"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Alexander Hamilton, compare and contrast reviews

This past week my daughter, who lives in New York, finally got to see the Broadway musical: Hamilton. She has entered the daily lottery for tickets since her arrival in the NYC last year and finally won the chance to buy two tickets. She and her roommate readjusted their schedules, headed into the city to see the show and loved it. This musical has done more for an interest in US history than just about anything before this time. Alexander Hamilton, the face on the 10 dollar bill, now has come alive in our minds and imaginations. Suddenly we are interested in what happened during those founding days of our country. We knew a little bit about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, but not much else. Now we know a whole lot more...or at least those people lucky enough to see the musical know a whole lot more. A person who played a big role in those opening years of our country was Alexander Hamilton. In fact, without this man and his prolific writings we might not even have a country, or a country as we know it today.

While Carly and Jennifer were enjoying the musical, I was home in Washington State reading two different books about Alexander Hamilton. It was just a weird coincidence that we were doing something related to Hamilton at the same time. (Something tells me that Carly had more fun than me, though.) The two books I read were Alexander Hamilton: The Hero Who Helped Shape America by Teri Kanefield and Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough. Both books have been nominated for a possible Cybils award in the JH/SH Nonfiction category for which I am a judge. Since I read two books one right after the other they are a little muddled in my brain. Therefore I thought I'd do one of those school-y activities: a compare/contrast of the two books.

 Compare (Similarities):
  • Both books did a nice job outlining details of Hamilton's early life on St. Kitts/Nevis in the Caribbean. He and his younger brother were illegitimate, which was a much bigger deal in those days compared to today. His mother and father were not married. His father abandoned them and when his mother died, the boys were left on their own. Hamilton distinguished himself working in the office of one of the island's sugar traders. His first published work was an article about a hurricane which devastated the island.  Because of this and his strong work-ethic, Hamilton was offered a scholarship to go to school in New York. Hamilton was always concerned/self-conscious about his lowly beginnings.
  • Each author did a nice job making readers familiar with the time line of Hamilton's life and accomplishments from his early days in school where he finished his program in two years which would normally take a person four years; as a personal assistant to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War; as a prolific interpreter of the US Constitution, writing more than 50 essays compiled today in a document known as The Federalist Papers; his role as the first Secretary of the Treasury; and as a family man and well-regarded lawyer in New York.
  • Both told us about the duel with Aaron Burr which ended Hamilton's life.
  • The Hero Who Helped Shape America and Revolutionary were both very readable and interesting. History was brought to life in these two books.
  • Kanefield's book is marketed to middle grade students, grade 5-8. Brockenbrough's book is targeted at older readers, high school aged students and above.
  • Both books used old illustrations and maps, but Brockenbrough's book had many, many more of them than Kanefield's. I thought that was odd since the latter book is aimed at younger readers so one would think it would use more illustrations than the book designed for older readers.
  • A controversial aspect of Hamilton's life was his affair and attempted cover-up with a Mrs. Reynolds. This problem played a pivotal role in Hamilton's life. Kanefield did not mention it at all in her book for middle school students. Brockenbrough's book was full of it and the consequences that affair had on Hamilton and his reputation. It colored everything up to the end. Can't middle school kids handle this kind of information?
  • Though both books covered the life-ending duel, only in Brockenbrough's book do we learn about why Hamilton would agree to the duel, especially since it was illegal. His motivations to be thought of as an honorable man colored all his decisions.
  • The Hero Who Helped Shape America is 208 pages long; Revolutionary is 372 pages long. Though much longer, the second book has much better end-notes, bibliography, and appendixes on a variety of related topics. These are helpful tools for prospective researchers.
  • Oddly, Brockenbrough's book, Revolutionary, is printed using brown ink. I wonder if the publisher thought that color ink would make readers feel like they were reading an old document. Also, irritatingly, the book did not give attributions to most of the artists of the illustrations. There was a tiny, little note of where most of the illustrations came from, but no particulars of the artists were given, with one or two exceptions. This really irritated me.
  • Kanefield's book about Hamilton wasn't as attractive or as inviting as the other. There were many pages full of text only and the quality of the paper and the illustrations were poor.
Overall: I wouldn't hesitate to recommend either of these books to teen readers. I liked Brockenbrough's book better, but that may be because I tend to think of high school researchers and I think her book is a better research tool. I learned a lot about this famous American from reading these books. Now if I could just score a few tickets to see the musical!

