Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Reading Group

I started The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble a while ago, and tried to read all the books the book club in the book reads along with them. But, I couldn't find all of the books (I could probably have done an ILL or something, but my local library system didn't have some of them) and there were a few duds out of the ones I did read so I gave that up. That also prevented me from enjoying this book as much as I could have, because I'd go a while in between readings since I'd be reading something else in between. I ended up not connecting to any of the characters, although I think that might have happened even if I'd read it all closer together. Something was just off in it for me. Maybe there were too many narrators, so I didn't get to know any one character very well. They were all also just a bit boring, or maybe it was just told in a boring way. The book made me tired usually, like it was putting me to sleep a bit. It was terrible though, or even bad, it just wasn't great. I can see how someone else could like it though, like I said, maybe I didn't give it a fair chance.

I did get to read Heartburn by Nora Ephron because of this book though, and I loved it, so at least there's that. And I made myself read Atonement because of this book, and ended up liking it as well, and would like to read more of his books. So all is definitely not lost.

Flowers in the Attic

I reread Flowers in the Attic for the Four-Months Challenge. I had thought about rereading V.C. Andrews a few months ago, and this reminded me of that. On rereading Flowers in the Attic, I can't believe I read that book when I was 13!!! It's totally inappropriate for a 13-year-old. That's not my parents fault though, I had borrowed it from a friend. Although they were never strict with books anyway. I remember knowing that the book was dirty, and expected lots of sex, and I remember there not actualy being much sex, and I remember being horrified by this book, but I couldn't remember all the details. I think I had actually read it too quickly looking for the dirty bits. Or maybe I was too horrified to finish it, because the ending shocked me and seemed entirely new to me. I remember all of her Landry and Casteel series - especially the Landry one. I can vividly remember the details of the mansion and the bayou in that series, which is funny because Andrews didn't write that series. She had died and left behind outlines and things and another writer began writing under her name at that point.
Anyway, on rereading it, I was absolutely horrified! It turned my stomach. Marrying your half-uncle, sleeping with your brother, it's disgusting. Who does that? Who writes about that? Why buys that? Fortunately, that actually takes up a very small part of the book. I will say that the story itself is really good. It was hard to put down, even though it was hard to read about the children locked in the attic. And the ending was just horrifying. So, it was a great book, a riveting book, just not an easy to stomach book. You hear about stories like this in the news, and the recent story about Jaycee Dugard probably made this harder to read because it's fresh on my mind that terrible things happen to people. This book is all the more horrifying in that the mother and grandmother are committing the evils. But it definitely makes me want to go dig into the Jennifer Weiner novel to recover.

Remember Me?

I actually finished Remember Me by Sophie Kinsella last week, but I've been insanely busy at work and when I've been at home I've wanted to read and watch TV and not sit at a computer so I got a bit behind in my blogging. I love Kinsella's books, and they are perfect for when you're busy at work and want to have just a quick, light-hearted escape for a bit. This one is sort of like Samantha Who? if you watched that show. Which you probably didn't since it didn't last very long, but which I loved. And Ryan would even watch it with me. Probably more to check out Christina Applegate and Jennifer Esposito than anything else, but anyway. The story is about a girl who is in an accident and had amnesia. She's completely blocked out the last three years of her life, and wakes up with a brilliant career, a husband, tons and tons of money, and different friends. She thinks she's still a struggling 25-year-old with a dead-end career and loser boyfriend. It's quite funny watching her try to figure out her new life. It was also funny to me that I read this two weeks after turning 28 and she makes a comment about waking up and being 28 and how freaking old that is. Thanks a lot there, Ms. Kinsella. Anyway, it's a lovely little book and is great for a bit of fun reading. Kinsella wrote the Shopaholic books, which are actually really funny and good despite how the movie looked. My mom and I both love them.

A Gate at the Stairs

I did not enjoy A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. I really thought I was going to love this book, so I was disappointed. I'll get to it's faults in a minute, but I will say that despite ending up not liking it, there were a few good things. First, I read it all in one day, quickly, so it was obviously interesting enough to keep me from dropping it for something else. Moore's writing style does pull you in and flows well, and you feel like you just dropped in for a year in the life of the main character, Tassie. I also think she does a wonderful job with writing realistic dialogue. Her characters talk over each other, interrupt, miss each others' points, steer the conversations in new directions, repeat themselves. They sound like realy people. I believe that's one of the main reasons why this book was been well reviewed for the most part.

However, the plot holes were astounding! And none of the characters were likable. They weren't just like real people who have faults that you might not like, they were just all-around not likable. It made it hard to care what happens to them.

Part of the reason I didn't like the characters is because they were all liberals, the really stupid kind of liberals. Moore really isn't flattering in describing them, which I found odd since I'm sure she's liberal herself, as are most of the people who review books. For example, one of the main issues in the book is about adoption. It addresses the fact that most white people don't want to adopt black babies. A white couple in the story announces that they don't care about all that and starts the process to adopt a biracial girl, and then they hire Tassie to babysit. The couple starts a group for biracial families. When this group gets together, they sound like a bunch of total idiots and never do anything. Eventually, the couple seems to think it's too much trouble for them to have this biracial daughter, that they shouldn't have done it. This story bothered me on two levels. First, the way adoption was written about in general was very unflattering, enough that if someone read this when they were considering adopting it could easily push them away. Second, it definately made it seem like a bad idea to adopt children of other races, although at the same time it lectures people on wanting to adopt babies from China before they'd adopt a black baby from the same town. It wanted it both ways. You're racist if you don't want the black baby, but then you're doing it wrong if you adopt it and you're white. So you just shouldn't adopt at all? We should just abandon the black babies if there aren't enough black families willing and able to adopt? I'm not sure that's what her point was, but that's how it came across.
It also portrayed liberals as a bunch of snobs, oddly enough: "This was the sort of snobbery I noticed even among the most compassionate Democrats." One of liberals serves endangered species in her restaurant. She justifies this by saying if people want to eat them, they'll try to save them. What kind of sense does that make? And how was she able to serve them up anyway? Shouldn't that be illegal? She also says racist things, such as "Correct subject-verb agreement is best when children are learning language, so be careful what you sing. It's an issue when raising kids of color. A simple grammatical matter can hold them back in life." As though this is only an issue in people of color? They're so stupid that teaching them a silly kids song will stunt them for life, but it's not a issue with white kids?

Okay, about the plot holes. The worst one centers around the family Tassie babysits for. A "shocking" secret is revealed toward the end, but it's completely obvious that they murdered someone from comments made throughout the book, so it's not surprising when you get to it. And what actually happened was so stupid and didn't even make sense, that I found myself laughing at the fact that this was actually printed and not fixed by an editor or something that it wasn't even remotely sad. The couple used have a child, who was driving them crazy in the car one day when he's 4. They stop the car on a toll highway and make him get out. Okay, they scared him, whatever. But then they drive off! First of all, who would do that? Secondly, they immediately panic, but for some reason now can't stop even though they stopped two seconds ago. The wife actually starts yelling at the husband to stop before they even had time to actually move at all. But for some reason now, they can't stop and have to go up forever before they can turn around and come back, and the kid ends up getting hit by a car. How stupid is that? The way it was written didn't even make any sense. I was trying to follow it and make it make sense instead of caring about what was happening. Ugh.
And, one of the other main points in the story is that this all takes place right after 9/11. Yet none of the characters care. When Tassie's brother mentions joining the military, she's all, "well, at least it's peacetime." What? Who thought that in first few months after 9/11? And it's totally shocking to everyone when he dies. Like that's not a possibility when someone goes off to war. I remember that year, and I was the same age as Tassie is in the book - 20. I didn't forget about it two days later. I didn't think it wasn't a big deal when friends and family members joined the military. I was a lot more supportive than her family was, but I didn't act like it didn't matter. And most of the people who joined up that year didn't do so for the college tuition. They did it because of 9/11. Her brother does it because his grades were bad and this will pay for college, and everyone thinks it horrible that he dies because he was just trying to get tuition money. What, do they think the military is just a work study problem? That there should be no risk of dying? What is wrong with these people?
And Tassie's stupid enough during all of this to date this "Brazillian" guy who turns out to be Arab, and probably a terrorist. She's too stupid to realize that he's actually Arabic and that doesn't like her much, and they make jokes about 9/11 and the war and things, jokes that no one I know would have made that soon afterward. And she does nothing when he abruptly sells everything in his apartment and tells her not to tell anyone about him if they ask. There were about a million signs of him being about to do a suicide bombing or something and she does nothing.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stolen Innocence

Stolen Innocence, an autobiography by Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer, will make you angry. It made me furious. It made me want to do something to protect these girls, although I don't know what that would be.
Stolen Innocence is about Elissa's life in a polygamous sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). It starts off simply odd, with an inside look at growing up in a house with two mothers and two sets of children (eventually a third wife joined them). It details the conflicts and frustrations from such a living arrangement. That's interesting enough, but eventually due to their belief that the world would end on Y2K, the family moves to an FLDS exclusive community. They were secluded before this, but now they have no access to the outside world. The schools, the police, everything is run by the FLDS. As Warren Jeffs taken control of the group, the restrictions on the community become increasingly strict. Elissa's mom and her siblings are reassigned to another man when her father is deemed unable to control them. From that point, this new man is their father. They cannot question anything, or have any worldly influences. There is no TV, no radio, no non-FLDS sanctioned music or books. They are only taught religion in school. They are taught that they will go to hell if they disobey or do not listen to the prophet, who Warren Jeffs is speaking for and later becomes.
Despite these rules, some of the boys do question what is happening. When they do so, they are banished, becoming apostates whom they believers can no longer have any contact with without facing banishment themselves. This ends up happening to all of Elissa's older brothers. They even have to leave one on the side of the highway.
When Elissa is 14, she is forced to marry her 19-year-old cousin. She fights this decision, but no one will listen. Her mother and sister do try to plead her case to Warren, but he refuses and tells them they must encourage Elissa to go through with it or they're putting their own salvation at risk. Elissa considers leaving, but has no money, no real education, no contacts, nothing. She also has been so brainwashed that she believes running away will condemn her to hell. She is forced to go through with it. Until this point, she has never heard words such as "sex" or "rape" and has no idea about anything related to sex or that anything other than sleep happens in a married couples' bed. She has been taught that even the most innocent touching from the opposite sex is wrong and has also worn for concealing clothing. Now suddenly she's married and her husband expects sex. He explains nothing to her, just forces himself on her. She tries to tell her mother what's happening, but she won't help her. She goes to Warren and tells her everything, but he just yells at her for coming to see him without her husband.
There is much, much more to this story, so please don't let this synopsis lead you to believe you know the whole story. Read this book. Learn about Elissa's story. There are many scenes that are difficult to read. Her "husband" repeatedly raping her is awful to read about, especially before she realizes that this is something they're supposed to be doing to create babies. I want to reach out and strangle her mother for sitting back and watching this happen. Elissa is very forgiving to her mother, but I can't be. What kind of mother let's that happen to their child? And she has two younger daughters that the same thing could happen to, and she does nothing. I know that she was brainwashed, but so was Elissa, and she managed to do something about it eventually. I don't understand how at some point you don't question authority, realize that what they're doing is wrong.
And yet, I've seen people act like that on much smaller scales all the time. They don't ask questions. I remember one time at church, during my senior year when we were in between pastors, we had John Carl Davis serve as either an interim pastor. He blatantly misrepresented scripture and took things out of context. He also made this bizarre proclamation that the youth, who usually sat in a group together around the middle of the pews directly in front of the altar, should start sitting in this other section, off to the side. And people just did it! Without asking why or having any sort of basis for this decision. I was shocked. I was the only one who stayed in the original section, refuses to move or sit with my parents. I had people come tell me they couldn't believe my behavior and that I needed to move, lecturing me on my bad behavior. Not one of them could tell me why I needed to move except that Davis said so. Now, one could surely argue that my stubbornness was a sin, and that's fine. But I think everyone else blindly following is far worse, far scarier, far more threatening. What else would the blindly follow without questioning? How real is your faith when you only do what you're told without examining anything for yourself? I know this is a very small example, but I can see how going with the small things for a while can eventually turn into going with the big things, which is what happened with the FLDS.
Always question. Always try to find out the truth. Always ask why. Don't blindly follow someone just because they're in a position of authority. I am moved by Elissa's story and hope that I will always have the courage to stand up for what is right.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Philly Firsts

I bought Philly Firsts by Janice Booker while I was on a business trip to Philadelphia. I went in a day early to sight see, which was wonderful. I loved seeing all of the historical sites. I actually finished this a while ago, but keep forgetting to post about it for some reason. It was a great choice for a souvenir. It talks about all of the many firsts that Philadelphia had.

