Reading

2013: Books In Review

I did a lot of reading last year, some of it was pretty wonderful, while some of it was pretty awful–but that is what I get as a book reviewer. It can be a very mixed bag. I have narrowed down the books that I read last year (70 in total) to my top ten favorites. For the most part I would recommend all of these books; some of them I would even be obnoxious about it. Sometimes I feel like I should at least strap my husband down until he reads some of these, but he is more of a technical reader: as in he loves to read about medical studies, new technologies, and boring things like economics and sociology. One can’t have it all, I suppose. I have divided the top ten into three categories: Throwbacks, Non-Fiction, and Fiction, so if you don’t see anything for you in the first couple of sections, feel free to scroll down.

Throw Back:

This is a set of four books called the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Particia C. Wrede. I think I first read these  books in middle school. They are very fast reads – I burned through all four of them in a week back in  October/November. They are just pure silliness and fun. There are annoying princesses and good princesses,  Dragons who are allergic to Wizards, and Wizards who are annoyingly persistent and evil. There are cats who act  just like cats and magical swords that do not act like swords at all. These are a great way to indulge your inner child,  especially since they are well written with wry humor.

Non-Fiction:

 This book was incredible. Persico distilled unimaginable amounts of information in to a comprehensive look at   Nuremberg trials. I was astounded as I read it trying to imagine how he brought all of this information together. I am drawn to this period in history–as many others are and this helped satiate my need for information. Persico gives us information on the war, on how the Trail came about, how the jail system worked, how the prisoners were treated. This is by far the best non-fiction book I have read in a long time. The writing is substantial. I don’t think I could ask for more.

 I am not sure I would recommend this book to everyone. It appealed to me because of the work that I do with  Adventist Hospice, though I do think I would have found it interesting even without working for Hospice. This  book walks us through the history of dying and how advances in medicine: hospitals, medicines, etc. changed  how we approach dying. I think this would be a relevant book for anyone with older relatives as well as those who work in nursing homes or hospitals. If you want more information here is the link to the review I did for the Portland Book Review.

Fiction!

Initially I thought I should put these next books in ascending order of awesomeness, but I couldn’t wrap my head around a hierarchy. Each of these books are incredible (at least to me). I would recommend them all, without reservation, to anyone. That is not to say that they won’t appeal to everyone, because I know everyone has different tastes, and I can be incredibly biased when it comes to what I read. Take the following 7 books for instance: all of them have female protagonists. I obviously have discriminating tastes. The first book is my favorite of all of them, but the rest are all equal in my estimation. Three of the books on this list are by Louise Erdrich, whose work I have been having a love affair with as these blog posts attest to: Damn Good Writing, Day 19.

 I couldn’t put this down. I felt like I was swimming deep under water, without needing to breath. The story  intertwines the lives of the Master Butcher Fideles, his wife Eva, their four sons, and a young acrobat woman who  has returned home with her lover who she passes off as her husband to gain respectability. Everything was so  beautiful, poignant, and simple. It is a story of ordinary lives, in an ordinary world. That’s where the beauty lies and  Erdrich knows this so well. Instead of writing towards large, world changing events, her writing conveys the power  in the small things in life. I read the book months ago and I am still not over it.

This is a story about a drum, which begins when Faye discovers the painted drum abandoned in an attic of an estate she in appraising. The drum calls to her, and against all of her professional sensibilities she steals it. We then bounce back and forth through time as we catch glimpses of the lives the drum has touched, changed, and in some instances, ruined.

I am having a hard time remembering the plot of this book, but I think that only adds to it oddly enough. This  book is so tangled; it is a jumble of lives, twisting together. It takes place up in North Dakota, on tribal lands. It  is about the struggle for a dying culture and disappearing land. It is a book of power and sadness. There is evil  and magic, as well as faith and painted drums. It is a book to be read late at night.

