
Dracula.
The Lords of Discipline.
The Hobbit.
The Dark is Rising series.
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The Chronicles of Narnia.
A Tale of Two Cities.
Little House on the Prairie.
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What do the above books have in common (besides being awesome, of course!)?
They are all books that I have read aloud in their entirety.  This might make you think I am a great mother, carrying on the bedtime reading well past the early childhood years.  You’d be wrong.
Because I did not read these books to my kids–I read them to my husband.
I don’t remember how it started, but way back when we were first married–maybe even before–I started reading aloud to John, sometimes at bedtime, often on long car trips (there were many in those days), and even just sitting in the living room, when we got so absorbed in a book we just didn’t want to stop.
I picked the books–favorites of mine that I wanted to share.  Sometimes I picked authors–like Dickens–that John was doubtful about, just so I could prove him wrong. 🙂
We continued this even after we had kids.  I can remember sitting out on the balcony of our last apartment, reading David Copperfield and feeling sad at the end of the nearly 1,000 pages, because we were going to miss the characters we had spent so much time with.
I remember sitting in the living room of our first house, reading Gone with the Wind by the light of the Christmas tree, and hearing little Emily in the hallway, listening in.  It was a great way to spend time together, doing something special without leaving the house, which would have required a babysitter.
What I can’t remember is exactly when we stopped, or why.  It was probably about ten years ago.  Maybe we got too busy, having four kids and lots of outside activities.  Maybe it was too noisy on car trips and we had to focus on amusing the kids instead of ourselves.  Maybe we were so tired at bedtime that we just fell asleep.  For sure, part of it was that Emily got old enough to babysit, and we were able from then until recently to leave the house whenever we wanted to spend time together without the kids.
But now that has changed.  The big boys are still at home, but not much.  They have active social lives that keep them out of the house most of the time on weekends.  If we want to be assured of a babysitter for a special occasion, like a wedding or an anniversary, we have to make a plan with them in advance (because we are not THOSE people, who expect their teenage kids to take care of their little siblings no matter what–we always ask.).
William is 11–old enough, in our opinion and his, to stay alone at home for an hour or two, in the daytime hours.  But he is not old enough to be responsible for seven-year-old Lorelei, day or night.
So we are spending more time at home in the evening than we have in years.  And it occurred to me that reading aloud would be a much nicer way to connect than playing on our separate computers all night.  I’ve been wanting to read Jane Eyre to John for some time.  Then Wuthering Heights.  I can’t wait!
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[UPDATE:  I’m embarrassed to admit that we couldn’t get through one chapter.  We can’t stay awake while reading in bed anymore.  However, I’ve gotten back into the reading aloud groove in order to help William with his school English assignments.  In the past year I’ve read him War of the Worlds, Frankenstein, and Unbroken.  And right now I’m reading The House with a Clock in Its Walls to the whole family.]

The Things That Really Matter

Closet space.  Is there ever enough of it?  There were next to no closets in our Victorian house.  We purchased three armoires from Myrtle’s Mess for the bedrooms, and crammed them so full the doors would barely close. (John’s enormous oak armoire is one of three pieces of furniture salvaged from the fire.)
So we were excited when we moved into what the kids now call “the burnt down house” to distinguish it from “the old house” and “our first house.”  I had a walk-in (or at least “step-in”) closet and John appropriated the closet in the office for his clothes.  (Teddy still had to use the armoire, which is why it was in the basement and survived the flames; the other two were stored in the garage.)
And we crammed those closets full.  Mine had clothes in several sizes, even some things that were twenty years old.  Some I hoped to wear again one day, some had purely sentimental value.  There were old pocketbooks, and scarves, and lots of shoes.   And of course I had a dresser crammed full of socks and underwear and t-shirts.  And an overflowing laundry basket with the clothes I wore most of the time, which never seemed to get put away.
It sounds strange to say that the timing of Grandma’s death was a blessing, but it was.  Not only did it probably save our lives, since we were all out of the house when it exploded into flames, but it meant that we all had several days’ worth of clothes with us (and our computers!).  The clothes I took to Baltimore (and wouldn’t you know I had tried to pack as light as possible) were all that I had.
It didn’t take long before our kids had more clothes than we knew what to do with.  Family had already started buying things for Jake and Teddy before John and I and the little kids made it back to Knoxville.  Donations poured in from near and far on a daily basis.  Lorelei ended up with a wardrobe fit for a little princess.
John did not do badly either.  Thanks to my cousin Melissa, who works in a medical practice, he ended up with a closet full of doctors’ dress clothes (which are pretty much the same as attorneys’ dress clothes!).  She also gave took him on a shopping trip in Uncle Charlie‘s closet.  He did have to buy a couple of new suits, but he soon had more clothes than he started with!
I had a harder time.  Much of what was donated either did not fit or did not suit me.  And although I had some gift cards, beyond replacing absolute necessities I never seemed to make the time to shop.
When we went to look at houses to rent, realtors would talk up the storage aspect and I would just laugh, because we had nothing left to store.  Our new house sports a walk-in closet so big you could hang out in it (and in fact sometimes I do read in there at night!).  Until my last trip to Walmart (when I added about three outfits) this is what my side of the closet looked like:

I have a dresser that actually has EMPTY DRAWERS.  I don’t own enough underwear to make it through the week.
Now this is not a pity-party or an attempt to solicit gift cards.  🙂  I held onto a Christmas gift card for several months before I finally went shopping.  The point is that I have been trying to sort out in my own head what I have learned in the past year, what it all means.  Because if something like that happens to you and you don’t at least get some wisdom from it, that would really suck, right?
So one thing I am learning is what THINGS (in the literal sense of the word) matter to me.  And clearly clothes don’t rank high on that list.  It’s probably no surprise to anyone to find out what does, what I already have more of than I can use, what I accumulate more of weekly.

55 Reading Questions

I have a Tumblr, which you can find here.  I don’t do much with it; I think I’m not really in the demographic it’s meant for, but I signed up so I could see what my daughter posts.  And recently I happened upon this list of questions from timaspublishing via bookaddict24-7.  Y’all know how much I love to read so I thought this would be fun. (It’s self-indulgent, I know.)
55 Reading Questions
1. Favorite childhood book?
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2. What are you reading right now?
Well, this is a little embarrassing.  I can’t recall the name of it and I will no doubt forget all about it within 24 hours of reading it.  It’s one of my guilty pleasure books, a Love Inspired Suspense paperback that I got for free by temporarily joining their book club.  (Update:  That’s what I WAS reading when I started writing this.  Since then I’ve read Up Country for my book club, The Horse and His Boy which I found laying around the house somewhere, and probably more that I can’t remember.  I’m actually currently reading Freakanomics.)
3. What books do you have on request at the library?
None.  I only do libraries in the summer.
4. Bad book habit?
I’m actively training myself in the use of bookmarks right now.  I usually leave my books lying open and face down.  I have, however, stopped bending the corners of the pages down. [UPDATE: Mission Accomplished.]
5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Nothing (see above).  I think my privileges are probably suspended at the moment anyway.  I am just terrible about returning books on time.
6. Do you have an e-reader?
Nope, and I don’t want one.  Hope I never cave on this. (Update:  My birthday has come and gone and now I own an iPad with an app on it that opens the doors to the wide world of e-reading.  I have a friend who only e-publishes a lot of her work and I want to read her stories.  Don’t look to find me curled up with my iPad reading Gone with the Wind any time soon.)
7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
One at a time.
8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
No.  I would not be reading right now, I’d be working.  Or perhaps doing dishes.
9. Least favourite book you read this year (so far)?
I have probably read 50 books or more this year and I don’t keep a list.  I don’t recall actively hating any book but most of the romances are pretty forgettable.
10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
Probably The Quiet Game.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Never.  Why would I take something that’s a pleasure and make it unpleasant?  Besides, my zone is pretty big.
12. What is your reading comfort zone?
See above!  I like stupid romances, mysteries, suspense, religious books, parenting books . . . I especially like legal thrillers.
13. Can you read on the bus?
As a child I did it all the time.  These days I would get sick.  I can only read on the interstate (not, of course, while driving).
14. Favorite place to read?
In my bed. [Update:  Not any more.  I can no longer see well enough to read in dim light.  And I’m too tired to read at night.  New answer:  front porch.]
15. What is your policy on book lending?
No problem.
16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
I used to but I’ve stopped.  I don’t want to mutilate the books I’m keeping and I want the ones I’m getting rid of in good enough condition to be accepted by the used book store.
17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
Not since college.
18. Not even with text books?
LOL.  See above.  It was hard for me even to get used to doing that.  I know people make notes in books and sometimes it seems like it would be a good idea but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
19. What is your favourite language to read in?
English.  I am proud of having at one point been able to more or less read books in French but now that my French, Latin, and Old English texts are gone I doubt I will be replacing them.
20. What makes you love a book?
A gripping page-turning story.  Characters I get emotionally involved with.  A sense of place and time.
21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