Here are a few of my favorites:
First U.S. flag (I got to see the outside of the Betsy Ross)
First Mother's Day celebration
First merry-go-round
First fire department
First insurance company
First advertising agency
First marketing college course (so I have Philly in part to think for my job)
First copy of the Declaration of Independence
First book published
First electric TV demonstrated
First hospital
First cancer research
First ice cream in the U.S.
First carbonated beverage
First Girl Scout cookies
First bubble gum
First Baptist church (who oddly enough called themselves Pennypack Baptist Church, not First Baptist Church)
First computer
First discovery of electricity

That's a lot of firsts! And, that's only a few out of the book. Whew! It must be interesting to grow up in a place like that, with so much history right down the street. Can you imagine getting to go on school field trips to see the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall? You don't have a lot of options like that in Oklahoma. I love living here though, don't get me wrong. But it seems I also have Philly to blame for making me fat and lazy. A lot of junk food, books, TV, and the computer. Not good Philly, not good. I'm going to go eat some ice cream in front of the TV now!

Made from Scratch

Sandra Lee's memoir, Made from Scratch, was much more interesting than I thought it would be. She had a very rough childhood. The way she comes off on her TV show, she seems like someone who has also had an easy life. I'm not sure what it is exactly, but she doesn't seem likes she's ever had real problems. That is definately not the case. Up until the time she was about six she was basically raised by her grandmother, who taught her the skills that she would eventually use to survive and then to make millions. Her mother and stepfather took her and her sister back when she was six. Things were never great, but they didn't get horrible until her stepfather left and her mother sank into a depression, and Sandra was left to run the household and take care of four siblings even though she was only 10. She cooked, shopped, cleaned, did laundry, and was a mother to her siblings. Her mother belittled her and insulted her. She eventually went to live with her father, where she encountered a new set of problems and eventually found herself on her own at 17. She took her ability to make crafts to local craft shows, and started raking in money. She developed a product line and ended up making millions by the time she was 25.
The story really teaches the power of hard work, and that if you put your mind to something you can succeed. I think it also spotlighted why there are a lot of famous people who had bad childhoods. They have more desire to succeed, more motivation, no risk in trying because they have nothing to lose. She also didn't have well meaning relatives trying to help by telling her she couldn't make it, parents advising her to take the safe and secure route.
It's not the most well written book in the world, but the story was interesting enough to make up for that. Learning about her background in crafts and home decorating also explains her tablescapes on her TV show. I think they're cute, but I've also thought they were a little odd. I understand now that that is where her passion started, in creating simple, inexpensive ways to decorate, so this is her way of still sharing that info even though she's doing a food show.
This book also served as reading a biography/autobiography for the Four-Month Reading Challenge and as a book from 2007 for the Countdown Challenge.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Guinea Pig Diaries

I adored The Know It All. I loved The Year of Living Biblically. The Guinea Pig Diaries? Not so much. It was disappointing. You can kind of tell he was writing it with three kids in the background wanting his attention. I'm impressed that he's able to write at all with three young boys, but it left the book feeling rushed. Since this book is about a series of experiments instead of one long one, that added to that feeling. Plus he reworked and expanded some of his magazine articles, which I think contributed to that as well.
Also, I had a moment of panic when I hit page 99. He's related to Cass Sunstein? What?!?! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The horror! The horror! I actually let out a scream and that point and yelled "NO! DAMMIT!" Sadly, my husband is used to my talking to books and the TV and didn't ask me what was the matter until I said it a second time. At least Ryan understood why this was a problem. Now, I'm not stupid. I knew A.J. Jacobs was a liberal. Not a whacked out crazy one, but a liberal nonetheless. And I have a few relatives I'd rather not claim. But to be related to Cass Sunstein and be proud of out it? No, no. Not good. For those who don't know, Sunstein is one of Obama's many czars, or the Administrator of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Sunstein wants the government to stop recognizing marriage period. He thinks animals should have legal rights in court. (I'm all for stopping animal cruelty, but that just seems silly.) He thinks we should celebrate tax day. He not only supports gun control, he thinks we should ban hunting. And he thinks the government owns your body once you die and should be able to take your organs at will, unless you specify that you do not want to donate your organs. What?
He also made the gigantic mistake of comparing Obama with George Washington? Really? Washington would be appalled by Obama. He'd be appalled by the Republicans too, so don't just take that as a slam against democrats. His chapter on Washington did make me want to read more about him though. Like Jacobs, I've read a lot more about Franklin and Jefferson than Washington. But it takes an amazing man to turn down power, and he had the opportunity to take on absolute power and walked away. That's impressive.
I did enjoy this quote from the book though: "I'll be aloof and mysterious, like the pope or Willy Wonka."
I would recommend Jacobs other two books if you haven't read them, but skip this one.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Lady Raised High

I'm embarrassed to admit it took me months to finish A Lady Raised High by Laurien Gardner. I think I started it in June. Clearly it was not the most riveting book I've ever read. I think a big part of that was that I've already read a lot of books about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. I'm a little obsessed actually. I've read probably 10 books and have watched several movies about them, along with The Tudors. So, I know the story already. It all started with Phillipa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl (the book was a lot better than the movie, as usual) and I moved on to histories by Alison Weir. So it's not entirely the author's fault I wasn't that interested.
But, I think another reason why I didn't stay interested is that it was told from the rather boring character of Frances, maid to Anne. Frances is plucked out of obscurity by Anne before she becomes queen after protecting her from angry villagers. She's raised high to being one of the Queen's ladies. You're supposed to care about Frances and her love story as well as Anne's, but Frances is stupid, boring, and unfailing devoted to Anne. She can't see Anne's fault and puts her own life in danger needlessly to try to help Anne. Which normally would be brave, but just seemed stupid in her case, because she was so naive about the whole thing and couldn't see that the court wanted to convict Anne.
Overall I would skip this one. Go for the Phillipa Gregory or try Jean Plaidy. Plaidy's writing can be a little harder to get through, but she's historically accurate and still writes a good story. Although, I'm still considering reading Plain Jane by Gardner since I already own it (bought them at a library book sale), so I guess that tells you it wasn't completely terrible. I suppose if I resell both of them to Half-Price Books though, I'll make my $.50 back and it's necessary to read it...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Baby Laughs

No, I'm not pregnant, nor am I going to become pregnant any time soon (or at least I hope not). I picked up Baby Laughs by Jenny McCarthy to research the novel I'm writing. Yes, I'm writing a novel. I'm trying to participate in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). I've only got about 5,000 words out of 50,000 though, so I need to hurry up. Anyway, this book is for research. I actually meant to get Belly Laughs, McCarthy's other book, but I grabbed this one instead. Probably because I was embarrassed to be hanging out in this section of the library, even though I know most people probably assume a woman of my age has a child and I have a wedding ring on. Oh well.
Anyway, this book was actually really enjoyable. I read it all in one sitting. It was really funny, as you can imagine being written by Jenny McCarthy. She talks about the first year of mommyhood. She's very honest, whether it's about her baby peeing in her mouth or covering himself in poop or her getting hemmorhoids and not wanting to have sex and feeling like a giant hairy leaky cow. Childbirth is kind of like the great leveler for women. Being rich or famous might get you a better hospital, but it's not going to take away the crappy parts of giving birth. At the same time, she was very clear that it was absolutely worth it and was the best thing she's ever done. I felt like she was actually a lot more persuasive at getting me to consider having children. She doesn't just list the nice stuff and make it sound perfect and easy. She's tells you all the crap and still says it's worth it. That's a lot more powerful to me, because then I didn't really have anything to counter with. When someone talks about the positives, I can whip out my negative list. But she already said all of those reasons, so I was left with no argument. I hope my Mom doesn't read this.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Real Education

Real Education by Charles Murray should be required reading for all education majors and teachers. It addresses some of the fundamental problems with our educational system today. It focuses on the fact that not everyone in going to excel academically, and that we shouldn’t try to force everyone too. People have different areas of strengths and we should encourage students to focus on those areas while learning basic knowledge in other areas. He believes that only the top 10 to 20 percent of students should really go to universities, because they are the only ones who really benefit from because they are the ones who want to excel academically. Other students should be encouraged to attend post-secondary vocational schools or pursue certifications. If you can pass the CPA exam after taking a few classes at a community college, why do you need a four-year degree? If you graduated from Harvard because you took all the easy classes and you can’t pass a certification to become a marketing professional, then that’s too bad. Certification programs would help level the playing ground and keep so many students from drowning in debt to attend college. The top students who would attend universities would be able to learn more because they’d be surrounded by people who want to be there learning, not just partying, and wouldn’t get made fun of for their study habits. And for students who excel at working with their hands or building things, such as mechanics or welders, encourage them to attend vo-tech during high school and let them get to work as soon as they graduate. Don’t treat them like second-class citizens or idiots because they didn’t go to college or don’t want to go to college. Don’t push them in that direction when they’d be happier and actually make more money going in to something like welding. Why do we ridicule these types of positions? Many blue collar workers can pull in $100,000 a year. Why don’t we tell high school students that? Why don’t we encourage them to pursue those fields instead of focusing only on college?
My brother hated school. Hated it. My mom would literally have to sit on him to get him to do his homework. Me, on the other hand, loved school. I’d make up assignments for myself and play school in the summers. In the years when I had crappy teachers, I couldn’t wait to get home to read and teach myself. (Yes, I was a giant nerd and still am because I totally still do that, but that’s not the point of the story.) We are very different people. I attended a great college for my BA and went on to get my MA. My brother took vo-tech classes in high school. He now has a good job, and no college debt. I don’t have college debt either, but I’m a very rare exception, especially because I went to an expensive private school. It would be feasible for me to have more student loan debt than I make in a year. For many of my classmates, that’s true. OBU cost about $16,000 when I went there (I think it’s at least 20 now). That’s $64,000 for four years. Many of my classmates majored in fields such as ministry and education. Not exactly fields known for their large incomes. How long is it going to take them to pay that money back? Was it worth it? They may have loved the experience and liked their classes, but how many of them really learned enough to make that worth it? I know from having classes with these people that it sure didn’t seem like they learned that much. Most of those people end up leaving before graduation, but how much did they spend on freshman year alone? I feel myself getting on my soap box and this post could go on for a long, long time, so I will wrap it up by saying that if you’re interested in education or are an educator or parent, read this book.

They Must Be Stopped

I read Brigette Gabriel’s Because They Hate a few years ago and loved it, and so I picked up They Must Be Stopped at the library. Because They Hate was about her life growing up in Lebanon as a Christian and the Muslim/Christian civil war that destroyed the country and resulted in her eventually coming to the U.S. She provided a lot of information about the background of Islam as well. That book was wonderful, and it was a lot stronger than They Must Be Stopped, probably because it was part memoir, part social commentary. They Must Be Stopped was good, but I felt like I already knew a lot of the information, either from reading her previous book or others books on the topic. I also had the impression that it was supposed to be more of a how-to guide to stopping the spread of Islam, and that was really confined to the last two chapters. It was a good refresher though, and it would be great for those who are unfamiliar with the topic.
Gabriel goes through a little of the history of Islam and it’s call to violence, then goes into it’s spread around the world and their plan for conquering other countries for Islam. That part was interesting, and she goes through what they are doing in specific countries.
One new thought I got from the book was regarding why so many black American men turn to Islam while in prison. I’ve always found that odd, especially since Muslims do not have high regards for blacks. Gabriel points out that in Arabic, the words for black people are the same as the ones for “slaves” and “filth.” (Arabic is Gabriel’s native language, so she’s not misinterpreting something.) Anyway, she pointed out that they target men in prison because then they can target murderers, rapists, and child molesters and say “It’s okay. Mohammed is on your side. Mohammed says that women are here for our pleasure when we want. Mohammed married a six-year-old girl and slept with her when she was nine and he was in his 50s. Islam encourages you to kill in the name of Allah. It’s okay. Join Islam and you can do these things in the name of Allah and be rewarded in Heaven.” What? Who wouldn’t want that message instead of guilt? That was eye-opening to me.
I also thought it was interesting that she gave an example of the U.S. caving to Muslims by installing foot-washing benches in the restrooms in the Kansas City International Airport, even though during her 24 years in the Middle East she never once saw a foot-washing bench in a public restroom, at airports, at universities, or at hospitals. It’s insanity the way we bend over backward for people who are trying to kill us. What is wrong with us?