Carly outside the Hamilton theater on Broadway.
Until them I will have to satisfy myself with listening to YouTube videos like this one. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Three interconnected books

Last month I listened to the audiobook of H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. I had my eyes on the book since 2015 when it was published because it kept showing up on everyone's reading lists and I hate to left out if there is a book everyone is reading. I knew little about the book other than it was a memoir and the obvious, it had something to do with hawks. As I started listening to it I was surprised at how unprepared I was for the subject. And, to be honest, how uninterested I was in any information about obtaining and training a hawk. Any other reader than me would have turned off the audiobook and said, "no, this is not for me", but I have this thing about finishing books and, in this case, I had purchased the book from Audible so I would finish it even if I wasn't interested. I'd paid for it.

As is often the case, things aren't always what they appear in the beginning. That was the case with H is for Hawk. Yes, it was a memoir about a woman who trained a hawk but it was also about a life of passion for birds of prey, about grief and life-changing events, and, surprisingly, it was about T.H. White, the author of The Once and Future King, the most famous Arthurian tale ever written.

I may not have been interested in training hawks but I was fascinated by what I learned about T.H. White and his life. Helen MacDonald remembered reading, as a child, a book written by T.H. White about training a hawk called the Goshawk. Even as a child she recognized that the steps White took to train his goshawk were all wrong. She would not repeat his training steps but she did reveal aspects of his tortured personality brought on by a ghastly childhood throughout her memoir. In Goshawk White said he had read a book on falconry when he ran across this phrase, "the bird reverted to a feral stage."  This phrase caught his imagination. He wrote later, ''A longing came to my mind that I should be able to do this myself. The word 'feral' has a kind of magical potency which allied itself to two other words, 'ferocious' and 'free.' ''  This led White to obtain his own goshawk to train and I think it also led to an idea about a person becoming an animal, ferocious and free. That concept was used later when he wrote The Sword in the Stone, his prequel to The Once and Future King. In that tale, the young protagonist, Wart (King Arthur), is turned into different creatures by Merlin so that he can learn the lessons of life. Among those creatures Wart is turned into a bird of prey who has to contend with a much bigger more aggressive goshawk.

As I listened to H is for Hawk it dawned on me that I have never read anything by T.H. White. I was familiar with The Sword in the Stone because of the Disney animated movie made in 1963 and his further Arthurian tale in the movie Camelot (1967), which I loved. I own an old copy of The Once and Future King so I set to work reading it immediately. But the reading was slowed by the size (small) of the font, so I got a copy of the The Sword in the Stone from the library and have been plodding through it since then. I wouldn't say it was my favorite book. One friend, remarking on my reading choice, told me she read it as a child and laughed her way through the book. I think I gaped at her. Is the book funny? Not until today, as I was nearing the end of it did I find a few passages that struck me as funny. But I have long known that humor is very much glued to a time period. What was funny yesteryear isn't as funny today. I was also struck by how difficult I found the text to be. Did kids really read it and enjoy it. Another thing that has gone by the wayside---kids wanting/choosing to read books which are difficult. Honestly, I would have done better if this book had been the audiobook I listened to.

That being said, I found a delightful quote near the end of the book. Merlin is preparing Wart for another lesson, this one as a badger and he tells Wart that this will be the last time he will change him into another animal. He goes on to say,

The best thing for disturbances of the spirit is to learn. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love and lose your moneys to a monster, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then--to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the poor mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
Sometimes a great quote makes reading a whole, challenging book worth it!

The third connected book I read this week is titled Yvain by M.T. Anderson. It is not about hawking, though there is a lovely illustration of bird of prey wearing its little mask in it. It is not about T.H. White. It is a graphic novel of a retelling of the Yvain, knight of the Lion, another Arthurian tale. This epic poem was probably written in 1170 by Chr├ętien de Troyes about the same time the Lancelot tale was written. This retelling by M.T. Anderson, beautifully illustrated by Andrea Offermann, was just published this year. I am fairly sure that this tale is not nearly as well-known as the Merlin/King Arthur/Lancelot tales, though I think today's generation may not be very familiar with any of these tales. It is a pity, really. Anyway, Sir Yvain sets out from Arthur's court on his personal quest. Along the way he encounters all kinds of challenges and falls in love. But he is immature and does not fulfill a promise which causes his love to spurn him. In order to win back her love he goes out and finds ways to save many more people and matures within himself. The reader, however, is not quite sure if there is true love awaiting him in the end.

So there you have it. One month. Three books. Connected.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sunday Salon, October 8, 2017

Depoe Bay, Oregon. September 2015. The world's smallest navigable harbor.
Weather: Fall-like, our backyard is littered with leaves from our Mountain Ash tree. Friday was an incredibly windy day.

Daniel Ellsberg: I attended a lecture at the University of Puget Sound on Thursday evening with my friend, Jan. We had hoped to hear him talk about his decision to release the papers, which became known as the Pentagon Papers, and led to end of the Vietnam War. Ellsberg, 86, had other stuff on his mind. He spent nearly the whole evening talking about the H-bomb and the horrible, terrifying impact it will have on the whole world if we engage in a nuclear war. Jan and I sat in stunned silence. Our President is so unstable it is very possible that he thinks a nuclear war with North Korea is a good idea. God help us all.