I will recommend non-fiction books that made enough of an impression on me to actually influence what I DO (or try to do).  As for fiction, that depends on what the people I’m talking to are looking for.
22. Favorite genre?
Legal thrillers/mysteries.
23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?
Spiritual/Theology.  I have tons of them but most days my brain is too tired.
24. Favourite biography?
You know, I get these but never seem to get through them.  I had a lovely one of St. Thomas More that I read part of, and another enormous one about Dickens.  These were in the to-be-read pile pre-fire.  I cannot remember when I’ve read one as an adult.  Now, as a child, I read tons.  There was a shelf in the school library with somewhat simplified stories, always starting with the famous person’s childhood, and I loved those.  I was especially fond of Helen Keller and read every book about her I could find.
25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
I’m sure I have.  My husband is a big fan, and he had a couple of shelves full.  But I can’t really remember any, unless you call parenting books self-help books.   In general, I’m suspicious of any books that promise smooth sailing and a happy life in a few easy steps.  Life is hard and I don’t know any shortcuts.
26. Favourite cookbook?
I’m not a huge cookbook collector.  Mostly I don’t use recipes.  The two go-to books I relied on were the 1970s edition of The Joy of Cooking and the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.  If I needed to make a pie crust or cook a lobster tail that’s where I turned for advice.  I had a couple of beautiful cookbooks with gorgeous pictures and never got around to making a single thing out of them.  The exception to all this is Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking, which I loved loved loved and made almost every single recipe in.  I even broke my writing in books rule to put personalized comments on the recipes, how we liked them, what changes I made.  And later I bought the author’s second book on making soups.  These are books I will definitely be replacing, because not only are the recipes good, they are spiritual books filled with interesting and inspiring stories.  And the premise of the bread-making book is that making bread is a spiritual experience–the author examines his conscience as he mixes his dough each day. [UPDATE:  I did indeed get a new copy.  I highly recommend it.]
27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Couldn’t tell you.  Can’t remember.  I guess I wasn’t that inspired.
28. Favorite reading snack?
N/A since I usually read in bed.
29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
For me, it’s usually the opposite.  I’m suspicious of hype.  I did not read the Harry Potter books for years because I figured a book everyone was making such a fuss over was probably lowbrow (I’m an intellectual snob.).
30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I don’t really seek out critical comment in advance.  I read what looks good to me.
31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
Since I don’t have a huge reach and am not likely to end anyone’s career with my opinion, I enjoy it.  [UPDATE: If someone gives me a book to review, I would be unlikely to give it a scathing review–that just seems ugly.  I generally try to find some nice things to say about it to balance out my critical comments.]
32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
Latin.
33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
I guess Madame Bovary, in French, for a college French Lit class.  It was exhausting and took forever, and I had to cheat and read the last few chapters in English.  And then after all that suffering I hated the book anyway.
34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
I wouldn’t say I’m nervous but I know I should read things like War and Peace and Ulysses and the thought makes me exhausted.
35. Favorite Poet?
Oh, William Wordsworth, definitely, courtesy of Professor Betz and his Sophomore Honors English course.  Professor Betz was my advisor in college.  He’s a renowned Wordsworth scholar who spends summers hanging out in the same places Wordsworth did.  I find that when someone is that passionate about a subject, he cannot help but transfer some of that passion to his students.  I’m also fond of William Blake and all the Romantic Poets.  I love Poe.  I can appreciate modern poetry, but I will always prefer the kind that rhymes.
36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
Probably around ten.
37. How often have you returned books to the library unread?
Not too often, occasionally at the end of the summer when I know that if I don’t I will probably never remember and will end up with another enormous fine and be stuck without the use of my card until they have another one of those days where I can trade them cans of food to erase the fines!
38. Favorite fictional character?
How can I answer that? I don’t think I can.  There are so many characters that I love.  Today I will go with Will McLean from The Lords of Discipline, arguably my favorite book of all time.

