Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Days 26-30 -- Better late than never

While I did really well with the beginning of this meme, I've slipped on the job lately. I'm going to wrap this up as much as I can today, and will perhaps search for another such meme. It's been good to write most days -- well, the last week being a notable exception -- and I've enjoyed, mostly, the topic, although there were some questions that were a bit off-putting.

So to the end...

Day 26 – OMG WTF? OR most irritating/awful/annoying book ending

Actually the book I just finished, Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler's Wife) had an ending that was rather WTF.

I don't know that it was awful, mind you, but it felt abrupt. While it wound the story into some semblance of resolution in some respects, there was a huge gap between the story as it had developed and the hasty ending. I'm still pondering. No question that her character development was engaging and quirky, and there were some interesting twists to the plot. I'm just not sure that the ending fit the rest of the book.

Day 27 – If a book contains ______, you will always read it (and a book or books that contain it)!
I'm not sure I can categorize my reading habits quite this way: I'm an eclectic reader and always have been. While I like some romances, I don't especially enjoy the 'happily ever after' ones unless there is some quirkiness thrown in there -- Nora Roberts has some trilogies, for instance, that are certainly 'happily ever after' types, but with some enjoyable occult turns...for instance,
the three sisters island trilogy, the garden trilogy, and the key trilogy are pretty similar stories but with nice touches of magic. They're easy, beach-y-type reads, total escape novels. Now that I think about it, these trilogies are pretty formulaic, but they are fun reads.

I like magic. That's one of the appeals for me of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I think -- all the lovely magic and fantasy thrown in there, the amazing development of the cultures.

Day 28 – First favorite book or series obsession
I'd have to say that one of my favorite series is the Kushiel series, beginning with Kushiel's Dart, by Jacqueline Carey. A friend recommended these books several years ago, and they aren't everyone's cup of tea, but I was hooked from the first chapter and obsessively read my way through them. Carey develops an interesting world that has elements of ours, but a completely different culture -- several cultures, actually. It's erotic, it's entertaining, it's surprising, with lots of action and some royalty thrown in to boot.

Day 29 – Saddest character death OR best/most satisfying character death (or both!)
Of the more recent books I've read, hands down it is Dumbledore's death in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I've written more about that elsewhere in this meme.

Definitely the saddest.

Day 30 – What book are you reading right now?
Just last night I finished Her Fearful Symmetry.

I've got an Oprah magazine I have barely touched, a Writer's magazine that I haven't even cracked, and a few others around here that will do for a while. I'll probably start in on the pile next to my bed, perhaps beginning with Crichton's Next.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Books, Days 24-25

Day 24 – Best quote from a novel

The very best: Snoopy's quintessential opening line: "It was a dark and stormy night."

But another really great quote, from Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . ."

Sounds like present times, doesn't it.

and the book's close:
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

Day 25 – Any five books from your “to be read” stack

Among the 20 or so books that have been sitting on my nightstand for, oh, about two years:

A Thousand Splendid Suns
A History of God by Karen Armstrong
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (which I've read a good bit of but it is so not riveting and more often just confusing)
Next by Michael Crichton (which we've had for a long time -- just haven't read it yet)
Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie McDonald (also started reading but haven't finished)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Books -- Days 21, 22, 23

Day 21 – Favorite romantic/sexual relationship (including asexual romantic relationships)

There have been many such relationships in books I've read over the years, and I know I will never remember most. I wish I remembered something stunningly literary -- something that would so clearly demonstrate my amazing memory, my intelligent reading choices, but you know what? I don't. Most of what I've read in the last 30+ years has been stuff more aptly categorized as 'beach reads.'

Nora Roberts, she of the quintessential beach reads, also writes as JD Robb, and her character Eve Dallas is usually great fun to read. Dallas' husband is Roarke, an wealthy businessman who dabbles in nearly everything. The novels are futuristic, quick reads, and entertaining. Their relationship is passionate and humorous. They are, of course, beautiful people.

I don't know that I'd call it my 'favorite relationship,' but it's the only one I can think of right now.

Day 22 – Favorite non-sexual relationship

I'll get back to you.

Day 23 – Most annoying character ever


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 20 -- kissyface!

Day 20 – Favorite kiss

I've read my share of erotica and other scenes in various books that left me, uh, hungry. If you catch my drift.

But two kisses stand out for me from classic literature that are simply wonderful.

First is the scene from Romeo and Juliet where they first kiss.

Romeo: If I profane with my unworthiest hand this holy shrine, the gentle sin is this. My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Juliet: Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, which mannerly devotion shows in this. For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, and palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.
Romeo: Have not saints lips, and holy palmers, too?
Juliet: Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
Romeo: Well, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do. They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Juliet: Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.
Romeo: Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
Romeo: [They kiss] Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged.
Juliet: Then have my lips the sin that they have took?
Romeo: Sin from my lips? O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again.
Juliet: [they kiss again] You kiss by the book.