60 for my 60th: I am nearing the end of my challenge to connect with 60 friends for my 60th year. I will count my evening spent with Jan, I'm sure she won't mind. Thanks for going with me, Jan. As horrifying was the information we learned, I did enjoy the time spent with you! Friday, I spent nearly three hours with a long-time friend and the sister of my best friend from Corvallis, Julie. Julie and I have so much in common so we had lots to talk about. Thanks for the coffee and the delicious banana brownies! Tomorrow I head to Port Hadlock, about two hours from here, to visit a friend, Mary Jo, from high school days. I am really looking forward to seeing her. Thank you, also, Sharon. Even though we've already had our 60 for 60th moment, I sure enjoyed the wine, cheese, and conversation.

Grandson: I only visited with my grandson one day this week and he has already grown so much. If I manage to stay away another week (unlikely) we will be practically grown up when I see him next!

Faith in Action: This is the week our church members participate in any of twelve charity efforts instead of going to church, we are being The church in our community. Don spent yesterday building furniture NW Furniture Bank for an organization that makes furniture available for people coming off of homelessness who have nothing. I spent the day hunched over my old sewing machine making items which will be sent to Days for Girls, an organization which makes reusable hygiene products for girls in Africa where taboos don't allow women to properly care for themselves during their menstrual cycles. I am not a very accomplished seamstress but I was able to make a portion of the little bags which are used to hold all the component pieces given to the girls. See Days for Girls website for more information.

Cybils Judging: I started reading books for my judging job of MS/HS Nonfiction titles this week.
  • The Dog in the Cave: The Wolves Who Made Us Human by Kay Frydenborg. Interesting compilation of research of our relationship with dogs. Well-written, and wonderful color photographs make this attractive to teen readers. Click the hyperlink for my review.
  • Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America by Teri Kanefield. The target audience is middle grade readers. Chalk-full of interesting information about this famous American, the first Secretary of the Treasury and the prime author of the Federalist Papers. Though well-done, the book is short on illustrations or photos. It is therefore not very visually-appealing.
  • Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough.  73% complete. It has been an interesting contrast reading the two books right next to the other in time. This book is filled with illustrations from historical documents and though it is over 100 pages longer, it is more readable that the first book I read. It also has a tremendous and helpful epilogue. The target audience for this book is high school students.
The only other book I finished this week was a reread of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The book absolutely cracks me up and I loved the audiobook read by Stephen Fry. What a talent! This time I became aware of quite a few quotes that made me think of President Trump...and not in a good way.
“Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”  (Made me think about Trump's comments about Puerto Rico being in the middle of a big ocean.)
It is a well known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. (This quote doesn't need an explanation.Ha!) 
Currently reading: 
  • Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough. See note above. (Print, 73%)
  • The Beatles: All Our Yesterdays by Jason Quinn. Graphic biography. (Print, 27%)
  • The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White. Plodding along. (Print, 73%)
  • Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart. YA psychological thriller. (Audio CDs, 50%)
  • You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins. Historical, cultural YA. (E-Audio, 20%)

Books in the wings: I have four books in a pile right next to me waiting for their turn, and six on hold at the library waiting for me to pick up. It is obvious that retirement as a librarian does not mean retiring from reading for me.

Don’t Panic.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday Quotes: Alexander Hamilton Revolutionary

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: Alexander Hamilton Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough

Book Beginning:
Even if you've had the good luck to hold a crisp $10 bill, you've probably never studied the portrait on it or thought much about the man it depicts. HAMILTON, the bill says.
Friday 56:
His courage and drive made him a standout soldier, noticed by many.
Comment: I have been accepted as a judge for The Cybils, evaluating MS/HS Nonfiction titles. (The Cybils are book awards given out yearly by book bloggers.) This book about Alexander Hamilton is one of many nonfiction books I hope to read between now and the end of December in a quest to find the best nonfiction for teens published in 2017. This book, written by Martha Brockenbrough, promises to be a good one, though I am guessing that teens will deem it a bit long at 372 pages. One thing I have noticed, which I think is odd, the print is brown (not the customary black) I suppose that was a publishing decision designed to make it seem old. I'm learning a lot about the early days of our republic and about a man who played an important tole in getting things rolling, Alexander Hamilton. I don't know if the book is a winner, but it is certainly well-written.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Dog in the Cave: The Wolves Who Made Us Human by Kay Frydenborg

In 1994 a discovery was made in a cave in Southern France of  fossilized footprints of a prehistoric young boy. Alongside these prints are the prints of a large dog. Evidence points to the dog being a companion to the boy. The astonishing thing about these prints is that they are dated to have been made way before scientists thought that man had domesticated wolves, making them into companions/pets. This set the scientific community on its head and started a flurry of experiments and research projects about man's best friend.  Surprisingly up to that point little research had been on dogs. I guess familiarity indeed  does breed contempt (in terms of research.)