This so reminded me of Anne of Green Gables–it has a young girl as the protagonist and a very strong connection with nature for a start. I remember watching the Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe  as a kid–the old one put out by WonderWorks with the human sized beavers. One of the previews on the VHS was  for A Girl of the Limberlost. I finally got around to reading this book while I was on my honeymoon, and it was  perfect. It is a simple, sweet book where you easily fall in love with the characters and everything turns out  perfectly in the end. I recommend reading this book in the summer, on a warm summer afternoon. It won’t  take much time, but the time it takes will be well spent. Unless, of course, Anne of Green Gables is way to girly for you and then I would suggest not reading this book.

Set mainly on a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean, this tells the story of Meterling who falls in love with an older English gentleman who falls down dead during their first dance at the wedding reception. Meterling is left, pregnant, to bear the disgrace. The writing is simple and beautiful, and we automatically love Meterling who must endure her broken heart and continue to live, surrounded by family in her families compound. As Sweet as Honey is the perfect title for this book. Here is the link to the review I did for the Portland Book Review.

Set in North Wales during the last couple of months during World War II, this book tells the tale of a small town barmaid. How whole life is wrapped up in her little village, yet she longs for a larger world. I wasn’t so sure about this book when I first started reading it, but then before I knew it I was hooked. Esther comes of age in a time where soldiers regularly tramped through her town and vied for her affections, where local eyes pry into every aspect of life, and the POW camp just over the hill proves too interesting to resist.

There is so much to this book, I don’t know where to begin. It takes place in two worlds: Germany during World War II with a young woman named Anna, and years later in Minnesota with Anna’s daughter Trudy. It is a story of love and loss, and what lengths we can be driven to for that love. Anna sacrifices everything for her infant daughter in Germany, and at the end of the war when she meets a young American soldier she escapes the horror of her past to marry him and move to America. From that point on she refuses to talk about her past, but it continues to color the relationships that she has with her husband and her daughter. Trudy is left to puzzle out her own murky beginnings, searching fruitlessly against the wall of her mother’s silence. This book was dark and twisty in the exact way I like books to be dark and twisty. 

I hope everyone had a great reading year last year. Remember: the books we get to read in this lifetime are finite, so choose them wisely. I have started a new page for the books that I read in 2014, you can check that out here. If you had any books that knocked you off your feet, and made you wobbly at the knees last year, please feel free to share them. I am always on the prowl for my next great read. Good reading everyone!

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Blogging

It has been a long time

But I am not dead. I swear. I have been working on a couple of different things. I have started volunteering with a local Search and Rescue team (which takes up a LOT of time with training and searches), I have taken on a new Hospice patient, I have taken on a new role with the Portland Book Review (even though it hasn’t started yet), and I have started the process of branding myself as a writer. At some point in the next year you should see the fruits of that labor but I am not making any promises yet. It is way to early to make promises.

Plus there were the holidays, which aren’t done yet.

Anyway, I have decided to make a couple of changes to how I am approaching blogging. Husband and I have created a private blog that we are going to be working on together. It is a place for him to kind of keep a journal, it is a place for me to try out ideas and draft posts for this blog (because let’s be real, half the time I am using this blog as a journal anyway) and it is a way for both of us to collaborate and share ideas. This is especially important on my part as I am better at being open in writing and there is a lot that goes on inside of me that I don’t share with anyone vocally, but I would like to especially share with my spouse in someway.

I think that the only effect that all will have on this blog is that my blog posts will be slightly fewer and there will be more time in between posts–that is when I am actually blogging regularly. We all know how great I am at that. But my hope is that the things that get posted here will be more polished and well-thought out. How about getting rid of all those grammar and spelling errors I am so good at. Especially as I try to build a professional writing presence.

I just wanted to let you all know that I am still here. I am still writing. I took a break for a while, and then I was working on somethings behind the scenes. I am hoping to have another post for you within the next week, or at least the next two weeks at the most. It is the initial post to enter into the new blog “pipeline,” so it has been turned over to my collaborator for suggestions and then I will work on it some more and get it up here. But again why make promises I can’t/won’t keep?

Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me and reads what I lay down. I really appreciate your attention and your support. One of my main goals this coming year is to make this a more reliable, consistent experience. Only because I love you all and I want you to read as much of my writing as you can stomach and then some.

Happy New Year Everybody!!

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nanowrimo

Girl Who Reads

Yes I have slacked off on the blog, but the good news is that I haven’t on Nanowrimo. I broke 25,000 words yesterday, so I am officially half way done. I am still not really in a blogging mood today, so instead of pushing it I offer this tiny update: I am doing great. AND as a conciliation prize here is one of my favorite videos as of last night. My husband sent it to me, and I think I have watched about five times since:

Girls Who Read

Cheers!

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nanowrimo

Nano Day 12 and 20,000 Words

Today I will hit 20,000 words in Nanowrimo. It is amazing to me that writing everyday can add up to something tangible and quantifiable. It is amazing that I am just a few days away from hitting the midway point for Nanowrimo. Now there are those out there who will always poo-poo the idea of Nano. The most common phrase I hear is, “if you had wanted to write a novel, you would have done it–Nano seems unnecessary.” There are other negative sentiments out there, but each Nanowrimo I learn something new about myself as a writer. Here is a short list of ideas that this Nanowrimo has thrown into the old percolator:

1. Sometimes, oftentimes, it is not about the book. Crazy. It is about learning the process of writing a book, learning what it takes in one crazy crash course, so that when I am ready to sit down and give this all I have got for months on end I will know what it is going to take. It is about learning my pitfalls as an author. This is training.

2. There is going to be another novel. And another after that. That’s how I am going to get good at this. To keep writing novels, till I learn the things I need to learn.

3. Nanowrimo is only a month. I am not signing a contract, binding me to work for life on this one project. This is a safe place to try things out. Experiment with new ideas, different genres, crazy characters, and plot twists that make you dizzy. I can get things out of my system. I can purge bad habits and stupid ideas, and I can also be so uninhabited that maybe I stumble across a goldmine of writing. Who knows? Everyday with Nano is different.

4. It is okay to fall behind. It is not the end of the world. AND I don’t have to make up what I have lost in one terrifying feat of word count. Slow and steady works just fine. It doesn’t make me less of a writer to spread things out.

5. I am learning this Nano how to be less of a neurotic writer. It helps that I am sort of on a mini writing retreat. But I am in such a healthy environment that it is rubbing off in writing. I might not even have to torture myself over all of this. But I don’t really believe that yet. I might believe it someday. The point is that I am learning that a set schedule, that I repeat everyday is good for me. I wake up and go for a run, get the juices running. I am showered and ready to write by 8:30 or 9:00. I put in 2-3 hours of writing, and then I go about the rest of my day. The best part is that when I leave my sister-in-laws I know that it is a routine that I am easily implement at home.

6. I like to write on couches. Desks are overrated.

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nanowrimo

Nano Day 11 and Week 2

This is just going to be a VERY short post, just to let you all know that I am still alive and kicking and writing. Every other day or so Nanowrimo sends an email out to the writers with messages of encouragement and advice. This morning I awoke to an email titled Nanowrimo: A guide to Week Two.

I leave you with this advice that I am passing on from that email:

Give yourself one page to write pure stream-of-consciousness. Your inner editor can be incessant in its recriminations. Sic a swarm of words on him like a hive of killer bees. Correct nothing, and drown doubt out with action.

Cheers!!

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nanowrimo

Nano Day 8 and Ecstatic Dancing

I have reached a point in my story where I am not sure how to proceed. Up until this point (11,000 words) I have known what will happen next. Now I am waiting for inspiration. While I wait I might as well tell you all about my very informative and fun night last night.

Last night my friend Tami took me out to an Ecstatic dance in Grass Valley, CA. I had never been to such a thing, but I had heard of them during a a comedy show, where the comedian was doing a sketch about Portland. While she was visiting she had been asked out dancing. She said yes expecting a fun night on the town and what she got instead as free-form dancing, with a bunch of people in socks, who held hands at the end and talked about their experience.

That’s what I went to last night. Thanks to the comedian I knew what I was getting myself into. The event’s website clearly stated that the dance was drug/alcohol free. But we are in Grass Valley, where the main economy is marijuana, and it is November, which apparently it is harvest season. I learned last night that you don’t ask what people do for a living here. Or at least the people at the type of event I was at. Everyone works on a “farm”. I learned this by standing in line for the bathroom.

I was trying to make innocent conversation with the woman next to me. She was complaining about how she had not had time to go home and change after work. She was dismayed at how dirty she was. I didn’t think she looked dirty so I told her so, while she unzipped her sweater and started trying to brush off bits of green stuff from her shirt. I then asked what she did. She told me she worked on a farm, and then said, “but I guess everyone does that during this time around here.”

I made some noncommittal response because I honestly didn’t get it.

“Someone has to do it,” she said finally.

I STILL didn’t get it. For those of you who have gotten it now, I just want to prove that I have too: she meant that someone had to harvest all that bud so that the rest of us could enjoy it. Just like someone has to milk those cows or harvest the wheat.

Tammi had over heard our conversation in the bathroom. She was the one who pointed out to me what “farming” was around here and that most people just don’t ask about each others professions. She is a little different. She is a single mom with two kids. She is constantly having to ask people if they grow or smoke. She doesn’t want her kids going over to a grow house, and she doesn’t want to date a guy who is in the marijuana scene.

Only fair.

That was the beginning of our night. I had a great time dancing. I think I danced for close to two hours straight. Tami and I just did our own thing, like everyone else on the dance floor. You could do whatEVER you wanted, because guaranteed there was someone next to you doing something even weirder. There was a woman who wore a long dress and shawl and just swayed for two hours with her arms stretched out. There was a man who crawled around on the floor like a bug. There were people meditating (though how you could meditate with all the crazy going on, I have no idea). There were people doing yoga. There was a woman who was screaming. I kid you not. She would just scream in the middle of the song for no reason. I kept looking around to make sure I wasn’t the only one noticing this, but I was. Everyone else was lost in their own little dance world. So I went back to dancing too, but every time she did it I jumped and wondered if she was dying.

There were kids, men in bell bottoms, women in sports bras and leggings. Most everyone danced alone, but their were a couple of folks who danced together, but none of it was sexual, which kind of surprised me. Whenever I have gone out dancing there is always the couple who grinds too much and the couple who makes out while grinding. There was none of that. It was all very respectful (minus the screaming). The only thing (besides the screaming) I could have done without was the smell of body odor mixed with weed.

Anyway I had a great time, but now back to the novel. Wish me luck, I think I will need it today.

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nanowrimo, Uncategorized

Owning A Spiritual Language

This is a long post and I apologize in advance, but I believe it is worth getting through–otherwise I would not have written it. Please bear with me.

Since walking away from modern day, Christian Theology somewhere in college I have found myself more aligned with a spirituality rather than religion—not all of Christian theology mind you mainly the young “Jesus is my buddy, I talk to him over coffee in the mornings,” type of theology. I have a lot of respect for the scholarship and ritual that goes into different things like the old timey Lutheran liturgy and the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. You can thank my Grandmother for that healthy respect.

But since my personal experiences with the religion of people my own age were less than idyllic, I have wondered far from Christianity. I never had the right answers to questions like, “What would you say to God to get into heaven,” and “What is your favorite: the New or Old Testament?”Granted these questions were asked of me during sixth grade, when I was just as awkward and angsty as those who were asking me the questions. But the point is that I fit in more with the religion of my parents or even my grandparents, with solemn services and a deep reverence, than with the church services with bands and youth groups the size of an NFL football team.