So wonderfully flirtatious. With its references to Christianity, it sets up their love, their passion, as being true and pure -- and as we know, doomed.

The other, and I'm probably remembering more of the movie than the book, is Rhett's initial refusal to kiss Scarlett in Gone with the Wind: "I don't think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That's what's wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how."

And eventually, of course, he does kiss her, their on-off passion is almost palpable, and she, spoiled brat that she is, only finally realizes how well they are matched at the very end of the book.

For a young teenager loaded with raging hormones, as I was when I first read the book and then saw the movie, it was the quintessential romance. I remember longing for someone to adore me the way he did her, to kiss me with that degree of passion and wanting.**

I happen to think that kissing is an incredible skill that can, done correctly, practically bring a person to the big O without ever touching any other part of the body. It is the most intimate and delicate of touches between people.

**I found him. Took me a long time. It was worth the wait and all the frogs I kissed looking.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Books -- Days 18-19 -- Not very helpful!

Day 18 – Favorite beginning scene in a book

I don't know. Honestly, I remember very few details about most of the books I read, at least to this extent. Story line, now that I remember, usually anyway. But opening scene? Nahh. Not after the book's finished, anyway.

When I choose a book, I'll read the book cover information first, then thumb through and see if it captures my attention.

It depends on my mood, what I'm hungry for, whether I want candy that will let me escape into another life, another world, or whether I want something that will stick to my ribs and allow me to savor the words as they unfold. Most of the time I don't know which I want until I pick up a book.

Dan Brown's books usually begin with a bang, snatching you in immediately. Michael Crichton always did too, and sometimes Robin Cook.

But beyond that, I'm fairly useless on this question.

Day 19 – Favorite book cover

Oh please.

That old saying about not judging a book by its cover leaps to mind.

No doubt that some covers entice you to open the book. Bodice-rippers, with covers featuring half-dressed, curly-tressed buxom women being caressed by muscular, mostly naked attractive men, promise intense passion and provide very formulaic plots, but there can be comfort in the expected.

I know that lots of time, skill, and calculation go into planning of book covers, but I don't believe I've ever bought a book based on its cover or its title. I'm not exactly the prime marketing candidate, am I.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Books -- fav story or collection-- Day 17

Day 17 – Favorite story or collection of stories (short stories, novellas, novelettes, etc.)

I've never been a huge fan of short story collections. I guess I just want a story to go on longer! But that said, there are a few that I remember well and enjoyed thoroughly.

I loved stories by Ray Bradbury, although it's been many years since I read them. I remember -- Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, I Sing the Body Electric.

Many were made into TV shows. Arguably his most prominent one is Fahrenheit 451, although that 's a novella, I think. For a book lover, and one who believes that books should not be censored, that was a powerful story.

Some of his stories were fairly scary, almost horrific in their quiet but deadly resolution. Others were just warm and emotional, cleanly written and vivid. I may have to look them up again...

I have also appreciated the short stories of Stephen King, master of the horror novels, most of which I've read over the years. I think his best ones are less based in supernatural horror and more in man's inhumanity to man. (His worst novel, hands down, was Pet Sematary, which I think was probably written to fulfill a contract or pay something off. It put me off reading anything of his for years.)

But some of his short stories or novellas are really good and have been the basis for many movies, such as "Stand By Me," originally written as "The Body." You can see all his short story collections here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Books, Days 15-16 -- Comfort and Poetry

Day 15 – Your “comfort” book

I don't know that I have a comfort book, really. If I need comfort, I either go to a specific topic for which I need advice, like "I'm Still Your Mother," or I'll control my worried monkey-mind with a magazine, like O Magazine, which doesn't require much concentration to go from story to story but still lets me escape and not think about whatever it is I'm obsessing over for a bit. I don't do well with most novels when I'm worried -- takes too much effort to concentrate.

Day 16 – Favorite poem or collection of poetry

I've already talked about Eugene Field and his poetry, my favorites from childhood.

I have always loved poetry: the pithy bits of language that capture a feeling, a situation, a person. I love the strength of Walt Whitman and never see the ocean without thinking of his "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." Or fog without recalling Carl Sandburg. Or hear of a death without remembering Emily Dickinson.

I wrote my senior English college paper on Dylan Thomas and his dark and eloquent poems. Arguably the most famous is "Do not go gentle into that good night, " and I'll confess that I remind myself with that poem to savor each day, each event, each emotion with all my self.

My favorite all-purpose poet, though, is Robert Frost and especially his "The Road Not Taken." So many times I've stood at that place where the roads diverge and looked down them, wondering what lay beyond what I can see. I remember him, fine white hair blowing in the wind, trying to read a poem written for JFK's inauguration, and because the sun was blindingly bright, ended up reciting another poem from memory, "The Gift Outright."

Long ago in high school I sang another of his poems, "Choose something like a star," part of Frostiana, a suite written by composer Randall Thompson. I've always loved that poem as well, although to recite it, I hear the music in my head!