Kay Frydenberg in her aptly named book A Dog in the Cave pulls together all kinds of research from paleontology, biology, and the social sciences on dogs and their relationship to humans. The book is fascinating.

Here are just a few of my takeaways:

  • All dogs descended from wolves, but domesticated wolves are not dogs. Through evolutionary processes they have changed to the wonderful array of creatures we call our best friend. In a recent study in Russia on foxes, a researcher wanted to see what would happen if he mated foxes based only on their "tameness". It took only twenty generations for these foxes to already start taking on very dog-like characteristics, physically and socially. 
  • It is quite possible that dogs were what distinguished Homo Sapiens from Neanderthal man. There is early fossil evidence that Homo Sapiens had dogs but not neanderthal man even though they existed at the same time...and we know what happened to him---he and his kind are extinct. Could dogs have made the difference in the dominance of Homo Sapiens? Researchers think the answer is yes.
  • One fascinating difference between wolves and dogs is that the former makes eye contact with humans, wolves don't or won't. Because of this dogs can infer things just from a look. I think that people anthropomorphize their dogs because of this. They think that their dogs think like a human because they make eye contact. 
These are just a few bits of information I learned from this book. It is chalk full of information.

The target audiences for this book are young adults. It is written in a clear and easy-to-read fashion, yet, and I really appreciated this, it doesn't dumb-down its language or assume that the reader is stupid or unsophisticated. I am not sure what teenagers will read this book but I am sure that some dog lovers will find their way to it and then will learn a whole lot they never knew before.

One quibble I have is the way the book was put together with the little sub-chapters. They are short, four or five pages long, little asides on particular topics. Each chapter had one of these "inserts" within the pages. Sometimes they were inserted right in the middle of some discussion topic, other times they were inserted in the back of the chapter. When they were inserted in the midst of the topic, it broke the flow of the reading and became confusing. I found myself stuffing my thumb into the pages to mark my spot so I could finish reading about the concept before going back and reading the insert. I am positive this will be a point of confusion for young readers. Once I worked out a method for dealing with them, I was fine, but I couldn't help but wonder why publishers do that sort of organization of extra topics.

I do think this book is worthy of a spot on all library shelves, especially those who have a lot of pet lovers and those interested in animal research. The book is nicely produced with lots of color photographs which add to its appeal and readability and there is a nice index and endnotes. That said I still honestly think that more adults will enjoy this book compared to its target teen audience. I know I did.

Frydenborg, Kay. A Dog in the Cave: the Wolves Who Made Us Human. Houghton Mifflin, 2017. Print.

Source: school library.
Pages read: all, 246. 
Rating: 4.5 stars

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

My Beatlemania... 50 years late. Early memories.

Let me catch you up on why I am going through a Beatlemania phase in my life fifty years after the Fab Four were popular with the rest of the world. In May Sirius Radio opened up a Beatles channel and I've been listening to it every time I am in the car. Their music just sweeps over me and reminds me of so much of my childhood, listening to it is like walking down a flower-strewn pathway of memories. The music has led me to books, of course, and to videos and movies. I have been immersing myself in everything Beatles for the past five months and my appetite seems insatiable. I keep thinking that this Beatlemania-phase will pass. But it has not subsided one bit since its inception in May.

Come with me on a yellow submarine full of Beatles memories from my point of view.
Poster similar to one my best
friend's sister has posted in their

Early Memories
I was born in 1957. The Beatles formed up their group in 1960. Obviously I was too young to follow them at the beginning of their career. But you would be surprised how young I was when I became a fan. My first memory of The Beatles involved my best friend Kay and a poster her older sisters or brother had. Kay and I would stand in front of the poster and talk about which one of the Fab Four we liked best. Kay was a Lennon girl, I was partial to McCartney. We would pretend that we were married to our favorite guy and then play house. I'm guessing that this was in 1963 or 1964, making us six or seven. Pretty young for a music fans, huh? Around that time I remember walking around singing the song "I Want to Hold Your Hand". In fact, it may have been the only Beatles song I knew at the time.

Another memory around that same time involved another neighbor. I was on the front porch of Scott's (another friend) house when I learned that his sister Kathy, who was a teenager at the time, had scored some tickets to The Beatles concert in Portland (1965.) I was so jealous. I loved them so much and I thought it would be dreamy to see them in person. I don't remember any follow-up (Hey, I was a little kid!) so I don't know what the experience was like for her.