Yes I know I am generalizing. I am just trying to paint a picture. Please forgive me. To make things a little more specific, or at least paint a picture that is a little less painted with generalizations and a bit more of a concrete example I give you an experience my cousin Thad had. He recently tried out a church with his wife. They have been wanting somewhere to bring their kids too and have been church shopping for a while. His experience is not unlike some that I have had–he just explains it better. Here is his experience for you in his own words:

“The music was fun – they have their own band, and people feel uninhibited enough to sing along, sway and gesture, or just sit and listen, as they are moved to do. I saw a pleasant variety of ages and ethnicities represented, and people showed up in a variety of different dress codes, and the preacher repeatedly talked about the Greek or Latin derivation of particularly significant words. All good things.  But by the end of the service I was practically twitching with dismay.

The first and lesser reason was the relentless cheerfulness of everyone we met towards the visiting newbies. This is the lesser reason because it would have been very difficult for them to avoid – everyone wants to be welcoming. But I can’t turn off my warning system, nor forget my knowledge base; and that style of cheerfulness inescapably brings up associations of cults and brainwashing tactics. That probably says more about me than it does about them.The second, and larger, reason for my increasing twitchiness was the theology of the minister. It’s nothing unexpected – mainline contemporary non-denominational Protestant – but then, that’s why I’ve never felt comfortable in churches. Everyone is so damn sure that their truth is the only Truth. Examples:In placing Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in historical context, the minister described Corinth as a city of endemic corruption, and one of his examples was the temple prostitutes of Aphrodite, who was herself described as one of the, “false gods of the Greeks.” I think there’s a real conversation that can be had about sexuality and religion, and the reason I identify to a greater extent as Christian than Grecian pagan is that I find more truth in the one than in the other; but I would never speak of someone else’s sacred practices as intrinsically corrupt, nor their deity as, “one of the those false gods.”

In illustrating how people tend to accept little sins as not worth noticing, he cited a research study of what bugs people hire exterminators to kill. Apparently only 27% hire an exterminator to, “remove,” spiders; while 85% of us will do so for termites. To me, this is a dangerous analogy on a number of levels. Firstly, it implies that bugs and sins are somehow linked; suggesting that bugs are somehow morally repugnant. As if we don’t depend on them. As if things we find ugly or frightening are intrinsically less valuable. I don’t even like the idea of killing sin – as if smashing bits of myself against the wall is the route to being a better person. We don’t become better people through violence. We become better by courageously facing what we have done, and striving towards a healing. The irony is that I agree with his logic; I just go the other way. To me, there is value and purpose in accepting that there are sins in my life, just as there is value and purpose in accepting that there are bugs in my walls. The challenge is to live with them, heal the damage, and learn the lesson. Killing merely postpones those goals – and makes me a killer.

From the exterminator slide, the preacher segued into a biographical bit about a famous football player who had been quoted as saying that his goal was to be the best football player ever. This was in reference to a quote from Paul’s Letter in which he talks about religious development as a race to be won. We are all, apparently, to strive to become the best Christian ever. I don’t like this because it makes religion into a zero-sum game. I must strive to be a better Christian than you; in the great game of religion, someone will win — and I ought to want it to be me. I don’t. I’d like to be a better person today than I was yesterday, and I’d like other people to regard me as the kind of person who really struggles to lead a life of kindness and compassion; but that’s as far as it goes. I just don’t see the value in making religion a contest; and, in fact, I see a lot of problems there.

Now the big one. In describing grace, he flashed the following quote on the screen: “Grace is getting what we don’t deserve; mercy is not getting what we do deserve.” I almost walked out of the church. I have children. What they deserve is love and compassion and forgiveness and support. What they deserve is mercy, and even grace – and they don’t deserve those things because of anything they have said or done but because they are fearfully and wonderfully made. I don’t ever want my children to believe that mercy is opposed to justice, or that grace is opposed to truth; most especially, I don’t want my children to believe that God is hovering over them with a clipboard and a ruler, waiting to see whether or not they will measure up. My children are the love of God made flesh. All of God’s children are the love of God made flesh. We are worthy because God does not make unworthy creatures.

The curious thing about all this, to me, is how strongly I reacted to it. I tend to have a very relaxed attitude towards physical injury – bruises and scratches heal, and the kids need to learn not to worry about minor injuries because temporary pain is an acceptable price for a fully-lived life and all that – but the prospect of any spiritual injury sends me into a complete tizzy. My lady points out that by my own logic, minor spiritual stresses (and the resiliency that comes from meeting them) may in fact be a valuable part of life; and that parents (ie. me) can’t avoid the responsibility for providing direct spiritual education to the kids, which would presumably include dealing with exactly this sort of issue. So part of my freak-out here may well be the unsettling realization that I am, in fact, a parent with parental responsibilities. Scary thought.”

Now I certainly feel that it is okay to hire an exterminator and that I do not have to live with bugs. HUsband can attest to this as I have woken him up in the middle of the night to kill a spider. But then I have made him the killer and now me, so we are all good right? right?! I also get a little nervous with Thad’s idea that we should live with the sins in us, but he redeems himself later when he says we should struggle to lead a life of kindness and compassion and to try and a better person today that I was yesterday. That kind of says that we should confront our sins, delve deep, see why we make them, analyze it all and try to be better.

Anyway I am getting away from the main point, which is that I haven’t felt like owning a spiritual language. I haven’t felt like sharing my beliefs because I haven’t been sure what they are in a long time. I was not born with the faith gene. I was born to doubt and to question and to be a skeptic. But I was also born with a deep longing to be spiritual.

I have a hard time saying the word God, because invariably the assumption is that I believe in a God of modern Christianity. A Christianity where it is okay to discriminate between people based on their sexual preference. A Christianity that is shoved and twisted at you from all corners in the media and the Republican Platform. A Christianity that I have to dig to find love in till my heart is broken and I am confused and often angry. It’s also a really big word.

I can get behind Divine Mother. Being a woman myself, who identifies with women, I can get behind the idea of a Divine Mother who has limitless, unconditional love (thanks Gita for the lingo). It is God who loves you personally and impersonally (again thanks Gita): loves you just for the mere fact that you exist AND loves you for who you are; not that Christianity’s God isn’t the exact same thing, it is—I know. But Divine Mother is a lot more accessible and relatable to me.

Now if I have a grasp of modern Christianty, and many would say that I don’t despite my education and upbringing, I think some would say that God isn’t supposed to be relatable. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent and what exactly about that is relatable (not that Divine Mother isn’t all three of these things – as they are one in the same) but the idea of God for me comes with a lot of baggage. I am much better approaching God through the form of Divine Mother. Are you still with me?

I have come in contact with more mystic branches of religion that I align with that tell me that I am God. I am the Divine. Islamic Sufi’s believe this, Christian Mystics believe this, and as I have now learned the Devotees of Pramahansa Yogananda and Swami Kriananda believe this. We are not the raindrop in the ocean, we are the ocean. So if I am divine, wouldn’t it therefore make more sense that in order to come to this realization deep down inside I would be better off channeling my energies to Divine Mother, which is an idea I can understand, and idea I can relate to, and an idea I can feel deep down inside.

If you are still with me I will give you a cookie.

I think one of the points I am trying to make is that it is not about trying to fit into the definition of spirituality that you are raised in. Spirituality is such a personal thing, and yet it all leads to the same place eventually. So how about taking what you know, learning a bit more, and finding a spiritual language that speaks to you. This way I can go back to the things that my grandmother has taught me over the years about God and Jesus and finally understand them, because what she has said has been true all along. I just didn’t have the language to understand.

P.s. Nanowrimo is going great. I am even a little bit ahead. Guess the more writing I do, the more ideas I get. The flood gates have been opened AND it is flooding.

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