And yet another of his prolific works, and one to which I've often referred, is "Fire and Ice."

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great,
And would suffice.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Books - Day 14 -- favorite character

Day 14 – Favorite character in a book (of any sex or gender)

Probably my favorite character of all time is Katherine (Kate) from Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." I love her strength, her wily, opinionated, vulnerable dialogue. I love her spirit and her temper. I love her independence, her interdependence, and that she does not, in the end, lose that spirit.

While the gender relationships in the play have been debated for centuries, I have always believed that at the end Kate and Petruchio are equals, each well suited to the other, a
nd have found a comfortable relationship through their jabs and jests. Yet they respect who the other is, I believe, and relish that.

My dad read me this play when I was young, along with others of his favorites, and that has always colored my enjoyment of Shakespeare. He taught me that Shakespeare must be taught as theatre first, and that you truly cannot understand the plays unless you can visualize the staging. When I took a Shakespeare class in college, the teacher was all about the etymology of the words and phrases, and it took the joy out of it. When I taught it to high schoolers, we usually read it out loud and always had a model of the Globe Theatre handy for reference, as well as special projects about the times, the audiences, the actors, and the theatre itself.

It was the one role I always wanted to play and never have, save for a scene done in high school during a variety show for the student body. I loved every line of the dialogue: "
If I be waspish, best beware my sting!"

I loved the Burton-Taylor coupling in the 1967 Franco Zeffirelli version and the lush colors and textures of the film. The lighting was a photographer's dream -- warm, deep, and vividly enhancing the landscapes, the costumes, and the sets. I loved the chemistry between the two fiery actors and the nuances of their interpretation of their characters. Given their passionate, often tumultuous relationship off-screen, this play might well have been written for them

My daughter's middle name is Kate, so named after this independent, spirited woman who ended up in a deeply loving relationship of equals. May that eventually be so.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Books, Day 13 -- childhood reading

Day 13 – Favorite childhood book OR current favorite YA book (or both!)

Hands down my current favorite is the Harry Potter series, although I think it is a little too dark for many children (and that includes the movies -- some of the visuals would give a younger child nightmares, I think). While Rowling may have started the series as YA (young adult) one, it evolved into a series for all of us.

Despite its critics, the series is engaging, imaginative, and clearly is a metaphorical tale of good versus evil, even possibly a Christian allegory, at least in the views of some reviewers, and that despite the early boycotting of the books by the fundamentalist types because of the wizard/witch emphasis.

I love it because I want to believe in magic, I want to believe that bad people eventually get their just rewards (karma!), and I want to believe that ultimately good prevails over bad. And it does, although not without pain and loss.

Just like life. At least I hope that, although when I read the news and contemplate the actions of financiers, most Republicans and far too many Democrats, and leaders on every level in every part of business, I wonder where the magic is, where the good is, that will triumph over the self-serving, inhumane, greedy, judgmental actions that seem to be their creeds.

I want good, decent, kind people to prevail, the ones with ethics that are not compromised by the promise of a dollar, the ones who do not believe in trampling the rights of others in order to get rich or famous. Rowling delivers that.

The book(s) I remember best from my own childhood do too.

The first book I remember being read is "Wynken, Blynken and Nod," a story poem by Eugene Field. It was a tall, beautifully illustrated book with a red cover, and I gave it some years ago to my daughter, after I'd read it to her throughout her childhood. When my mother was in her last days, I remember reading it to her over the telephone. I still love the calming words, the rocking of the ocean, the rhyme and rhythm of the words lulling me to sleep.

I read constantly, always, as a child. I preferred the company of books and a story to playing outside or anything athletic (that's not changed). I remember hiding books behind my textbooks in class and more than once getting caught by a teacher, especially once in fourth grade when I giggled out loud at a passage during a history lesson. Busted.

I loved anything in a series: Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, the Bobbsey Twins, the Little House books. I loved Louisa May Alcott, especially Eight Cousins, and often wished I had such wonderful brothers/cousins instead of the bratty little brother that I was stuck with (and who I love dearly, you understand).

I read my way through the Brothers Grimm and every other fairy or folk tale collection in the Greene County (Missouri) Public Library Children's Section -- I love stories about magic, legend and myth, which also may account somewhat for my enthusiasm for Harry Potter, I suppose.

In fact, I read my way pretty much through the whole section, and by the time I was in fifth or sixth grade had permission from both my parents and the children's librarian to read anything I wanted from the adult section too. Fortunately they never believed in restricting access to anything -- a belief which I carried forward and ultimately became actively involved in protecting the right to read.

Books have shaped who I am, beginning with the books my parents read to me every day, books I remember still after going on 63 years. I am grateful.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Books Day 12 -- Second time -- or more - around?

Day 12 – A book or series of books you’ve read more than five times
I seldom re-read books, at least knowingly, and at most, I re-read them fewer than five times.