Fast forward a few years. My parents were missionaries and had moved us to Africa. For Christmas 1967 my aunt sent me a REVOLVER album. It was the first album of my very own. Some of the songs like "Eleanor Rigby",  "Here, There, Everywhere", and "Yellow Submarine" were just seared into my brain while others like "Dr. Robert" I don't recognize at all. It was harder in those days to do than today, but I may have been skipping over certain songs in favor of others by picking up and setting down the needle on certain songs.

While we still lived in Africa, my sister and I obtained a coveted copy of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. I don't remember specifically how we got it since neither of us had any money and our parents never bought stuff like that. I loved every song on it and can probably still sing every single one of them by memory. I was 10 years old when it was published, my sister wasn't quite 12. The Beatles had two young fans in us.

In 1968 The Beatles released the longest single to top the music charts, "Hey Jude". It was over seven minutes long. I was glad for
the length. I would put the record on the player and rush into the kitchen to wash the dishes to "Hey Jude". I would attempt to wash, rinse, and scald the dishes in seven minutes and finish up before the song ended. My whole family remembers this silly competition I would run with myself, but I bet my mom was actually laughing into her sleeves about it because I got the dishes done really fast instead of usual slow-poke, feet-dragging technique.

We got home from Africa during the summer of 1969 in time for Abbey Road to hit the market. I still didn't own very many albums and had no money to speak of but I had to have it and somehow managed to it. Every song is seared into my memory bank as if it were part of my DNA. Then in 1970 tragedy struck. I learned, along with the rest of the world, that The Beatles had broken up. I remember I was by myself at Payless, a variety store in my hometown not far from my house. I was in the record department looking at LET IT BE, thinking sad thoughts and wondering how I was ever going to come up with the money to buy their last album. I never did manage to get it, though I did get the 45 of the single "Let It Be" (with the weird, "You Know My Name" on the B-side.) I can still recall the sorrow I felt that day and for many days/weeks/months afterwards wondering how I would survive in a world without The Beatles singing in the background.

Peter Max, pop art
 Of course, we know today that that is not true, The Beatles didn't end when they broke up. The Beatles have been playing in the background of all our lives since they formed in 1960 and every day I hear, on Sirius radio, another Beatles song I've never heard before. Those four guys were prolific as a musical group and as single artists. My my. They have endured.

One more early memory, partially associated with The Beatles, is related to an artist whose art was included on two (I think) of their albums. The artist was Peter Max and we loved, loved, loved his pop art in the late 1960s, early 1970s. I remember trying to create art posters to look like his stuff.

Expect more Beatlemania from me as I report on the books I've been reading about the Beatles, and the videos I've been watching. "Yea", I bet you are thinking sarcastically, "just what I want to read, a blog post about a music group that broke up nearly fifty years ago." Tee-hee. I hope you'll indulge me.

What early memories do you have related to The Beatles?

Monday, October 2, 2017

My Top Ten Literary "Crushes"

Reprise: I originally posted this in 2010. I thought I'd revisit the list for ideas from last time and I liked rereading it so much I decided to just repost it with a few additions.  -Anne
I didn't think I could come up with a list of ten personal literary "crushes".  But I've been playing around with this list all week and here's what I came up with (in no particular order) and I found even more than ten:

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen): I think that every girl dreams of someone like Mr. Darcy, at least some time in her life.  He is handsome, reserved, honorable, and rich.

Captain Frederick Wentworth (Persuasion by Jane Austen): When he first meets Anne Elliott he has no money or pedigree, making him an unsuitable match for a gentleman's daughter. When he returns seven years later he has made something of himself and though he appears to feel the opposite at first, his heart still belongs to Anne.

John Ridd (Lorna Doone by Richard Blackmore): When I was in 6th grade my mother loaned me her copy of Lorna Doone which had belonged to her mother.  I read this antique book over and over again and was completely taken with the clandestine lovers, John and Lorna. When I attempted to reread the book as an adult I was shocked that I understood a word of it as a young girl. Nevertheless, their love affair made a deep impression on me and I always dreamed of having a young man scale a waterfall to find and save me from my captors.

Karl Shoemaker (Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes): This marvelous book was just published 2009 so you might be wondering what a grown woman is doing by having a crush on a literary high school boy? Well, I'll tell you.  Karl lives in the 1970s when I was in high school.  He is just about the best friend anyone could ever have.  He is hard-working, kind, thoughtful, and just about ready to fall to pieces. He stands up for the little guy and literally saves a friend's life.  I wish I'd had a boyfriend just like Karl.

Marius Pontmercy (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo): The kind and devoted gentleman who falls in love with Cosette, is kind to his friend Eponine, fights on the correct side of the revolution, and he is a devoted and faithful friend.  He's just about the perfect guy.