Other Middle Eastern related books I really like:
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi – memoir about her life in Iran during the revolution and her book club during that time (she was a professor before the revolution), absolutely fascinating, one of the best books I’ve ever read
The Truth About Mohammed by Robert Spencer – it’s about Mohammed life and what he really preached and was like
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam by Robert Spencer – about Islam in general, gives a great overview and meaty info in a well organized, easy to read manner
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali – a memoir about growing up in Somalia being raised as a Muslim, including being circumcised, and how she escaped to freedom and was amazed at how wonderfully non-Muslims treated her, she was a member of the Dutch parliament who worked on a film about domestic violence in the world of Islam with Theo Van Gogh before he was assassinated

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chang and Eng

Read this book: Chang and Eng by Darin Strauss. It's one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's about a pair of conjoined twins, the ones from whom the term Siamese twins comes from. It takes place during the 1800s and goes back in forth in time from thier birth and childhood and when they are older and living in North Carolina. It's based on a true story and the main events are true, but it's a fictionalized account of their lives. It's told through the perspective of Eng. It's beautifully written, and I can't believe it was Strauss's first novel. The characters are wonderfully drawn, and he clearly separates the characters of Chang and Eng. He really makes you picture what life would be like with no privacy, to always have someone attached to you. Eng tends to retreat into his mind, I think because that's the one place he can be alone. I found it interesting that a third character seemed to appear between them, the band that connects them. It almost took on a life of it's own, made a third character of Chang-and-Eng in addition to the two separate characters.
Strauss starts with a compelling story. I've always been fascinated by and somewhat repulsed by conjoined twins. I feel bad saying that and I hate that people mistreated conjoined twins as monsters, but it just seems so wrong. I think it's also just something people don't like to think about because we can't imagine having to go through life like that. I was amazed at how strong Eng remained though, although Chang's tendency to turn toward drink is understandable as well.
I thought it was amazing that while the boys were taken by the King of Siam and used as entertainment, and eventually sold to an American to use for shows, they were never actually part of a circus, not for lack of trying on P.T. Barnum's part though. They still have both inner and outer battles over maintaining their dignity as they perform though. The later parts of the book take place against the backdrop of the War of Yankee Agression (I can't believe Strauss referred to it that way!), which highlighted Chang and Eng's own personal civil war against each other later in life. How can you not grow to resent this person who is always there, not just looking over your shoulder but practically attached to it? But as their mom says, how can you fight with someone you're physically attached to? That would be madness.
Eng also has internal battles over marriage and love. He believes it will never happen for them, but then they meet two sisters in North Carolina. The book covers the logistics of the marital bed and how awkward that is when there's a third person literally in bed with you that you're trying to pretend isn't there.
As someone who desparately needs her alone time, I cannot fathom having someone attached to me at all times. It's actually that thought that makes it hard for me to want children. But Strauss did an incredible job of creating this story and making feel like I was Eng for a time. He transported me into the mind of a Siamese conjoined twin man in the 1800s. That's impressive. So, you should absolutely go read this book. I can't wait to pick up his other two books.
Also, this books gets to count for one of my reading challenges! It has a proper name and is worth 5 points in the four-month reading challenge.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Countdown Reading Challenge

Another exciting challenge! This one will force me to read books actually written this century. The past few years I've focused heavily on reading classics. I started reading the classics beginning with the ancient Greeks and worked my way through Beowulf, at which point I switched to British only works and read my way up to Shakespeare. The last few months I've tried to just read normal books for a bit of a break. I want to continue my timeline reading, but I've missed a lot of books over the past few years so this will motivate me to catch up.
So what's the challenge? It's a Countdown Challenge. You read 10 books that come out in 2010, 9 in 2009, 8 in 2008, etc. down to 2001. This will also force me to read new books as they come out instead of buying them and letting them join my ever growing to-be-read (TBR) pile.

Total: 33/55 books

1. The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag - Alan Bradley
2. Not My Daughter - Barbara Delinksky
3. Every Last One - Anna Quindlen
4. The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachman
5. The Language of Secrets - Dianne Dixon
6. Heart of the Matter - Emily Griffin

2009 (Done)
1.The Guinea Pig Diaries - A.J. Jacobs
2. Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffeneger
3. A Gate at the Stairs - Lorrie Moore
4. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
5. The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History by John Ortved
6. High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly - Donald Spoto
7. The Girl She Used to Be - David Cristofano
8. Fall to Pieces - Mary Forsberg Weiland
9. Unclutter Your Life in One Week - Erin Doland

2008 (Done)
1. Shakespeare Wrote for Money - Nick Hornby
2. Made in the U.S.A. - Billie Letts
3. The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen - Syrie James
4. Stolen Innocence - Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer (done)
5. Remember Me - Sophie Kinsella (done)
6. More Than It Hurts You by Darin Strauss (done)
7. The Man Who Invented Christmas - Les Standiford
8. The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks

1. Made from Scratch - Sandra Lee
2. The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde
3. French Milk - Lucy Knisley
4. Everything I Needed to Know about Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume
5. Big Boned - Meg Cabot


1. 44 Scotland Street - Alexander McCall Smith


1. Club Dead - Charlaine Harris

2002 (Done)
1. Living Dead in Dallas
2. Shopaholic Takes Manhattan - Sophie Kinsella

2001 (Done)
1. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

What Happens in London...

I know romance novels aren't the most literary things in the world, but they are great for a nice break. And I love Julia Quinn. She's intelligent (she went to Harvard!), she writes well, she creates lovable characters, her books actually have a story, she writes more realistic sex scenes than most authors period (seriously), and she's funny. That said, What Happens in London isn't her best book. It's still good, and I still enjoyed it, but it just didn't draw me in the same her Bridgerton series or most of her other books do. I'm not sure what it was. It definitely picked up by the end, and I caught myself wandering around the house brushing my teeth and fixing dinner with it in my hand (hmmm...that's probably why I'm not the most outstanding cook in the world), but it had a slower start than usual. I think it was because there wasn't any suspense about the two characters. She tried to create mystery around Harry, but since we see things from his point of view early on we know he's a good guy. I think that was the problem. But Julia Quinn on a bad day is far superior to most romance novelists on their best days.

Four-Month Reading Challenge

Okay, so I knew this reading challenge thing was going to suck me in. I've signed up for two more challenges. They both allow crossovers from other challenges, so I might be able to count some books for both challenges, but I'm not going to go out of my way to do that.
The first challenge is a four-month challenge running from Nov. 1, 2009 to Feb. 28, 2010.

Here's the challenge, and a few books I've plugged in that are already on my to-be-read list or things that came to me as I looked at the categories. I'm such a nerd. I can't believe I'm this happy about discovering these things.

5 Point Challenges
Read a book with a proper name in the title – Chang and Eng by Darin Strauss
Read a book about a queen or king – The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
Read a book by or about/related to a Bronte
Read a book about Vampires - Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
Read a book by V.C. Andrews – Flowers in the Attic
10 Point Challenges
Read a book by Canadian author – The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Read a book by or about/related to Charles Dickens - The Man Who Invented Christmas
Read a book set in France - French Milk by Lucy Knisley
Read a book by Georgette Heyer
Read an ‘art’ themed book. – The Girl with the Pearl Earring
15 Point Challenges
Read a book with a Civil War theme (any country) The Killer Angels
Read a book with characters inspired by King Arthur or about King Arthur/Camelot – The Crystal Cave
Read a biography/autobiography – Stolen Innocence by Elissa Walls
Read a book related to or something by Shakespeare –
Read a book by an author born in November, December, January or February – Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, born Jan. 25
20 Point Challenges
Read a book with a wintery theme (Christmas, snow, ice, freezing, star, camel, mistletoe, etc.)A Christmas Carol
Read a book that was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Read a book that begins with A and one that begins with Z - Arguing with Idiots and
Read a book from The Modern Library Top 100 – To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Read a book and then write a review – The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs

160/250 points

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Reading Challenges!

Uh oh. I think I found a new addiction. Reading challenges. This could be bad. Or really awesome. Apparently there are a lot of reading challenges on book blogs, where people sign up for a challenge to read certain books or types of books or books by certain authors, etc., then they blog about them. Fun! I'm starting slow with a mini-challenge about Wilkie Collins. I just have to read two Wilki Collins' books by Dec. 1. I'm going to read The Woman in White and The Lady and the Law. I bought The Woman in White when I was working on my Master's degree, and we ended up not reading it in the class I bought it for, 19th-century British literature. It was an awesome class though. We read four Dickens' novels in serial format (we started all four at the beginning of the semester and finished them at the end). We also read quite a few other things, and I absolutely loved that class, and trying to read in serial format was my favorite part. It was hard to not read ahead, especially in Bleak House, which ended up being not only my favorite book from that class, but one of my top favorite books of all time. Anyway, I've always meant to go back and read The Woman in White because it sounded really good, but I just haven't gotten around to it.This challenge is a great motivation, plus I read a review of The Lady and the Law on the Wilkie Collins blog tour (which is a totally awesome concept and yet another addicting item - when am I going to have time to read novels if I can't stop reading these blogs???).