Okay, I've already told you about re-reading the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. I've read that maybe five times, but that'd be a stretch.

I get what I want out of most books the first time. I'll go back to some of the more in-depth ones and re-read passages, like "What Color is Your Parachute," for instance, or the Martha Beck books.

And I've found myself more than once re-reading a fluffy beach read by Nora Roberts or one of the Goldie Baer series by Diane Mott Davidson simply because I didn't realize when I picked it up that I'd already read it! (hate when that happens) Usually I'll go ahead and finish it anyway.

I've read "Huckleberry Finn" more than once but fewer than five times, and it was a long time ago; ditto with "Gone with the Wind." I'll re-read the last Harry Potter book -- "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" -- before the movie comes out in November, partly because I just devoured the first read and know I missed detail, and partly because I do want the background of that lovely rich description before I see the next-to-the-last movie. (And I want to figure out where I think this first movie will end.)

I may read "Eat Pray Love" again before I see the movie. But that will likely be the last time for it.

While I'm reading some books, especially those by the really wonderful writers like John Updike, I will slow down and savor the language, will go back to re-read passages because of the elegant, eloquent words the author chooses. But most of what I read these days does not really merit a second reading, in my humble opinion.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 11 -- disappointing

Day 11 – A book that disappointed you

I began reading Jodi Picoult books some years ago and have really enjoyed her stories. They're always about difficult subjects, often controversial, always about relationships. I'm not even sure which of her books I read first.

But I picked up "My Sister's Keeper" expecting it to be good, a complex intertwining of dilemmas and relationship truths. And it was, up until the last bit.

If you've seen the movie, you know how that ends. It is an expected ending, I suppose, but it also was very logical. The book ends differently, and it was a big disappointment to me, a huge shock that I was not prepared for at all. If you want a spoiler, you can read about it here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Books -- Day 10 -- a love/hate relationship

Day 10 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving

While there have, I'm sure, been several such books, the one that comes to mind is "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini.

There was quite a lot of press and hoopla out about this book when it came out, and I just was not interested in reading some novel about Afghanistan and its political turmoil. After 9/11, I turned from a news junkie to a no-news bystander: I simply could not bear to hear more about the pain and despair and grief, the well-laid plans, the evil that was so terribly clearly loose in the world.

So the book sat on my shelf, on loan to me by a voracious reader friend who had highly recommended it.

I don't remember why I picked it up,

But I hardly put it down until I finished it. It was heart-wrenching, about guilt and loss and finding some sort of redemption, and about how decisions and events even in childhood can take a huge toll on our later lives. It was an amazing look at a culture that is very different from ours, one that has not been either kind nor easily understood. And it's written more like a memoir than a novel.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Books - Day 8 & Day 9

Day 08 – A book everyone should read at least once

This is not an easy one. I've contemplated this for more than a day, sorting through the memory banks for books I'd say were on a lifetime list.

Every child should read or have read to them "Goodnight Moon," "The Runaway Bunny," the poems of Shel Silverstein and Eugene Field. And "A Wrinkle in Time, "Charlotte's Web," "The Trumpet of the Swan." And more.

I think every young adult should read "The Little Prince," "Catcher in the Rye," "Romeo and Juliet," "To Kill A Mockingbird," and probably a bunch more I'm forgetting.

And every adult should read many of the books that are on this list, although I'm not sure I agree with them all as 'must-reads.'

But the two that I probably would recommend (okay, okay, so I don't always follow directions) that I believe are the most helpful for generally living your life are:

What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles
...wherein you learn valuable information about what you like to do, what you want to do, and how to make it happen,


Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book

...wherein you learn a blueprint for living your life that will help you in EVERY SITUATION you will ever encounter. You need not be an alcoholic to benefit from this: its basic tenets have formed the basis for 12-Step groups dealing with every sort of addiction, including things like food, sex, and drugs. But it also helps with such issues as control, anger, even 'sin' -- I once taught a Sunday school class using A Hunger for Healing -- based on the 12 steps -- which was one of the best, most popular series we ever did.

Day 09 – Best scene ever

The one that leaps to mind is in JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where Dumbledore dies.

I'd already finished the book, horrified and shocked. A few days later my daughter called me near midnight -- always a scary thing to have the phone ring at midnight -- and wailed, without explanation or identification, "He DIED! How could he DIE!" And I knew what she meant.

I'm sure there are other scenes that have left me breathless, that I raced through to find out what happened, but this is the most recent memory.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Books -- Day 7 -- least favorite plot device

Day 07 – Least favorite plot device employed by way too many books you actually enjoyed otherwise

I think of beach reading stuff when I contemplate this question...

I think it's probably when the fairly plain Jane protagonist meets the hot, well-built guy who everyone is dying to date, and she knows that he won't even notice her, but wait! Wrong. He not only notices her but sweeps her off her feet, causing her to wonder what he could POSSIBLY see in her when there are all these anorexic-troll types with great streaked manes of hair (and barbed tongues but not much brain) to choose from.