Theodore "Laurie" Laurence (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott): the next-door neighbor and friend to all the March girls, but especially Jo. I loved his friendships with the girls and his kindnesses to the family.  I always wanted Laurie and Jo to become a couple but understood that they weren't an ideal match. It didn't keep me from having a crush on him, though.

Prince Caspain (The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis): Caspain is the brave prince who fights for the rights of all Narnians and wins the devotion of his people and wins my heart along the way.

Mr. George Knightley (Emma by Jane Austen): the kind and practical friend and almost-brother to Emma who remains devoted to her even though she continues to bumble around with her match-making efforts. When he confessed his love to Emma I was swept right up, too.

Denys Finch Hatton (Out of Africa: a Memoir by Isak Dinesen, nom de plume for Baroness Karen von Blexin-Finecke): is it possible to have a crush on a literary character who was actually a real person? Well, I had a crush on Denys after the movie Out of Africa came out because he was such an adventurous soul who dearly loved Africa, was devoted to Karen, and died a tragic death.

Tristran Thorn (Stardust by Neil Gaiman): from Gaiman's magical fairy tale, Tristran falls in love with a star who has fallen to earth and morphs from a bumbling idiot into a handsome, swash-buckling hero.  This is one case where I actually like the movie better than the book, but both are good.

Sergeant Joe Harmon (A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute): Jean Paget meets Sgt. Joe Harmon when they are both Japanese prisoners-of-war in Malaya during WWII.  Joe becomes her hero when he steals a chicken so that the prisoners can have something to eat.  For this act of heroism he is flogged and, Jean thinks, killed. She learns many years later that he is still alive and she goes to search for him in the Australian outback.  I still have a crush on Joe and reread the book with some regularity.

Henry Crawford (Mansfield Park by Jane Austen): Henry Crawford is one of Austen's cads. He sets out to win the heart of Fanny Price but she never truly trusts him.  She is right, of course, as Crawford ends up dishonoring the whole family by his affiar with Fanny's cousin.  If I were Fanny, however, I would have swooned by Henry's attention. He was fun-loving and high-spirited.  Crawford's spot on this list is my nod to all literary "bad boys."

Captain Antonio Corelli (Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres): Caught in the middle of WWII, Captain Corelli and Pelagia fall in love.  He is an "enemy" invader to the Greek Island, but he is charming and musical and their love story transcends the horrors of war.  I want someone to sing me an Italian love song, just like Antonio sang for Pelagia.

Sam (When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore): a transgender boy who is so kind and loving and the best boyfriend/person anyone could hope to have.

Levi (Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell). I think he is just about the perfect boyfriend. Up to the point when this book hit the market I thought no author would ever be able to design a perfect guy but Ms. Rowell did it.

Who are some of your literary crushes?  What do you think of my choices?

The End of Your Life Book Club...my thoughts

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe is my kind of book. It is a book about books and a book about relationships.

Mary Anne Schwalbe was diagnosed with cancer. She had a close relationship with her husband and her three children so each family member would take turns offering care and companionship during her treatment sessions. When it was Will's turn, he casually asked his mom what she was reading. That was the beginning of the two-person book club between Will and his mother which carried on until her death nearly two years later. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to their book selection. They read popular fiction and spiritual devotionals, classics and serious literature, short stories and a few plays. Through their discussions, the reader gains an understand of their profound love for each other and the power of literature to unite people.

As I contemplate the opening lines of The End of Your Life Book Club, I see that the author was setting his readers up for an unexpected treat and an explanation how out of two bad things can come something good:
We were nuts about the mocha in the waiting room at Memorial Sloan-Kettering's outpatient care center. The coffee isn't so good, and the hot chocolate is worse. But if, as Mom and I discovered, you push the "mocha" button, you see how two not-very-good things can come together to make something quite delicious. (p. 1)
Will's mom has cancer. Bad thing #1 (coffee.) She has to spend a lot of time at the hospital. Bad thing #2 (hot chocolate.) But because they enjoy talking about books together, Will and Mary Anne are able to enjoy one aspect of their time together (mocha.) Throughout their two year book club we find that is true over and over. Even when she is so sick, Mary Anne wants to talk about books with her son and through the books she is able to communicate her dreams, goals, regrets, plans, schemes, triumphs, and longings. 

At the end Will is able to reflect back on the wonderful way that the book club helped him to cope with losing his mother. (There's that mocha, again.)
Mom taught me that you can make a difference in the world and that books really do matter: they're how we know what we need to do in life, and how we tell others. Mom also showed me, over the course of two years and dozens of books and hundreds of hours in hospitals, that books can be how we get closer to each other, and stay close, even in the case of a mother and son who are very close to each other to begin with, and even after one of them has died. (p. 326)
The book is organized in chapters named for one of the books the Schwalbes read for their book club. Most of the books I haven't read (but I want to read them now!) but a few of the selections are books I have enjoyed in the past: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery are among them. It was like revisiting old friends reading about their discussions about books I have read and loved in the past. Most of the books on their reading list I have heard of but now I am really curious to try: Marjorie Morningstar, The Lizard Cage, and The Reluctant Fundamentalist were a few that caught my fancy.  But really, if truth be told, I want to read them all. One book which I will surely buy first is a 100+-year-old devotional called Daily Strength for Daily Needs. It became the special book for Mary Anne as she found her physical strength waning as the disease took hold.