39. Favourite fictional villain?
I’m supposed to like the villains?  Today I will go with Rhett Butler.  I know, he’s a scoundrel, not a villain, but I really do think he gets off lightly.  Scarlett would never have gotten into so much trouble if he hadn’t egged her on.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
Something I’d like to read aloud in the car.  This used to be a favorite pastime of mine and my husband’s.  I also bring all the magazines I’m behind on.  Because I read ALL THE TIME, I have no need for a special “beach book.”  I ALWAYS find time to read, so it’s not a priority on vacation and I might actually watch t.v (which I don’t do at home) instead!
41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
I gave up reading for Lent in the second grade.  Dumb idea and I was miserable.  It sure was a sacrifice though.  I did not read a book for about a month after the house burned down.  For one thing, all my books burned up.  I was also overwhelmed and exhausted.  Too, there was some kind of weird element of, “My books are all gone.  I can’t read any more.”  I didn’t even FEEL like reading.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
I can’t think of one.  I know I had a few that I put down halfway through but I always planned to get back to them.  And that’s rare.  Usually if I’ve gone to the trouble to start I will finish.
43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Nothing.  It’s a problem.
44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
The Lord of the Rings films.  I can remember mourning as a child that it would be impossible to bring those books to the screen, but they did it and did it well.
45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Umm . . . most of them?  I know that you have to make changes when bringing a book to life on the screen.  But when I cannot understand WHY the changes were necessary, I don’t like it.  The first thing that comes to mind is “The Secret of Nimh,” loosely based on Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, one of the best children’s books ever.  WHY was her name changed to Mrs. Brisby in the movie?  Why did the rats look like terrifying otherworldly creatures instead of, you know, rats?

[UPDATE: The Hobbit.]
46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
I may have spent around $100 at Christmas time.  But that’s not typical.  I get almost all of my books used.
47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
I might look at a book a little first to decide whether to buy it.  But once I’ve got it at home I don’t skim it.  Why would I want to spoil the surprise?
48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
I would have to be either very frightened or very bored.
49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Yes, I like to keep series together of course, and I had a whole bookshelf devoted to series.  I had all the “best” books in the living room, and they were loosely grouped around themes–literature, language, coffee table . . . I kept the things that I hadn’t read yet, or were very special to me, on the bookshelf in my room.  Things are different now, with stacks on the table in my room, the classics we got at the used bookstore at Spring Hill in our one book case in the living room, kids books in the playroom, and soot-stained books in the garage.
50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
I used to keep a lot more than I do now.  Now I only keep them if it’s a series I’m collecting or I really, really love them.  Otherwise they go to McKay’s or the church Book Swap.
51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
If I was, they are gone now.
52. Name a book that made you angry?
Breaking Dawn.  Waste of money.  Waste of time.  Waste of potential for the moral uplift foreshadowed in the earlier books in the series.  Basically badfic and wish fulfillment.
53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
The Harry Potter series.  Did it EVER exceed my expectations.  The Sue Grafton ABC murders.  These are EXCELLENT.  I thought they’d be gimmicky but they are first class.

Photo Credit

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
11/22/63.  I DID like it, but not as much as I thought I would.  It had some problems that I think Stephen King gets away with because he’s, you know, STEPHEN KING.
55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
I call it a guilty pleasure but really, what’s to feel guilty about?  I like to read Love Inspired Christian romance novels which I can almost always get for free through book club offers.  I like to read them because they are mildly entertaining but I have no trouble putting them down, whereas if I get involved in a good thriller I may be up half the night or neglect other things I need to be doing.  And I prefer the Christian ones even though the spirituality can be a bit ham-handed, and even though they are always non-denominational Protestants (one of these days I am going to write a Catholic one, or get my daughter to do it!) because there are no sex scenes in them.  No, I don’t have moral objections to love scenes in novels, but after all the romance novels I consumed as a teenager, they frankly bore me.  And it’s also nice to read about characters who have the same moral values that I have in that area.
Okay, if you got this far, now it’s your turn.  Answer some or all of the questions, either in the comments below, or in your own blog post (post the link in the comments)!  I’d like to hear what YOU have to say about books and reading.