And then it turns out that he was looking for substance, not looks, all along (although she is always prettier than she thinks she is, and he convinces her of that), and they live happily ever after.

Trite. Blecky drivel.

I know there are probably several specimens in my library, but I'm not going to search for them just to name titles. I've also given most of them away after one read since I know I'll never go back to that book again. But sometimes they're just so comforting, so easy to read, quick and escapist that I'll do it again. Sometimes the rest of the writing makes up for the trite storyline.

Now. This question doesn't really address an author's style, nor does any other question in this meme, so I'm going to talk about it here.

For years as a 20-30 something I read Danielle Steel's books, although I became aware of how formulaic they are (as is Nora Roberts, really, but I'm still enjoying Roberts mostly).

But what has completely ruined Steel's books for me is her use of the ellipsis (...) as a device to show passage of time, to indicate unspoken but directed emotion or action. I hate it. I don't read her anymore because of that.

Recently I picked up one of her books lent to me by a friend, "IMPossible." There is not a line of dialogue in the first 14 pages: it is all backstory. And then most of the first two chapters have maybe 30-40 lines of dialogue, the rest is narrative.

And then I put it down, not to pick it up again. BORING! I'd forgotten how much narrative she writes rather than reveal it in dialogue, or just not go into the whole thing.

I know, I know. I should be so successful! But I hope that if I ever do write a novel that my characters will be less trite, more authentic, and that I don't overuse the ellipsis (which I do use, a lot). I'm counting on you to tell me...

oops. Drat. There it was.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 6 -- Movies vs. Books

Day 06 – A book that was adapted into a movie you liked better than the book (or a book adapted into a movie you hated, or both)
Favorite book of your favorite series OR your favorite book of all time

The last is apparently the original topic in the meme; the first is what Sylvan, from whom I got the idea to do this meme, has suggested, since the topic really already has been covered.

Generally I like books better than the movies from which they are made. When I read, if the book is well written, I HAVE a movie in my head from the story, and almost inevitably the movie is disappointing.

One such movie/book was "Love Story," a book I read (first and only time) over lunch one day back in the very early 1970s, sobbing my way through the story. I usually read if I'm eating lunch by myself, and that day I sat there until I'd finished the little book, snuffling and mopping tears, and loving the story.

It was touching, engaging, tragic, very romantic. I was fairly newly married myself, although I don't remember being as entranced by my then-husband as were Jenny and Oliver by each other. But I was not long out of college and could relate to their ages, if not their exact situations. I liked the dialogue, the simplicity of the plot.

And then I saw the movie. Yuk. Not only was Jenny, played by a vapid Ali McGraw, not what I'd pictured, her father (played by John Marley) was completely and totally wrong. Ryan O'Neal was cute, sure, and very preppy. His rigid father (Ray Milland) was okay. But Ali's open-mouthed, one-dimensional portrayal turned me so off! It was so disappointing.

After that I always approached movies adapted from books I'd loved reading with great caution, not expecting much. Mostly I was right -- the books were far better than the movies.

On the other hand, both the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series have been stunningly brought to life in the theater. Although I still prefer the books for the depth and richness of the language and detail, the characters and incredibly detailed sets have etched themselves into our visual memories. They are true to the descriptions in the books, amazingly so, and hopefully have enticed viewers to discover for themselves the stories as well.

I've found that my movie experiences with these series was greatly enhanced because I'd read the books first.

Sometimes I've read the book after seeing the movie: "Marley and Me" is the most recent. Of course my mental movie as I read the book starred Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston, but it was a good read, and I puddled up at the end, just as I did in the movie.

I'm anticipating "Eat, Pray, Love." I loved the book; I've seen or read most of the Elizabeth Gilbert interviews, and I like Julia Roberts. We'll see.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Books -- Day 5

Day 05 – A book or series you hate

I don't read books I hate. If I can't stand it, I put it down and don't finish it.

The only exception to that was when I was in school and we had to read certain books, some of which were okay and some of which I just couldn't make my way through. And even then, I put it down.

The worst class that I remember for that was an American Lit class in college, taught by a professor who was okay but hated the early time for the class (as did most of us) -- I think it was a 7:40 am class, a barbaric hour as far as I'm concerned if I'm to retain anything.

We had five books, I think. "Steppenwolf" was one, "Swann's Way" another, something by -- wait. Why would we be reading those books in an American Lit class? Must have been world lit.

Anyway. "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" by James Joyce, "The Brothers Karamazov." Something else long and tedious. (I don't think that was the class where we read F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

For the first time in my whole life, I didn't read all the assigned books. I read Steppenwolf and Portrait of the Artist, and maybe at least some of The Brothers, but I could NOT do Swann's Way nor whatever the other was. I just didn't do it.

I passed the class too, focusing the final essay on the two books I had read, neither of which I found particularly wonderful, literary classics though they might be. It wasn't a class of which I'm especially proud, nor did I learn much -- probably that 7:40 a.m. thing had a lot to do with it. But I passed with a C at the least, maybe even a B-. (Learned to BS my way through an essay too, a skill with which I have made money in my career ...)

Although I was an English major, I suppose I'm vastly under-read as far as classic literature is concerned. I think it may be because I don't like being told that I must read something, whether it is a book club or in a class, with the implication being that I will like it because it is a 'good' book written by an esteemed author.

I don't like one particular modern-day author very much, but it has to do more with her literary style than her stories. I'll delve into that in another post during this exercise.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Books -- Day 4

Day 04 – Your favorite book or series ever

'Ever,' when you're 62 years old and have been reading since age 5, is a long time. I don't know. I have had important books in my life at different stages and ages. To call out one as my 'favorite' is pretty nigh on to impossible.

One that definitely contributed hugely to my life as it is today was "A Path with Heart" by Jack Kornfield, an American Buddhist priest and founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA, Marin County. It's one I probably should re-read and see what it says to me now.

I heard about it in about 1996, when I lived in Birmingham and had just discovered the Internet world. I frequented a chatroom, Syadash, housed on a site that was, shall we say, a more 'adult' oriented site, and certainly didn't expect to find what I did:

A gathering, probably serendipitous but with overtones of predestination, of some of the wittiest, most literary, intelligent people I have ever met, all in one place for a brief period of time. I believe we all needed what we found in that group. It didn't last long, maybe a year, but even today I think of them with every full moon, with every lime I slice, and when I look at the little carved moon talisman that sits on my desk, and I say a little prayer for each of them.

We all had pseudonyms, of course. I ended up meeting at least five of them in 'RT' -- real time -- including two of them who helped me in my move to California.

It was there that I was introduced to Kornfield and Buddhist practice, and I remember reading and sobbing my way through "A Path..," recognizing that I was in good company with my own struggles and doubts within the Christian church. I don't think I read any fiction that whole year -- I read Kornfield, Thich Nat Han and others who were on that path of right thinking, right action, loving kindness. I absorbed "Full Catastrophe Living" by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Slightly off-topic, I read Gail Sheehy's " New Passages" and realized that I was in the throes of huge change that was not unexpected nor a phenomenon. I found a meditation group in Birmingham, unlikely as that may seem with churches that had whole blocks as part of their physical plant, and learned to use meditation as a tool for coping. When I traveled on business to San Francisco for a 10-day training and video shoot, I enjoyed a day-long weekend retreat at Spirit Rock with Kornfield and saw for the first and only time an aura around someone -- him.

That book was quite a transformational experience for me. While I am not Buddhist nor practicing much meditation these days, and reading more beachy fiction than inspirational non-fiction, I was forever changed as a result of that little group of people and the encouragement I found to become my true self.

Thanks to Lacy, Angelfire, gentle one, Graham, Fortune Cookie, Avery, Agassi, North Star, Glory, and so many others whose chat names I can't remember now, but who were there at that magical time. May you be happy, may you be well.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Book meme -- best book

Day 03 – The best book you’ve read in the last 12 months

Lordy. I don't know. I don't remember the books I've read in the last 12 months. I usually say that whatever I'm currently reading is the best book, i guess. And my short-term memory is not what it used to be. Actually, my memory is not what it used to be.

As I said below, the two Martha Beck books had a big impact on me -- although I'll confess that I have not gone back and done all the exercises in them yet.

I honestly don't remember reading one that I could hardly put down or that stayed with me to this day.

On vacation, I did read The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and it was just excellent. I didn't know if I'd really like it as well as a friend thought I might, but I did. It's a marginally fictionalized story about the black maids of the South during the 1960s. I did not live in the South at that time, but even when I did, in the 1990s, I encountered the maids when I attended a book club which had a fairly large number of women who lived in wealthier neighborhoods. We'd often go either to their country clubs for the luncheon meetings, or occasionally to their homes, and I have a crystal clear recollection of at least one home with a uniformed black maid who had prepared the meal and served it.

I was one of the 'poorer' members of the club and did book reviews rather than host the meetings -- we all had options about what we preferred to do. It was an interesting experience and I enjoyed meeting all the women and seeing a glimpse of what was much more the 'old' south than the one in which I lived.

The book rings true, though, and is still thought-provoking, especially about the ways we treat others and the perceptions we have of other cultures.

So much of what I read is 'pass-through' -- entertaining for the moment but with no more real substance than cotton candy. Or it is informative -- books on writing, for instance, or self-help like the Martha Beck books. They get absorbed into the general body of information and trivia which is my brain, and few stand out.

I'm wondering if I'm going to be able to sustain this meme for 30 days with the kind of memory I have for what I'm reading!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

More on books -- Day 2

Day 02 – A book or series you wish more people were reading and talking about

Oh man, I dunno.

It takes me what seems like forever to finish a book these days, probably because I usually read only before I turn off the light at night. Well, that's not quite true either. I always read two newspapers and often skim through a magazine or two during the day, and I read several blogs daily.

I've got a stack of books on my nightstand, two actively in progress, and pages folded over on three magazines to resume reading. And I don't read any one genre, but a combination of fiction and nonfiction.

Probably the books that have meant the most this past year are two of Martha Beck's -- Steering by Starlight and Finding Your Own North Star. I've recommended them to several friends, especially those who are having troubles determining where to go next in their lives.

So I guess they would merit my recommendation for this question. In fact, I suppose this category -- finding out where your passion lies, finding your 'true' self -- ranks pretty high on my list of important reading materials. You've got to get to the place, though, where you're willing to search hard and deep within yourself to be able to read and absorb the lessons, and do the exercises, within these books, and that's not an easy task, ever.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

A change of pace

Let's get off the "lecture" circuit for a bit and try an exercise in daily writing for 30 days about books. Thanks to Dianne Sylvan for the suggestion. Don't know how far I'll get, but I'll try to go the distance.

Day 01 – A book series you wish had gone on longer OR a book series you wish would just freaking end already (or both!)

I love reading books in a series when I seriously love the book or the author. (perhaps that's a 'duh'...) I even love reading my way through an author's entire published works, one after another after another. I've read that way since I was a child and worked my way through the Betsy-Tacy stories, the Boxcar Children, the Bobbsey Twins, and all of Laura Ingalls Wilder, one after another.

There are, however, a few that stand out in my admittedly fuzzy memory, after some contemplation, most of them more recent reads (meaning in the last 15 or so years...)

I confess that I would have liked Harry Potter to have gone on for another couple of books, but I suppose it ended when it should have -- not sure I want more about Harry's offspring and ordinary married life, although I appreciated the wrapup in Rowling's last book. I'm eagerly anticipating the last movie(s), but I preferred the books, as I almost always do.

I was introduced to the Kushiel series by a friend and loved the richness of character, place, and story development, and yeah, okay, the tinge of erotica. But the subsequent trilogy about Imriel was not nearly as riveting, and there were times I just wanted to slap the man. I doubt I'll bother with the latest spinoff.

The ultimate series, though, is Lord of the Rings. I tried to get into The Hobbit around 1970 or so, and just didn't get it. But during the summer of 1975 I began reading the Ring Trilogy with the first book I'd checked out from our local library. By the end of the first few chapters, I was totally hooked and dashed back to the library to get the other two, since I knew I'd get little else done until I'd finished the series. It remains the only series that I regularly re-read.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Motherhood, revisited

I'm trying to remember really hard tonight why it is I so desperately wanted to be a mother, why my ex and I went through years of fertility testing, adoption interviews, emotional pain that was devastating to our sex life and self-esteem.

There was a charming, delightful little bundle of baby at the end of all that. She grew up reasonably okay and we had some good times -- or so I thought until the last several years, when I discovered secrets she'd hidden which are now contributing in no small way to mental and health issues which are now front and center in her life, and which have certainly impacted mine, financially and emotionally.

Didn't protect her very well, it seems. Bad mama.

And then when my beloved came along years later with two more daughters, I was delighted to have them. And I fell in love with them. Oh there were issues there too -- but there also were some good times, some real bonding.

One has estranged herself from us for reasons we know not. Poof. Gone. No crystal ball here -- no explanation, no demands, no nothing.

REALLY bad mama.

The other, the one who has called me Mom for several years and who regards my first daughter as her sister, has pretty much said that I'm a crappy person who she has lost both faith in and respect for because I/we didn't leap to bail her out of an admittedly difficult place, and because I sent e-mail links without signing them or even so much as a note. And I didn't call her back when I said I would. (I'm guilty of that, no question. The e-mails were sent on the fly, in haste, not deliberately being 'cold,' and were intended to offer helpful information. I didn't call her back because ... it's complicated. But I should have.) She's saying she doesn't need this kind of 'family.'

Bad, BAD, ROTTEN mama.

So what's the solution since I can't go back to the past and change how I did things then, teach lessons better, act as a better example myself?

Beat myself up some more?

Self-flagellation may be the road to spiritual bliss in some cultures, but I'm not good with pain.

Give them whatever they want/need whenever they ask, regardless of the impact it may have on our own retirement plans or emotional health? Because that's what 'good' parents do -- devote themselves to the well-being of their children even if the children are adults and we have no say in the decisions they're making for themselves?

I don't think so. I don't think the parenting books think that's a good idea either.

Give 'em both one last check and move to outer Mongolia, leaving no forwarding address?

Tempting. Really tempting. Well, maybe not the outer Mongolia part, but certainly the no fowarding address part.

I don't think I'm a cold, unfeeling, uncaring person. Most of my life I've had the opposite problem -- getting too involved in the problems of others (and ignoring the ones of my own, which have a nasty way of eventually demanding attention). I've often trusted too easily, taking people at their word, and have been disappointed time and time again. I don't like to think of people being sick or sad or hungry or depressed or homeless or abused, and I try to help where and when I can.

But I don't know where this ends. I don't know where the boundary is between too much and not enough. I don't know how to say no or enough without it causing high drama and more trauma for all of us. Like most men, my honey is better at separating emotion from action, but he's not a happy camper either. Bad daddy?

(At least we're suited for each other, I guess -- bad mama and bad daddy. )

This is not what I'd pictured all those years ago. This is not how it was in my family nor in his, and not what our children grew up watching.

I'm still working to accept my children as they are, warts and all, and I love them dearly. But I'm not sure that means that I sacrifice who I am, what my dreams and goals and desires are, what we've worked for all these years, to meet their needs and wants now.

Wonder if Mongolia has an ocean? (heading for the atlas...)

Monday, August 02, 2010

Self-will redux

I've started to write new posts a few times in the last few weeks, but something has always come up to reinforce how very relevant the last one about self-will is. That's been pretty much how things have gone lately...

My blogger friend is, to my surprise, seemingly doing pretty well. He's still employed, has a new girlfriend, has begun a small lawn-care business, and has seen a new psych doc who has cut way back on his meds. He seems to be coping with the changes from what he is writing, and doesn't seem to be drinking excessively (or much at all). Again, I realize this is a very one-sided report since there is nothing except his blog to verify it, but I'm glad for his success. May it continue. It brings me hope that healing is possible.

In other ways, however, the self-will phrase is still applicable in our daily lives, as I suppose it always will be. I struggle daily with the need to exercise and be careful about what I eat, and blew it pretty well at a lovely dinner Friday night.

We'd taken some friends out to eat at our local golf club where we have a strictly social membership. It's a pleasant evening, looking at lush greens of the course, a lake, and trees. The food is just excellent, and the four of us enjoyed fresh, well-prepared food. And then the server asked about dessert. Well, I'd already indulged in a mound of garlic red=skinned mashed potatoes which were delicious and most definitely not something I need to be eating regularly. But she proceeded to describe the cookies and cream ice cream cake and the Reese's peanut butter cup ice cream cake, and we ordered BOTH for the table. Homemade cakes, they were, and seriously decadent. So while I ended up taking home a good-sized portion of my meal, we ate every drop of the desserts.

So I'm back to being very prudent and will climb on the treadmill shortly, just to salve my guilty conscience and to move forward on the path I need to be on. It's not all about perfection, but about the ability to pick up and move forward when there is a slipup.

There's also been a disturbance in the daughter forces which has resulted in some difficulty sleeping and a lot of discussion. It's yet another exercise in setting reasonable boundaries and letting go lovingly, and we have been consciously trying to do this for some time, although we keep revisiting it.

In reading recently, I found this quote from Mary Tucker: "I had to take my own advice and be a responsible adult and let her go, let her go to whatever broken bridge may be in her future and know deeply that it is her life to live, her mistakes to make and learn from and it does not make me less her mother or that I love her any less."

Applicable, of course, for Tony as well, since we make decisions together...

This is easier said than lived with, I might add. I've written before about setting boundaries with adult children, read some really good books about it, but it is hard to set a boundary when you are watching your child in distress. No parent ever wants to watch a child suffer. And yet. AND yet...

They begin and end one place. We begin and end somewhere else. They get to make their own decisions and choices as to how to live their lives. We are not responsible for those choices or decisions, and are not obligated to approve, disapprove, finance, or otherwise support them.

Unfortunately, repeated requests take an emotional toll on relationships. And it becomes an endless circle of rebuilding and repairing and re-establishing some measure of trust, and there is always a wariness of 'what's next,' alas. Love is not the issue: we love our children NO MATTER WHAT. But we cannot afford any longer to rescue them from their choices and actions either financially or emotionally. It is not our right to do so, it is not our responsibility, we cannot control their lives -- nor do we want to! And it definitely is not the best thing for them.

Dear heavens, making choices and taking responsibility for ourselves is quite enough for anyone!

So in the end, it still boils down to creating our own destiny. We choose our future by our choices today and our today is based on choices we've made in the past. While we cannot change past choices, we do have choices at this moment, this day, and can go forward onto a different path that takes us where we want to go.

Had I made different choices as a young woman, I would not be here now. Looking back, I see crossroads all through my life, although only in the past 20 years or so have I been able to actually realize when I am standing at one (and still miss some). Sometimes they're big enough to slap you upside the head. Sometimes they are much less obvious but just as life-changing. Few are easy choices, even the logical ones.

It takes self-will to break out of a pattern, even a destructive one, and move forward on a new path. Self-will run riot is merely repeating the same choices and actions over and over and over in hopes of a new, more beneficial outcome. And it will never, ever work.