On an interesting, personal side note, I gave this book to my own mom a few years ago.  I found it on the sale shelf at the public library and thought it sounded like a book my mom would like. She did like it but commented that it wasn't as much about the books as she thought it would be. Really it is mostly about life and living, about Will's mother and her extraordinary life.

We will be discussing this book in December in one of my book clubs. I know it will generate a fabulous discussion. I've also decided to start a book club within the book club generating a lending library with the titles of the books that Will and his mom read together at the end of her life on earth.
We'll see how it goes, but I have high hopes because, as Will Schwalbe says,
[Mom] never wavered from her conviction that books are the most powerful tool in the human arsenal, that reading all kinds of books, in whatever format you choose, is the grandest entertainment, and also is how you can take part in the human conversation. (p. 326)
Everyone in a book club knows that the books start us talking and thinking and feeling, they are the catalyst for the discussions on all kinds of topics and ultimately for forging strong and rewarding friendships.

Like books about books and don't mind crying a few tears? I recommend The End of Your Life Book Club.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sunday Salon, October 1st

"Let my deeds outrun my words. Let my life outweigh my songs. Unbroken praise be Yours, God, forever."
-Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman, Unbroken Praise

Weather: Overcast, with intermittent sprinkles of rain. Cool.
Gary baptizing Daniel

Ian is baptized, with his Grandparents Adams looking on

Gary praying for Ian.

Baptisms: Today our grandson and his father Daniel, were baptized during our morning worship service. Our pastor is retiring and our daughter wanted the pastor who married them, to baptize her son. Today was the last chance. In a neat set of coincidences, Daniel was also baptized and joined the church at the same time, making the day double special.

Goodbye!: The rest of the service was one long goodbye to our pastor who is moving into retirement tomorrow. Gary's last sermon to us was from 2 Timothy 4 which the last letter written by the Apostle Paul. In it Paul is giving Timothy his final instructions, which includes asking him to come and to bring his scrolls and his cloak, to give greetings to many people which he named. Gary said he was done. He had equipped us as best as he could and so today was simply a chance to wrap things up. It was a very poignant message to us as we prepare ourselves for a church life without Gary and his family.

Denouement: In the program section after the worship service several people got up and spoke to Gary about what he means to us and what to expect in the future as he moves into retirement. One of his friends, a retired pastor, told Gary to think of retirement as a denouement. He explained what he meant by first defining the word: "Denouement is derived from a French word called “denoue” that means “to untie”. The denouement is a literary device which can be defined as the resolution of the issue of a complicated plot in fiction." He explained that in retirement one gets to untie the knots which have been parts of the our stories allowing us to find resolution. I realized as he was speaking that that is what I've been doing this past month. As the reality of retirement has sunk in, I am taking some time right now to untie those knots that bound me to the working world. In a funny irony, I just mistyped the word "untie" as "unite" and I decided it was a symbolic message. Denouement is a chance for me to unite the pieces of my life also, so that everything reaches a satisfactory resolution.

"May your life-song sing of God's amazing grace. May your feet be firm and steady in this race...This I pray, this I pray, that you'd have God's best. Be strong and blessed."- Heather Sorenson, This I Pray

"Well done, good and faithful servant": Friday Don and I attended a memorial service for Retired General Tim Lowenberg, who died suddenly in August of a heart attack. Don's comment, as we entered the service, was it would likely be what he called a "political service" because so many important people would be speaking and in attendance. But even though two past Governors, two current US Congressmen, and several other retired generals spoke it was really obvious that this was not just a political event. The people who spoke all clearly really liked and admired Tim Lowenberg and were deeply saddened by his death. Though I only met him a few times, I was always struck by how kind and thoughtful he was. I cried big, wet tears throughout the whole service and the military ceremony which followed. MG Tim Lowenberg truly had a life well lived.
Kathy and Ian

Great Aunt visits Ian: My sister Kathy drove up from Oregon to meet her grand-nephew Ian this week. She got some really good cuddle time with the little guy.