I Hear America Crying

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing—Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

                  — Walt Whitman
We heard America singing–for real–last Thursday at the Spring Concert at Lorelei’s school.  I’ve endured attended countless plays, pageants, and concerts in my 21 years of parenting, but this one stands out.  In between renditions of our National Anthem and Yankee Doodle (that was Lorelei’s class) and other patriotic songs enthusiastically performed by cute kids and accompanied by hand gestures, we were treated to proclamations of the Gettysburg Address, the First Amendment to the Constitution, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, and other words that symbolize what America stands for.
“I’m American, you’re American!” sang the children, and they were the melting pot personified up on the stage.  No one needs to preach diversity when you can see it right in front of you.  There is no better explanation of what it means to be an American than to see the great-grandchildren of slaves standing on a stage with white kids whose ancestors  probably landed two hundred years ago along with more recent arrivals from Asian and Latino countries, all of them smiling and singing in English “This land is my land.”
So with a happy tear in my eye I went on to my next engagement, a meeting of my book club at which we watched the famous movie adaptation of our most recent book, To Kill a Mockingbird.  It’s so easy, watching this vivid reminder of the dark history of race relations in the South, to feel complacent about how far we’ve come.  My older daughter attends college in Mobile, Alabama, and of course her classmates are as diverse as Lorelei’s are.  Twenty years ago, the sight of an interracial couple walking down the streets of Knoxville would make you look again.  No longer. 
But the human heart is a dark and secret place, and prejudices still lurk there.  All Tom Robinson’s troubles started, remember, when he walked past a white woman’s house.  And look what happened to Trayvon Martin, who had the gall to “walk while black” through a mostly white neighborhood.  That he had the legal right to be there, that he was actually a guest there, didn’t matter to a man who saw only the color of his skin and made predictable assumptions thereupon.
Prejudice against certain immigrant communities of the past, like the Irish and the Italians, may have died out, but there are new immigrants to take their place as the targets of our collective suspicion.  Just yesterday I heard someone talking about “all these people with their strange religions” coming in and changing our country which was “founded upon Christian principles.”  Religious freedom is one of the bedrocks upon which this nation was founded, actually.  And what is the Number One Christian Principle if it’s not “Love one another”?
At the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout walks Boo Radley (surely the personification of the hated and feared “other”) back to his house.  She stands on his porch and realizes that she had “never seen [the] neighborhood from this angle . . . [Atticus] said you never really knew a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.  Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”  Later that evening she says of a character in a book Atticus is reading to her: “He hadn’t done any of those things . . . Atticus, he was real nice . . . ” and he replies, “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”

Linking up today with #WorthRevisit where bloggers “recycle” favorite posts each week.  The linkup is hosted at Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb and you can see this week’s posts right here.
 

I'd Rather Be Reading

I have a grant proposal to write today.  I have a stack of legal work to do.  My desk is a mess.  The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the dog is sleeping in a patch of sunlight in the backyard, and what I’d really like to do is make another cup of coffee and go sit on the deck with a good book.  Alas.


What have I been reading lately?  Yesterday it was a classic:  To Kill a Mockingbird, which I had to read for my book club meeting last night.  It gets a whole post to itself, but I’m not quite ready to do it justice.  I valiantly resisted opening the second Hunger Games book (Catching Fire) until I got home from the meeting.  I read till I couldn’t keep my eyes open. No, I have not seen the movie yet.  I’m not sure what I think of the book so far.  The story is gripping, of course.  The writing isn’t very complex.  The story seems to be heading down somewhat obvious lines, but I will reserve judgment until I’ve finished it.
One thing, though–these books are not like the Twilight series any more than Twilight was like the Harry Potter books.  For starters, if Bella were forced to compete in the Hunger Games she would become catatonic and Edward would have to come save her.  Unless she was already a vampire, in which case she would use her awesome vampire skillz to vanquish all opponents in ten seconds or less.  Bella goes from girl in distress directly to superhero.  Katniss is strong but vulnerable.
I’m also making my way through the stack of thrillers on the table in my bedroom.  I recently read Reversible Errors by Scott Turow, whom you’ll remember from Presumed Innocent.  All his books are excellent, a cut above other stories in the legal thriller genre due to the complexities of the personalities involved.  Characters, not caricatures, they grow and change; they are complicated; they are human.  I enjoyed that one a lot.  Then I went through a whole stack of Michael Connelly books, most of them featuring police detective Harry Bosch.  He’s also a complex character and I recommend those if you like crime novels.  Finally, I am working my way though a pile of Jeffery Deaver novels.  You may remember The Bone Collector which was made into a movie starring Denzel Washington.  The hero is Lincoln Rhyne, a criminalist who is immobilized by quadriplegia.  Several of Deaver’s novels feature Rhyne.  Deaver is a tricky writer who takes the reader partly into his confidence, only to play tricks at the end.
Next on my list is James Patterson.  I have several books by him that sounded interesting from the blurbs.  Or maybe I will spend about three days reading Love Inspired romances first.  We’ll see. 🙂 [Verdict on James Patterson:  Overrated.  And he doesn’t even write his own books anymore!]
For more of my book blogging, see here and here and here.

Kids' Books You Can Read without Wanting to Shoot Yourself in the Head

If you are a parent, you KNOW that you understand exactly what I mean, right?  Your kid fixates on some favorite book–which you HATE–and he wants to hear it multiple times a day, sometimes chanting “Again, again!” right after you finish it, like a Teletubby.
After five kids, you had better believe I have done my share of reading to children.  And I know how to condense a story and rush my way through a hated book. I honestly don’t get how some of this stuff makes it into print.
But books that parents love to read and kids hate to listen to are no better, are they?  I’m thinking about all the beautifully illustrated hardback poetic bedtime story books I’ve bought over the years that, frankly, bored my kids to death.  I’d look at them longingly, sitting ignored on the shelf, but Emily was the only one of my children who would put up with listening to baby literature.

Emily is a book addict like me, and she was born that way.  Before she could walk, we could sit her in front of her shelf in the bookcase, and she would pull out every book, one at a time, and actually look at each picture (not throw them behind her for fun, like the rest of my kids).  You could occupy her for an hour that way.  And because she was the first child, and the only one for three years, we read to her all the time.  I can recite the entire Dr. Seuss ABC book from memory (you probably can too, so I know you aren’t impressed) and large parts of other children’s books as well, thanks to Emily.
There wasn’t as much time to read to Jake and Teddy.  Most of our reading happened at bedtime.  They were actually really cooperative about listening to what I would consider “improving” books, like treasures from my beloved Eloise Wilkin collection like Prayers for Children and My Little Golden Book about God.  They had a book about the Parables of Jesus that they loved.  They asked over and over again to hear the one about “the man in the ditch.”
I am embarrassed to admit how little I have read to Lorelei and William by comparison.  I don’t mean I never read to them, but it wasn’t daily, not even at bedtime.  Maybe it makes up for it some that Emily likes to read to them.  Since we moved here, I read bedtime stories to Lorelei most nights, usually the books she herself has picked out from her school library.  She especially loves the Pee Wee Scout chapter books.
What children’s books do I like?  I could write post after post on this topic (Ah!  There’s an idea!).  I’m not a fan of sappy tearjerkers like I’ll Love You Forever.  Make of that what you will.  I also loathe gimmicky retreads like If You Give a Moose a Muffin.  There was an awesomely hysterical article posted on Facebook a couple of weeks ago about horrible children’s books, which I did not repost because of the Bad Word in the title.  But I agreed with almost all of it.  Except I do think the Amelia Bedelia series is amusing.  My new favorite children’s book isn’t exactly for children.  But I digress.
Let me share just a few that my kids like and that I don’t mind reading over and over:
I first heard Owl Babies on Reading Rainbow.  We bought the board book and Jake and Teddy loved it.  We changed the three owls’ names to Emily, Jake, and Teddy.  I never tired of reading it and they never tired of hearing it.  The underlying message–that Mommy ALWAYS comes back–is organic, not tiresome and preachy.

More More More Said the Baby is a feast of bright colors and baby love.  It’s multicultural without screaming “Hey, look at how diverse these characters are!”  It only has a few words on every page!  What more could you ask for?

I think Red Red Red came to us via Imagination Library.  As if it weren’t enough that someone surnamed Gorbachev would write a book with that title, it’s a lovely book.  I had to read it to Lorelei every night for months so I know.  I just love the moment at the end where everyone finds out what is red.  What a great reminder to enjoy the little things in life.

Doesn’t EVERYONE love Frog and Toad?  I didn’t appreciate them nearly as much as a child as I have come to as a grownup.  These books teach friendship by showing it, not preaching about it.  Can you tell I hate preachy children’s books?  And they are funny, too.

Will you share your favorite picture books with me in the comments?