Books read this week:
  • Lennon Remembers by Jann Wenner---a Rolling Stone magazine interview with the famous musician just a few months after The Beatles broke up. Egad. This guy was a sensitive soul.
  • Spinning by Tillie Walden---a graphic memoir of a girl who always felt like a misfit. She was an ice skater but always felt like no one understood her. She eventually comes out as a lesbian and decides to abandon skating for art.
Banned/Challenged books read this week:
  • And Tango Makes Three by Richardson and Parnell---a children's book about two male penguins who hatch an egg at a zoo and parent a baby penguin, Tango. Based on a true event from the Central Park Zoo. It has been a highly challenged book because of the homosexuality of the penguins. (Eye roll done on my part.)
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut---I am the last adult to read this classic. Vonnegut is quite vulgar, so I am sure that is why the book is often challenged/banned. Read my review here.
Currently reading:
  • The Sword in the Stone by TH White---I know, I know. I have never read it before. 50%, print.
  • Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee---a vlog goes viral and its creators don't know how to react. 10%, print.
  • Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams---a reread. What a joy. This book is so funny. 80%, audio.
Bookclub record: My 2nd book club met this past week and we discussed a book, The One-In-a-Million Boy. Everyone ended up liking the book and almost everyone liked the book A LOT. That is a record. We usually disagree or have varying degrees of LIKE assigned to the books. If you haven't read this book ALL of us would recommend it.

The Cybils Award Judge, Round 1: I have been selected as a judge for Round 1 for the Cybils JH/SH Nonfiction Award. The Cybils are the book awards given by book bloggers like me! Round 1 judges read all the nominated books for their category and select 10 or so books as finalists which will be judged by a different set of readers. My November and December will be dominated by nonfiction books written for teens. Here I go! (The Cybils website)

"This song has to end, just like your presence here./ We send you off today with many a tear./ But rest assured, we will continue what you started. / Christ lives in us even when you have departed. / It's something unpredictable but now the time in right. /We hope you had the time of your life." -
Craig Snider, rewording song for Gary's retirement: Time of Your Life by Green Day

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Slaughterhouse-Five---reading a banned book for Banned Books Week

It is Banned Books Week. Every year at this time I like to exert my freedom-to-read-what-I-want by selecting a book which has been, at one time or another, a banned or challenged book. This year I selected Kurt Vonnegut's famous anti-war novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. This is one of the great ironies of life---the book which is around 250 pages long, is actually a very short audiobook. It was only 6 hours long which I was able to complete in a just few trips back and forth to see my new grandson. What took be so long to listen to this classic, identified as one of Modern Library Top 100 novels of the 20th Century?

Whenever I read a book which has been identified as a banned book, I find myself contemplating this question as I read, "Why would anyone want to ban this book?" The answer was very apparent to me with this one.  Published in 1969, at the height of both the anti-war and the hippie movements, Slaughterhouse-Five is very trippy. In typical Vonnegut style, the book is often vulgar and unconventional.  He doesn't even try to make it acceptable to prudes and over-protective parents who think they can save their children and society in general by not allowing their children, or anyone's children, from reading the book. Yet, Slaughterhouse-Five begs to be discussed and taught in a classroom setting. As soon as someone says to children that they have to read something, out come the folks who want to ban the book.

If you don't know anything about Slaughterhouse-Five, I encourage you to read the summary of it. Here is a pretty good summary at Goodreads. Vonnegut served in the Second World War and was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the fire-bombing of the city by the Allies. Though not autobiographical, one gets the distinct impression that Vonnegut knew what he was talking about as we see the events as they unfold for Billy Pilgrim. Pilgrim becomes completely unstuck from time as he travels back and forth from the events in 1944 in Dresden and 1967 when he is abducted to the planet Tralfamadore by aliens, and points of time in between. The reader is never quite sure if Billy is just crazy or if he really was abducted because the story, like Billy's life is so fractured.

This absurdist novel was immediately embraced by a country in the midst of another war, Vietnam, in 1970. War is absurd and the little guy, who is the one who fights and dies, is truly the pawn of those in power who sit back and make their moves. This message rang true to America's counter-culturalists, and I suspect it would ring true today as people contemplate the bluster we are hearing from Trump and President of North Korea. But, unfortunately, I don't think the book is read or taught often anymore. This is one of the big problems for a banned or challenged book---school boards are much less likely to approve books which will draw criticism from parents (tax-payers.)

Since I listened to the audiobook I had no idea that the first chapter wasn't actually a preface. In the first chapter Vonnegut talks as himself about the writing process and how he finally decided how to put his story of the fire-bombing of Dresden forward. Unlike most novels the reader is always aware of Vonnegut in this one since he is the narrator. About the book Vonnegut said, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters."  The novel, as absurd and humorous as it is, seems extremely impactful and, I suspect, memorable. It may have taken me forty-seven years to get to it, but I am glad I finally read it and will recommend it to others to do the same.

Read a banned book! Words have power! Here is a list of Top Ten Challenged books last year: