Thursday, April 30, 2009

Review - Rachel's Tears by Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott


10 years ago, the world watched in horror as Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris commenced a shooting spree at Columbine High School that became the worst school shooting event to date. Rachel Scott was their first victim, shot outside the school as she was eating lunch with a friend. Rachel's Tears is her parents' tribute to their beloved daughter - her story, told in recollections and memories, as well as pictures and excerpts from the many diaries she kept before her death.

Rachel was a young girl with a deep faith in God, and this shines through in her diary entries. Her father talks about raising a mystic, and I think the comparison is certainly valid. Rachel seemed to have a connection with God that went deeper than just faith. She almost seemed to experience God on a different level than other people - her visions and premonitions about the things to come in her own life were extraordinary.

I think it would be hard to read this book and not be touched. Rachel's parents' deep love and sorrow come through every page, and yet their commitment to keep her life from being in vain brings such a sense of hope to this book. Her father has created a foundation, called Rachel's Challenge, to encourage high school students to bring a positive attitude to their schools. It is wonderful to see such a positive initiative result from such great sorrow.

In his introduction to Rachel's Tears, Wes Yoder says this about the Columbine tragedy: "Every generation seems to lose its innocence, in one way or another, at the wrong time. For this generation, no loss had ever been more personal or come with such devastating finality." This books illustrates, in heartbreaking detail, just how personal and devastating that loss was. I think Rachel Scott will be remembered long after her death, and hopefully, her challenge will help others in the years to come.

Finished: 4/30/09
Source: Thomas Nelson Blogging for Books
Rating: 7/10

Review - Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Synopsis from B&N:

Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn the ominous consequences of this coincidence. His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; his life is inseparable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children,” all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts.

This novel is at once a fascinating family saga and an astonishing evocation of a vast land and its people–a brilliant incarnation of the universal human comedy. Twenty-five years after its publication, Midnight’s Children stands apart as both an epochal work of fiction and a brilliant performance by one of the great literary voices of our time.

My thoughts:

Well. I think this is a novel I would like to read as part of a class - there is so much going on, dealing with events in history I don't know about or understand, that I believe much of the book just flew right over my head.

That being said, it was certainly an interesting read. I've mentioned before that I struggle with books that use magical realism, and this was, again, a struggle in this novel. I don't know exactly why it's so difficult for me, but it always trips me up. This novel is chock full of it, pretty much from page one, so it made it slow going - I've been chipping away at it for the better part of 2 weeks.

I was initially concerned about the style - here's the first paragraph, so you understand what I mean.

“I was born in the city of Bombay… once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it’s important to be more… On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. There were gasps. And, outside the window, fireworks and crowds. A few seconds later, my father broke his big toe; but his accident was a mere trifle when set beside what had befallen me in that benighted moment, because thanks to the occult tyrannies of those blindly saluting clocks I had been mysteriously handcuffed to history, my destinies indissolubly chained to those of my country. For the next three decades, there was to be no escape. Soothsayers had prophesied me, newspapers celebrated my arrival, politicos ratified my authenticity. I was left entirely without a say in the matter. I, Saleem Sinai, later variously called Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer, Budha and even Piece-of-the-Moon, had become heavily embroiled in Fate – at the best of times a dangerous sort of involvement. And I couldn’t even wipe my own nose at the time.”

It's very stream-of-consciousness, which can take some getting used to. Once I got some 100 pages into the novel, that didn't really bother me anymore, and Saleem is certainly a charming narrator. Again, there is just SO MUCH to this novel, that trying to figure out what I was missing started to make me lose the flow much of the time.

I'm not sure I can say I enjoyed the novel - I did find it interesting, and I'm glad I read it, but it was more of an experience than a joy.

Now I want to hear from the people that loved it - I know you're out there! What am I missing? I'd love to be enlightened!

Finished: 4/23/09
Source: Franklin Avenue library
Rating: 6/10

Thursday Tunes



Thursday Tunes is a weekly event hosted by S. Krishna, devoted to sharing the music we love.

Music is an integral part of my life. Around my house, driving in the car, cleaning, relaxing, reading - I almost always have music of some sort playing. My tastes are very eclectic - combined with my husband's, I'm pretty sure we cover every genre out there.

S. Krishna usually features a new artist each week - just to be different, I'm going to focus on a specific song, because it's the song that hooks me. There are very few artists whose entire body of work is in my MP3 player, but I have thousands of songs I love.

My mom suggested I start out with songs I picked for my wedding - of course, I always do exactly what my mom says. (right, mom??)

This is the Largo, from Xerxes, by George Fredric Handel. I used it as I walked down the aisle. I've always thought it was one of the most beautiful pieces ever written. Also, it's a perfect tempo to get down the aisle - slow, but not pokey. =)

Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Weird find of the day.

Apparently, the famous Hollywood Wax Museum is auctioning off some of its figures - that's right, you too can own the cast of M*A*S*H, a set of 5 ft. 10 in. tall wax people. Because who doesn't want a life-sized Radar O'Reilly in their living room??

Wax M*A*S*H cast - bid early, bid often!

The Nonfiction Files


The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.


My current read is Losing my Religion by William Lobdell. Here's the synopsis from the publisher:


William Lobdell's journey of faith—and doubt—may be the most compelling spiritual memoir of our time. Lobdell became a born-again Christian in his late 20s when personal problems—including a failed marriage—drove him to his knees in prayer. As a newly minted evangelical, Lobdell—a veteran journalist—noticed that religion wasn't covered well in the mainstream media, and he prayed for the Lord to put him on the religion beat at a major newspaper. In 1998, his prayers were answered when the Los Angeles Times asked him to write about faith.

Yet what happened over the next eight years was a roller-coaster of inspiration, confusion, doubt, and soul-searching as his reporting and experiences slowly chipped away at his faith. While reporting on hundreds of stories, he witnessed a disturbing gap between the tenets of various religions and the behaviors of the faithful and their leaders. He investigated religious institutions that acted less ethically than corrupt Wall St. firms. He found few differences between the morals of Christians and atheists. As this evidence piled up, he started to fear that God didn't exist. He explored every doubt, every question—until, finally, his faith collapsed. After the paper agreed to reassign him, he wrote a personal essay in the summer of 2007 that became an international sensation for its honest exploration of doubt.

Losing My Religion is a book about life's deepest questions that speaks to everyone: Lobdell understands the longings and satisfactions of the faithful, as well as the unrelenting power of doubt. How he faced that power, and wrestled with it, is must reading for people of faith and nonbelievers alike.


My thoughts so far:

Just about 1/4 of the way through, and still very engaged in the book. Much of this section has been Lobdell's experiences as a new religion reporter for the LA Times. He describes just a few of the many people of faith he interviews - Madge Rodda, a church organist who set up a system of spiritual counselors for her rapist; Sister Mary Norbert, a former lawyer who chose to enter a cloistered convent; Leia and Dwight Smith, who quit their successful jobs to take literally Jesus' command to life a selfless life by taking in the homeless. Each of the people he interviews poses a challenge to his own new faith. He uses a quote from C.S. Lewis to illustrate his struggle - "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important." He wonders is people who consider themselves moderate believers have ever truly grasped the message of Jesus.

While his burgeoning career as a religion journalist was underway, he was examining his own core belief system. Feeling he had matured past the mega-church he was attending, he explored a Presbyterian church, and eventually found his way into the Catholic faith of his wife. After some time in that environment, he decided to undergo conversion classes. It was while he was beginning his time in the Catholic Church that his religion editor gave him a new assignment - a Catholic priest was on trial for sexual misconduct, and the editor had all the documents in the case. Lobdell began to research what would become the issue of his career.

Once again, what has made this memoir so interesting is Lobdell's unflinching honesty about his own experience. He is not afraid to examine what was going on in his head, and question his own motives and experiences. Aside from that, his stories about the people he meets as a reporter are fascinating and inspirational in their own right. In fact, the only thing I don't like right now is that I have a basic idea of how the book ends, and I don't want to get there. However, Lobdell has me hooked, and I'll be along with him for the entire, heartbreaking ride.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Teaser Tuesday


  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!


"Rem Aveo said quietly in Pularit, 'You come from a place where such killing does not happen.' 'Yes,' Cam choked out, even as part of her mind thought, No.... 'Where,' Rem Aveo said skeptically, 'can such a place be, if people live there?' And she stared at him over the rim of her goblet, not knowing how to answer. Wondering for the first time if she really could do this, or if the Atoners had not made a terrible mistake in choosing her, so shaken by a single death, to witness whatever incomprehensible thing it was that they needed to know."

(Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress, page 42)


Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at ShouldBeReading.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Review - The Noticer by Andy Andrews


Synopsis:

The Noticer is the story of the people of Orange Beach, Alabama. They are just like the people in every other town everywhere - they all kinda know each other, and they all try to live their lives the best way they can. They also all have hidden problems that threaten to tear their lives apart. It is also the story of Andy, a sucessful man with a happy family, whose life was saved one night by a quiet old man. But mostly, it's the story of the man - Jones. Jones is a "noticer" - he sees things other people miss. He says it's his gift, and he uses it on the people of Orange Beach, Alabama - one by one - to give them a new perspective on the things that seemed so insurmountable just a short time before.

My thoughts:

This was a nice little book. It reads very much like a parable, with the author actually using himself as a character, and telling short stories with lessons attached to each. Jones is a pleasant main character, purposefully nondescript, who listens to people's problems, and then gives the sage pieces of advice, such as, "Whatever you focus upon, increases", and "Even the simplest actions you take for your lives matter beyond measure." His goal is to make the person stop, take a step back, and look at their problem in a different way - to give them a new perspective.

Andrews has a nice gift for storytelling, and his tales are all honest and believable. His insight into people's real lives make each of the character's problems seem relatable. I have to admit that I didn't gain and earth-shattering new perspectives, but I've been lucky enough to be surrounded by people who have been telling me many of these things all my life. I can imagine this book being a great inspiration to a wide ranging audience - even if it didn't change MY life, it could certainly change someone's.

My favorite part of the book is The Noticer Project, a movement started by the author to encourage people to recognize the ones who have made a difference in their lives. This is something I am constantly trying to do better at, so I appreciate the encouragement in this area. You can find out more information at The Noticer Project. I believe there is also a Facebook page, and also a Twitter page, for those who utilize those options. =)

Finished: 4/20/09
Source: Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers program
Rating: 7/10

Sunday, April 26, 2009

TSS - Review - 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher



Synopsis from publisher:

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.


My thoughts:

I'd heard and read lots and lots of good things about this novel, so I was prepared to be blown away by its greatness. And I was. Blown away, that is. This is one powerful book. In my head, I'm not that far away from high school (though getting farther by the day), so I could relate, intimately and in great detail, with so many of the situations described in Hannah's tapes. Not all - I am grateful I wasn't exposed to everything Hannah deals with. But wow, a lot of it hit home - both things done to me, and things I did.

I found the narrative structure to be quite effective - Hannah's and Clay's thoughts intertwine throughout the pages, often giving two different sides to the same events. I thought the author did a great job of capturing the teenage mindset - while Clay and Hannah are obviously supposed to be sympathetic, there were times when they were a little bit whiny and "teenagery", which I found quite appropriate. Teens are whiny sometimes, even the great ones, and Asher didn't try to paint his protagonists as perfect.

This is not an easy book to read. I had to set it aside on a couple of occasions, to give myself a break and catch my breath. But, honestly, I believe it's a valuable book, especially for kids just entering their teen years. Most kids don't realize what their words and actions can do to each other - I know I didn't - and I think a book like this might give them some insight. It does deal with some sexual situations, and have some language that some parents might find objectionable. I would encourage parents to read it along with their kids, and try to have the discussion about the issues it brings up.

I highly recommend this book - it is captivating, and heartwrenching, and beautiful. And, as impossible as it seems, it manages to end with a flicker of hope. It's one book lately that deserves the buzz it has been receiving!

Finished: 4/21/09
Source: my shelves - my copy is on its way to Kathrin - enjoy!
Rating: 9/10

Don't just take my word for it - here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

Medieval Bookworm
Bermudaonion's weblog
Beth Fish Reads
A Reader's Respite
S. Krishna's Books
My Friend Amy
The Zen Leaf

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Poe Fridays (on Saturday)


This week for Poe Fridays, we read the short story Three Sundays in a Week. (click on the title for the full text)


The narrator is desperately trying to get his guardian, his grand-uncle Rumgudgeon, to give his permission for the young man to marry. He has lived with his grand-uncle all his life, and is in love with Uncle Rumgudgeon's daughter, Kate. Uncle, however, is decidedly contrary, and won't give his permission just to be difficult, despite the fact that he would love to see the young couple married. Kate and her man come up with an ingenious plot to secure his permission, which is the climax of the story.

This story was so.......cheery. It was really not that Poe-like, to me, but I did enjoy it. It is so refreshing to read one of his stories that doesn't end in murder or something equally tragic. It must have been written during a relatively happy period in his life - it just feels different than the rest of his stories. It's quite entertaining - if you haven't read it, you should!

Next week we will be reading Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling - one of the longest, and strangest, titles yet. Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading.

Friday, April 24, 2009

451 Fridays


451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?

Today, I have the great good pleasure of welcoming Jenners to 451 Fridays. Jenners blogs at Find Your Next Book Here, and also at Life with a Little One and More - if you are not reading this lady, you should be! Her post detailing helpful cleaning hints for lazy housekeepers made me snort my V8 Fusion. Thanks for stopping by, Jenners!


Which 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?

1 - The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling: I don't care WHAT people say or if they are viewed as children's books. The Harry Potter series is a masterful piece of storytelling that creates a wonderful, strange world that is created with such care, humor and love. The classic struggle between good and evil is present -- as well as death, romance, friendship and magic. J.K. Rowling has an amazing imagination and created such memorable characters, situations and settings. And the progression of each book -- each time hitting new highs and scarier lows -- was perfect. How could I not save these modern classics of pure storytelling? (OK -- I totally know I am cheating by saying the whole series but my post would be over now, wouldn't it? And be missing two books!)

2 - The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: I thought this book was so imaginative, playful, sad, romantic and cerebral all at once -- how could I not save it? I thought the author did an amazing job of handling the time travel aspects without confusing the reader. And although you could view this as a fantasy or science fiction book, the romance between Henry and Claire is so true and well-handled that you care deeply about them and what their fate will be. I was crying at the end, and, to me, the hallmark of a great book is one that can move you to tears -- whether they be tears of sadness or tears of joy. And for me, the ending was really a combination of both sadness and joy. Brilliant novel -- best I've read in years.

3 - The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein: This was a book that I loved as a child, and now I am reading it to my child and I still love it. The line drawings are simple yet say so much. The story is simple but is so moving that, when I read it to my son for the first time, it moved me to tears. If there was ever a book that captured how to love and give freely, this book is it. Certainly worth saving.

4 - The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery: This was another book that very important to me as a child and as an adult. Again, I think it speaks to both young and old and says so much about life and love. As a child, I was captivated by the drawings and the fancifulness of the Little Prince's adventures and his quest to save his rose. As an adult, I am struck by the depth of the book. I remember rereading this book in college and finding such solace and reminders on how to get through difficult times. And I hope I am never so grown up that I see a hat instead of an elephant inside of a boa constrictor!

5 - Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: I read this book before I was fully able to understand it because my father told me to read it. I think I read it for the first time when I was about 12. Even at that age -- when so much of it went over my head -- I appreciated what Heller was doing. And how many books can truly spawn a phrase that carries on to this day? When I was 12, I loved the humor and the ridiculousness of Heller's book -- the story of Major Major Major Major was comedic gold. As I'm older now, I see that there was so much more that Heller was saying.

Of those 5, which book would you choose to "become"?

The Little Prince.

Do you have any quotes from that book you would like to share?

And he went back to meet the fox.
"Goodbye," he said.

"Goodbye," said the fox. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

"What is essential is invisible to the eye," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

"It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important."

"It is the time I have wasted for my rose -- " said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.

"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose..."

"I am responsible for my rose," the little prince responded, so that he would be sure to remember.


Jenners, thanks so much for taking the time to share YOUR list of books which must be saved. Next week, Kristen from WeBeReading will be sharing her choices. Would you like to see your list featured in an upcoming 451 Friday? Send me an email and we'll chat!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

In Her Name: Empire


I just wanted to take a minute and encourage any fantasy-lovers out there to take a chance on a book that has recently been released -

In Her Name: Empire by Michael Hicks



This is the first book in a trilogy that I had the privilege of reading last year - I had the omnibus edition, so got to read the whole story together. It is self-published, which I know scares some people off, but I am a huge fan of this book.

Here is my review of In Her Name from Bookloons, if you are interested in learning more. I understand it will also shortly be released for the Kindle, so if that is your medium of choice, check it out!

Here is an excerpt from chapter 1, where we get our first glimpse of the Priestess:

The sky was black as pitch, black as death, as the priestess walked alone over the arena this planet had become. Her sandaled feet touched the earth but left no sound, no footprint. She looked up toward where the stars should be, yearning for the great moon that shone over the Homeworld. But the only sight to be had was the glowing red smears of the fires that were reflected by the wafting smoke and dust.

As she made her way across the field of carnage, she touched the bodies of the fallen children to honor them as they had honored their Empress. They had sacrificed their lives to show their love for Her. She grieved for them all, that they had died this day, never again to feel the flame that drove them to battle, the thrill of sword and claw, never again to serve the Empress through their flesh. Now they basked in the quiet sunset of the Afterlife, someday perhaps to join the ranks of the Ancient Ones, the warriors of the spirit.

She moved on toward her destination. It had once been a human dwelling, but now was a mound of ashen rubble. It squatted impetuously in the wasteland created by weapons the Kreela disdained to use. The humans had never realized that the destruction of their worlds was caused by their own predilection for such weaponry, to which the Kreela sometimes had to respond in kind. The warriors of the Empress sought battles of the mind, body, and spirit, of sword and claw, and not of brute destruction.

Watching the battles rage here for several cycles of the sun across the sky, she had become increasingly curious about these particular humans who fought so well, and at last had decided that perhaps they were worthy of her personal attention. She bade the young warriors to rest, to wait for her return, before setting out on her own journey of discovery.

She paused when she reached the back of the crumbled structure that hid the humans that had piqued her curiosity. She listened for their heartbeats, smelled their pungent body odor, felt for their strange, alien spirit with her mind. After a moment she had a picture of them, where they sat and stood within.

Silent as the dead around her, she moved to a specific point along the wall. Her breathing and heart stilled, she concealed everything about herself that made her presence real. Unless one of them looked directly at her, she would be utterly invisible.

Then she stepped through the wall, her flesh and armor melding with the essence of the barrier as she passed through without so much as a whisper.


(In Her Name: Empire, by Michael Hicks - reprinted with permission from the author)


Seriously, if you are looking for another great fantasy read, check this one out. I don't think you will be disappointed - except maybe that it ends too soon!

Michael Hicks' website

Cheesy Does It

I'm pretty sure I promised some pictures of the fun wine & food event I went to a couple of weeks ago - it was called Cheesy Does It, and it was yummy!






Here is the first half of our menu - as you can see, we started with Asiago Fondue, and then followed with Crawfish Macaroni and Cheese. Yum.










The second portion of our menu included a gourmet grilled cheese sandwhich - 6 layers of cheese! - and then finished up with Blue three ways.







This is the Blue Three Ways - a fig stuffed with blue cheese, a salmon and blue cheese stuffed mushroom, and a pear and blue cheese tart.
This course made me seriously reevaluate my aversion to salmon.














This is the Crawfish Mac and Cheese. It was supposed to be lobster, but the lobster didn't make it. I'm not sure the lobster would have been better - this is totally my new favorite food. I think I might actually be able to eat an entire gallon.









Our hosts - Tim (with the glasses) is the wine guy, and Darin is the chef. This is a fairly new business, so they don't have a lot of capitol built up yet. Because of this, Tim doesn't get to taste any of the food first - he just does his wine pairings "in theory". So far, I'd have to say he is a wine genius! And, of course, Darin is brilliant, too.












My friends, Lisa, Nikki, and Heather. Very happy!









Here's what I've learned from the food and wine events I've been to:

1 - It is very hard to photograph cheese.
2 - Apparently, all wines from Argentina are yummy.
3 - When someone tells me what the wine is supposed to taste like, that's what it tastes like!
4 - I sure hope they have more of these!!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Nonfiction Files



This is something new I'm going to be starting, probably once a week, mostly as an incentive to myself. You see, I really like books. (Maybe you've noticed?) And while I love fiction, I also really love nonfiction - I just, for some reason, forget to read it. And, because I collect nonfiction with the same startling frequency as fiction, I have a fair amount of it piling up, pining away to be read.

I think a big part of my issue is that I don't really like to review nonfiction - I feel like there is so much I want to cover, and I end up forgetting it all when I sit down to actually write. So, instead of trying to review a book once I'm finished, I thought I could just talk about it, little by little, as I'm reading. That way, I don't have to feel pressured, but I can start making my way through my stacks. Anyway, that's my plan. We'll see how it ends up.

So, the first book I'm reading for The Nonfiction Files is Losing My Religion by William Lobdell. Here's the synopsis from the publisher:

William Lobdell's journey of faith—and doubt—may be the most compelling spiritual memoir of our time. Lobdell became a born-again Christian in his late 20s when personal problems—including a failed marriage—drove him to his knees in prayer. As a newly minted evangelical, Lobdell—a veteran journalist—noticed that religion wasn't covered well in the mainstream media, and he prayed for the Lord to put him on the religion beat at a major newspaper. In 1998, his prayers were answered when the Los Angeles Times asked him to write about faith.

Yet what happened over the next eight years was a roller-coaster of inspiration, confusion, doubt, and soul-searching as his reporting and experiences slowly chipped away at his faith. While reporting on hundreds of stories, he witnessed a disturbing gap between the tenets of various religions and the behaviors of the faithful and their leaders. He investigated religious institutions that acted less ethically than corrupt Wall St. firms. He found few differences between the morals of Christians and atheists. As this evidence piled up, he started to fear that God didn't exist. He explored every doubt, every question—until, finally, his faith collapsed. After the paper agreed to reassign him, he wrote a personal essay in the summer of 2007 that became an international sensation for its honest exploration of doubt.

Losing My Religion is a book about life's deepest questions that speaks to everyone: Lobdell understands the longings and satisfactions of the faithful, as well as the unrelenting power of doubt. How he faced that power, and wrestled with it, is must reading for people of faith and nonbelievers alike.

My thoughts so far:

I've read through chapter three, which encompasses the author's initial conversion story, and his beginnings as a religion reporter for the local edition of the LA Times.

It's an interesting but fairly predictable story so far - the author, in his early 20s, had pretty much screwed up his life, and when a friend suggested he try God, he figured, Why Not? It can't hurt, right? He checks out a local mega-church, and finds the experience completely different than his childhood hours spent in a traditional service. He's completely desperate for some sort of help, and God enters his life at exactly the right time.

I applaud the author for his honesty. He's quite frank about his initial misgivings, and desire to keep his budding faith "under wraps", so his friends don't think he's fallen off the deep end into whackery. His descriptions of different parts of the contemporary service show just how deeply he was tuned into this form of worship - for example, this is what he says about modern worship music:

"St. Augustine wrote that 'to sing is to pray twice,' and he was right. Singing words repeatedly, propelled by a catchy melody, allows you to enter a meditative state where you can find God...When you enter that zone, it feels like you are having an intimate conversation with God, and that He is bathing you with love."

So far, I can relate to much of his experience - not so much the conversion itself, but what he finds once he enters the church. It's quite similar to my own personal experience, so I'm enjoying reading about his. I also had to chuckle when he describes his friend, Hugh, who apparently chose the Presbyterian church because it was the one least likely to require him to hug. (And now I want to send Hugh this t-shirt.) I know it doesn't all stay sunshine and roses, though, so I'm quite interested to see where we go from here.

So far so good!

Movie Review - Au Revoir Les Enfants


Au Revoir Les Enfants is my first selection for the Orbis Terrarum film mini-challenge. It's the story of two schoolboys, one French and one Jewish, at a Catholic boarding school during WWII.

Julien is a young boy, probably 12 or 13, sent away by his mother from Paris to a boarding school in the country. He is sent away to keep him safe, and also probably out of the hair of his pretty mother. This year at school, three new boys have arrived, one of them named Jean, whose bed ends up right next to Julien. Julien and Jean start out butting heads, but eventually find out that they have more in common than not, and become friends.

Julien begins to suspect that Jean is not quite what he seems, based on a few small pieces of evidence he quietly accumulates. He is also more and more aware of the Nazi presence in France, and the affect that can have on his own life. When members of the Gestapo enter his school, looking for Jewish children, Julien's brief, impulsive action leads to the arrest of three students, including Jean, as well as the school principle. It is at that moment that we see Julien finally put together all the pieces of Jean's story - unfortunately, it is too late.

This is a quiet movie, dealing with the day-to-day life of young men in a boarding school, as they study and play, and take shelter from air raids, and observe the soldiers in their midst. There isn't a lot of action, apart from the daily life of the school. No big shootouts, no loud, messy raids - just two boys, learning to become friends, and dealing with the realities of the life they are given to lead. It is based on actual events that happened in director Louis Malle's life - it is plain those events still haunt him, to have prompted him to make this quietly heartbreaking movie.

I would recommend it - it's a small window into a part of history that might be easy to forget. You might need to have a little patience with it, but I don't think you will soon get it out of your head.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tube Talk with Amy and Elizabeth




It's Tube Talk time again! Amy and I have been watching and discussing season 1 of Supernatural, and today it's time to break down a few more episodes. I'll be talking about episode 6 - Skin, and episode 7 - Hook Man. Head on over to Amy's blog, My Friend Amy, where she will be recapping episode 8 - Bugs, and episode 9 - Home. Let's get busy!


Episode 6 - Skin

Recap - A pretty girl is tied to a chair, struggling and obviously needing help. A SWAT team is moving in to rescue her - she motions to the other room, and they burst in to see the guy who did this to her. He turns around, and we see - DEAN!?!?!

Meanwhile, Sam gets a message from an old college friend, that another friend has been arrested for murdering his girlfriend. Sam knows his friend must be innocent, and so the brothers decide to investigate. Sam's friend, Rebecca, is happy to see them, but doesn't really know what they can do to help - apparently, Sam isn't telling his friends everything about his new job. The boys find out that another woman has been tied up and beaten. The common thread between the two cases is that each perpetrator was seen by someone at another location, while they were supposedly commiting the crime. The boys have their suspect - it's a shapeshifter!

Soon, the shapeshifter targets Dean, and captures him, assuming his body, and goes to visit Rebecca. Eventually, the shapeshifter also morphs into Rebecca, and manages to capture Sam. The shapeshifter tells Sam he can access all of Dean's thoughts, and gives him some insight into how Dean has been feeling all these years. Eventually, there is an awesome fight between Shapeshifter Dean and Sam, and then Real Dean bursts in, shoots the shapeshifter, and saves the day.

Here's the conversation Amy and I had - Amy's words will be in red.

So, I was completely shocked at the beginning when the bad guy turned around - and it was Dean! I think that was one of the scariest things I've seen so far in this show - what did you think?


That whole scene was very scary!!

This episode finally addressed some of the issues between the brothers I had been wondering about - namely, whether or not Dean resented Sam for breaking free from their life for a while. Do you think the shapeshifter's thoughts were really Dean's, or was he just saying what he thought would get a reaction from Sam?

I think it's possible these were truly his thoughts at their most extreme. Sometimes I have bad negative thoughts about people, but they aren't my TRUE thoughts. And so I think that it's possible that's what was going on...finding the darkest root of any resentment and negative thoughts Dean harbored.



I really think that Dean hides a LOT from Sam - emotionally and psychologically. I wasn't surprised at all to hear those thoughts coming from him. I just wonder what else he is hiding.

I think this episode was really brilliantly done - making a character we've come to know and care about for several episodes suddenly "become" the bad guy - especially during the scene with the shapeshifter and the girl-of-the-week in front of the fire, I was pretty creeped out by the dark side of Dean's charm. Did you ever find yourself forgetting it was a shapeshifter, and really being scared of Dean?

I don't think I t
hought I forgot it wasn't Dean, but that's a good point about the dark side of Dean's charm. He could so easily be that guy...and that's scary.


I think this is the first time they've given us an actual hint as to the backstory of the villian - the shapeshifter talked about being born, and being human, until something happened to change him. Did you like getting to know more about the villian, or would you rather they just stay generic bad guys to get killed off?


I like origin background and information, so I wouldn't mind if they got a little deeper into that with the bad guys each episode. But most importantly, I want to see them killed, ha.

I always like backstory - sometimes, it's better than the real story. And I like knowing motivations, so it worked really well for me.

I was really struck by the homages to famous, tragic monsters in this episode - the shapeshifter managed to channel Frankenstein's monster, and a little bit of the Phantom of the Opera during his conversations with various people - he almost ended up slightly sympathetic to me.
Ah, the sympathetic monster is a dangerous thing! :)


Yeah, I was always a sucker for the Phantom. I think that's why having the shapshifter look like Dean was so affecting for me - I'm already predisposed to feel sorry for him!


If you'd like to read more, here is some information about shapeshifting myths, including Dopplegangers and werewolves.


Episode 7 - Hook Man

Recap from WB website -

The infamous "Hook Man", a vengeful spirit who kills his victims with a shiny hook that serves as his hand, terrorizes a small college town in Iowa. Sam and Dean learn that all the victims are connected to the daughter of a local minister and race to find and destroy the Hook Man's bones before he comes for them.

(why did I not realize these recaps existed before? WAY easier than typing out my own...and probably make more sense!)

Our converstation - again, Amy's words are in red.


Okay, first of all, as an Iowan, there is NO Eastern Iowa University. I'm just sayin...

Did I realize you were an Iowan? I lived in Mason City for 5 years growing up!


That's funny! My high school played Mason City-Newman every year. Weird!

So I wasn't that thrilled with this episode, honestly. I'm not sure why, it just didn't capture my interest as much as the others. I know this because I had to watch it 3 times, after falling asleep the first two. =)

I like this old urban legend, but you're right this one didn't really stand out a whole lot. However, I watched this one at my mom's before starting the readathon and it was enough to get her hooked on the show!

Well, it was entertaining, just not as good as the other episodes, I think.

It seemed weird to see Sam kissing another girl, not that long after Jess died. Isn't it too soon for him to be falling for someone else?

Yes, and he realized it himself!

Any other thoughts on this one?

Like you said, this episode didn't really stand out or add anything to the mythology of the show. It was just sort of there!

Yeah, I definitely like the mythology episodes more than just the monster-of-the-week episodes.


If you'd like to read more, here is some information about the Hook Man legend.

That's all for me - make sure to stop by My Friend Amy to see our discussions about Bugs and Home!

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"My own hand, I confess, has begun to wobble; not entirely because of its theme, but because I have noticed a thin crack, like a hair, appearing in my wrist, beneath the skin.....No matter. We all owe death a life."

(Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, page 37.)

( I have to admit this is the second time I've tried to read this book - we'll see...)

Monday, April 20, 2009

This is what happens...

.........to an INDESTRUCTIBLE dog toy when it spends three months at my house.


One day, you notice a little tear in the corner.

















A few days later, you see the tear has gotten pretty big.


















Then one day you come home to find the dang thing eviscerated.











This toy was made of BALLISTIC NYLON, for goodness' sake. Apparently, nothing can stop Kadie when she decides to destroy it.


But she's always so sorry.......=)

Spreading the Love

For those of you keeping track, yes, this week I was scheduled to host another installment of By the Chapter with Marcia. However, we decided to take this week off - we were both so affected by The Cellist of Sarajevo last week that we were afraid this week's discussion might not be as good as we'd like. No worries, I'll be back hosting with her in May. =)

Today, I'd like to spread a little of the love that has been sent my way lately. I've been given two awards by a couple of great bloggers, and I wanted to share them with you.

First, from the fabulous Aerin at In Search of Giants, I received the Let's Be Friends Award:

Blogs that received the Let's Be Friends Award are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers.




And then from the lovely Aliison at Allison's Attic, I received the One Lovely Blog Award:



This award which is given to new blogs and blogging friends.



1) Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.

2) Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you've newly discovered. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.



So in honor of the wonderful Read-A-Thon that just took place over the weekend, I'm going to pass this on to some of the wonderful blogs I found while cheerleading for the Readers on Saturday.

Alaine's Reading Blog

Books Love Jessica Marie
Coffeespoons
Melissa's Bookshelf
Reading Room
Valentina's Room
Biblioaddict
Books and so many more books
Dear Me
Jehara
Secret Dreamworld of a Bookaholic
the bookworm
The Brain Lair


If you didn't get a chance to stop by these blogs - or weren't able to participate in the Read-A-Thon - you should check them out!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

TSS - READ-A-THON wrapup


Boy, this was really a LOT of fun! I decided not to try to be a reader this year - I'm still pretty sure I can't stay up for 24 hours straight. I had the priviledge of being a cheerleader, and man, it was great.

I had no idea, going into it, how many people would be participating. I got to go to so many new, fun blogs - my subscription list grew and grew and grew! And it was a cool experience to see the book blogging community in action - so much encouragement, kind words, and caring attitudes at work. On one of the blogs I visited (sorry, I can't remember who! If it was you, let me know, and I'll link to you!), the blogger was commenting that really, this isn't that much different than a normal day for a reader - we all have spent days where we just get lost in a book. The difference is, for the past 24 hours, we were able to get lost with hundreds of other readers, all at the same time. That's a pretty great thing!

Huge, HUGE thanks go to the organizers of the Read-A-Thon - Trish, Nymeth, and Hannah, as well as Aerin, who did the huge job of making the feeds page. They did such a great job - it was really a wonderful day. Thanks, girl!

So now, I'm all excited for the next one - when is the next one again?? =)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Winners!!!


FINAL UPDATE - All prizes have been claimed - phew!



WINNERS UPDATE #2 -

Apparently, I keep randomly choosing people who have already won prizes! MandaNikole has passed her prize on to someone else, also - I'm gonna keep choosing random people until someone decides to take me up on it! I'll let you know when I find a winner....,


WINNERS UPDATE:

First place winner Lily, in the spirit of community that the Read-A-Thon is all about, has asked to pass her prize along to another participant. So, I did another random drawing, and the new winner is: MandaNikole of Literary Mumblings. Congratulations! =)



First of all, thanks so much to everyone who participated! I will be donating $2.50 for each participant to Reach Out and Read, so that adds up to a grand total of $55!! YAY!

Now down to business -I know this is what everyone has been waiting for - the winners of my Great First Lines mini-challenge!

The first place winner is: Lily from Related Reading, who got all 20 correct at 3:11 pm.

The second place winner is: ferrywoman, who got all 20 correct at 3:14 pm.

and then I tossed everyone else's name in a hat and drew one random winner who is: Becky from Becky's Book Reviews, who got 14 correct.

Congratulations everyone!

Here is the list of books you can choose from. There are all gently used, but still in good condition. As first place winner, gets first choice, and gets second choice, so winners please send me a list of your top 3 titles. If there is nothing on the list that catches your eye, let me know and I will get you a gift certificate to either Amazon or Powell's (your choice).


The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
Twenty Questions by Alison Clement
Incantation by Alice Hoffman
The Labrador Pact by Matt Haig
Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner
The Folded World by Amity Gage
Obedience by Will Lavender
The Line of Beauty by Alan Holinghurst
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig
The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall
What Happened to Anna K by Irina Reyn
Dream Jungle by Jessica Hagedorn


Thanks so much for playing! Hope the rest of your Read-a-Thon is great!

Read-a-Thon Mini Challenge stats......

........because someone might be curious!

Here's the official list of correct answers -

1 - David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
2 - The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
3 - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
4 - Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
5 - Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
6 - The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkein
7 - Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
8 - The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
9 - Orlando by Virginia Woolf
10 - Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

11 - Wicked by Gregory Maguire (this one was a stumper!)
12 - Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding
13 - Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone by J.K. Rowling
14 - The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
15 - Love Story by Erich Segal
16 - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
17 - Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
18 - Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
19- One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
20 - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I had 20 people guess, with 4 people getting all 20 first lines correct. Great job! Here's how many answers everyone guessed correctly:

Rhinoa - 10
Deborah - 19
Jehara - 8
Lily - 20 - congrats, first place winner!!
Fyrefly - 15
ferrywoman - 20 - congrats, second place winner!!
Skrishna - 18
Anna - 20
nfmgirl - 6
Becky - 14 - congrats, random winner!!
Irish - 9
Staci - 9
Priyanka - 19
Kristi - 20
Marta - 3
MandaNikole - 9
Tammy - 14
Amanda - 16
Kathrin - 15
Eva - 15

Great job, everyone, and thanks so much for playing!

Read-a-Thon Mini Challenge!


It's time for a Mini-Challenge!

I hope everyone's Read-a-Thon has been great so far - I'm sure everyone is reading LOTS of great books.

Speaking of great books, that's the theme of this mini-challenge. I've compiled a list of great first lines from great books over the years, and it's your job to tell me what books they are from! Sounds easy, right? The first 10 are from books that I would consider "classics" - books that have stood the test of time for years. The second 10 are contemporary favorites - books I've read and enjoyed that were published since I've been alive. =) I tried to pick titles that were fairly well-known, so even if you haven't read something, you have probably heard of it. Also, all these books can be found on my shelves - I just went through and picked out some favorites.

SO, the first person who guesses all the correct titles wins! Easy, huh? You can either leave your list in the comments, or post it on your blog, and leave a link to your post in the comments. If you don't get them all, comment anyway - if nobody guesses all correctly, then the person who gets the MOST right will be the winner. If there is a tie, I'll go with whomever commented first. AND, there will also be a second place winner, AND I will pick one RANDOM winner from all commenters. So even if you don't know all the answers, give it a shot - you might be a winner anyway! (And please, no cheaters who look at comments first and then submit your answers - you are all on the honor system!) The challenge will run until 4:00 pm CST, and then I will pick the winners! This is open to Readers AND Cheerleaders, so we can all have fun together!

In addition to prizes, I will be making a donation for each person who participates to Reach Out and Read.

Prizes will be your choice of book from a list I will post when I announce the winners - if there's not a book you like, I'll arrange for a gift certificate from Amazon or Powell's. Also, a cute little beaded bookmark. =)

So, here it is - your list of great first lines. Good luck, and happy reading!

1 - Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

2 - The Opera Ghost really existed.

3 - It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

4 - "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

5 - All children, except one, grow up.

6 - When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

7 - This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.

8 - When Mary Lennox was sent to Misslethwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.

9 - He - for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it - was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.

10 - Who is John Gault?



11 - A mile above Oz, the Witch balanced on the wind's forward edge, as if she were a green fleck of the land itself, flung up and sent wheeling away by the turbulent air.

12 - Sunday, 1 January. 129 lbs (but post-Christmas), alcohol units 14 (but effectively covers 2 days as 4 hours of party was on New Year's Day), cigarettes 22, calories 5424.

13 - Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number 4, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

14 - Even in high summer, Tintagel was a haunted place; Igraine, lady of Duke Gorlois, looked out over the sea from the headland.

15 - What can you say about a 25 year old girl who died?

16 - When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.

17 - I was born twice: first as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

18 - Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler's pushing a gun in my mouth and saying the first step to eternal life is you have to die.

19 - There are some guys who enter a woman's life and screw it up forever.

20 - Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Poe Friday (on Saturday)


For this week's Poe Friday, we read The Murders in the Rue Morgue, by far the longest Poe story we've tackled so far.


This is the first time I've read this story - I understand it is supposed to be a classic, the first great detective story in history. So I was looking forward to reading it for the first time. I was sure I would be completely taken in, engrossed in a great mystery.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't like it much at all. The first few pages are apparently a discussion of the analytical brain. (Kinda boring.) Then, we finally meet Dupin, the famous detective, and find out about his weird, weird life - he lives in total seclusion with the unnamed narrator, only going out at night, and seemingly reading people's minds because of his great analytical skill. When he reads about a gruesome double murder, Dupin decides he can figure out the killer, and gains access to the murder scene.

After poking around a bit, he places an ad for anyone who has recently lost an orangutan. When a sailor comes forward, Dupin announces he has solved the mystery, and promptly informs everyone of what truly happened.

That's it! That's the world's first great detective story! A recluse dectective and a monkey. I am completely disappointed. Not only did I not feel the great, moody atmosphere that Poe is so good at creating, but I was not terribly entertained by the somewhat plodding story. I would love to hear from someone who actually likes this story - maybe I am missing something obvious, but this just did not catch my interest. Where am I going wrong??

Next week we will be reading another shory story, Three Sundays in a Week. Poe Friday is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading.

Read-A-Thon!!


It's time to begin! The official start time for the 24-Hour-Read-a-Thon in my time zone is 7 AM - That's right now!

So good luck to all the participants - I'll be cheering you on, and hosting a fun mini-challenge later in the day.

YAY for reading!

Friday, April 17, 2009

451 Fridays


451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?

Today, I am thrilled to welcome TJ from Book Love Affair to 451 Fridays. I love TJ's blog - she writes great reviews on a wide variety of books. She also does a feature called Friday Focus, where she talks about books that she loves from years past - both children's and adult books. I love to read about the books that hold a special place in reader's hearts, so I always look forward to TJ's Friday Focus. Thanks for stopping by, TJ!

Which 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo - Before I read Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, I hadn't the least bit of interest in literature or history. Les Mis really ignited an interest for both in me. Not only was I immediately sucked into the world of Jean Val Jean, the passion of Enjolras, the misguided justice system of Javert, the tragedy of Gavroche (as I am every time I open the pages of this book), but it set me on fire to go and learn more. Or read it again. Or read anything new. It's difficult to explain, this reaction I had to Hugo! But, perhaps it's easiest to just say that Les Mis made me feel alive and wanting to learn. It is by far my favorite book for this reason.

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson - Not enough people have read this book. I cannot emphasize that enough. Winesburg, Ohio is any little town where the people know each other by name and yet don't know the demons that lurk in each other's minds. Winesburg, Ohio chronicles all those grotesque inabilities to express oneself, to truly communicate... Winesburg, Ohio are those lonely people who never plan on living a lonely life. It's gorgeous and tragic and true.

Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien - Of course, it's important to remember the horrors and soldiers of the Vietnam War. O'Brien just does so in a way that literary, poignant, surreal, tragic, gripping, and beautiful. If I'm ever confronted by a reader that contends that only non-fiction can capture war or true human tragedy, I direct them to O'Brien's The Things We Carry and Going After Cacciato.

Illiad by Homer - The Illiad is both a manifesto for and a warning against the embracing of individualism. These messages are wrapped in beautiful verse and an unforgettable character of myth: Achilles. And, I think it's important for everyone to perhaps remember what great heights one can achieve--as Achilles did--but also, when one hits that "Oh, I really shouldn't do this" moment, to also remember how it brought Achilles down, the same as any mortal.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin - I will forever champion Kate Chopin. Perhaps I'm overcompensating for the ostrasizing she received while she lived; however, still she seems pretty misunderstood, if my English courses are a fair sample! Her prose is amazing (if I could write prose like she does, I'd never do anything else.) Her imagery is gorgeous--and her characters are complex. The Awakening, though outdated by strict social views, still has very important messages, or at least very important questions, especially regarding a woman's place in society and motherhood.

Of those 5, which book would you choose to "become"?

The book I would choose to become is Winesburg, Ohio. Though I love Les Misérables best, I think losing Winesburg, Ohio would be a too-easy to tragedy. And my favorite passage from Winesburg, Ohio by far is:
"The nervous expressive fingers, flashing in and out of the light, might well have been mistaken for the fingers of the devotee going swiftly through decade after decade of his rosary."

TJ, thanks so much for taking the time to share YOUR list of books which must be saved. Next week, Sandra from Fresh Ink Books will be joining us to share her choices. If you would like YOUR list featured, send me an email - I'd love to include you!

By the Chapter, Day 5 - The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway


Today is the final day of By the Chapter, and the conversation Marcia and I have been having about The Cellist of Sarajevo. Make sure to stop by The Printed Page today for Marcia's final thoughts about the novel.

If you enjoyed Albinoni's Adagio yesterday, here is another beautiful arrangement. The music starts at about 1:15.

In my post yesterday, I mentioned that there hadn't been a whole lot of action. Well, the final section of the book certainly changed that, putting each of the characters into dangerous, life-changing situations. Arrow, Kenan, and Dragan each have to make decisions that will alter the course of their lives. And, eventually, the cellist stops playing, picks up his stool, and leaves.

I believe there are two quotes that sum up this novel much more eloquently than I can. The first is this:

"This is how she believes life happens. A series of inconsequential junctions, any or none of which can lead to salvation or disaster. There are no grand moments where a person does or does not perform the act that defines their humanity. There are only moments that appear, briefly, to be this way."

This is the essence of the novel. Life happens in small, everyday decisions that have the possibility of being momentous. Dragan has to decide, every day, when he will cross the street, and that simple choice means the difference between life and death. Kenan has to choose which roads will be safe, and which roads will be shelled, and that decision will mean water for his family, or thirst. Arrow must decide where the enemy sniper will hide, and when he will shoot, and her choice means the cellist lives to play another day, or does not. And that is the truth of life. Every decision we make, no matter how small, has consequences - we might not see them today, or tomorrow, but they all mean something in the grand scheme of our lives.

This is the second quote:

"He will behave now as he hopes everyone will someday behave. Because civilization isn't a thing that you build and then there it is, you have it forever. It needs to be built constantly, re-created daily. It vanishes far more quickly than he ever would have thought possible. And if he wishes to live, he must do what he can to prevent the world he wants to live in from fading away. As long as there's war, life is a preventative measure."

This is the message of the novel - we must live the way we want the world to become.

I believe The Cellist of Sarajevo is a must-read novel. It is a war narrative, and so much more. It is about the power of music to heal, the triumph of humanity over horror, the belief that good truly can come from evil. It is a simple, beautiful novel that you won't be able to forget.

Finished: 4/16/09
Rating: 10/10

Thursday, April 16, 2009

By the Chapter, Day 4 - The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway


It's time for Day 4 of By the Chapter. Marcia and I have been discussing The Cellist of Sarajevo - to catch up on the conversation, read Marcia's Monday post, my Tuesday post, and Marcia's Wednesday post.

Today, the conversation continues here, with more of my thoughts on the novel.

On May 27, 1992, in Sarajevo, a mortar shell blasted into an innocent group of people waiting in line to buy bread. In mourning for the 22 people who were killed in that attack, cellist Vedran Smailovic' sat at the site, with his cello, and played Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor every day for the next 22 days. This couragous, yet startlingly simple act inspired Steven Galloway to write The Cellist of Sarajevo. The title character is loosely based on Smailovic', and performs the same act of courage. Here is a link to Albioni's Adagio - it is one of the most haunting pieces of music I know, and perfectly sets the stage for the events in the novel.

Since I posted on Tuesday, I've read about 3/4 of the novel, and frankly, not that much has happened. Dragan is still trying to find the right time to cross the street. Kenan is still trying to make it back home with water for his family. For Arrow, a few more days have passed - she has now been assigned the nearly impossible task of keeping the cellist safe from the enemy sniper rumored to have targeted him. Strangely, this lack of action-packed-ness doesn't make the novel seem to move slowly - there is an intensity that comes with knowing that each second might be one of the characters' last.

In her post yesterday, Marcia talked about how the mental geography of the characters has been changed - that each character has had to carve out a new way of thinking about the world. I think that is such an important insight into this novel. Each of the characters is forced to literally put aside their old lives - not just their former jobs and friends, but the way they looked at the world - in order to find a way to survive in their new realities. This novel is about all the little ways they find to survive - both physically, by watching for the snipers and finding new routes around the city, and emotionally, by creating a way for themselves to stay sane in the face of such horrors.

I think the aspect of the book that is gripping me the most right now is how each of these characters has, in spite of overwhelming odds, made the choice to keep going. Each of them, every day, is faced with the possibility that their life will end. Arrow could be spotted and shot by an enemy sniper. Dragan has to cross the most dangerous street in Sarajevo, where he sees people killed every day. Kenan knows it would be easier to just give up, stop worrying about water for his neighbor and family, and just lay down his burden for a time. And yet, each of them chooses to keep going - to hang on to their humanity, and hang on for the time when this war will be over. This is vividly illustrated in this conversation between Dragan and Emira, while waiting on the street:

"The world will never allow that. They'll have to help us sooner or later," she says. He's not sure from her tone of voice if she believes what she says. He doesn't know how she could. They must both see the same city disintegrating around them. "No one is coming." His voice is harsher that he means it to be. "We're here on our own, and no one's coming to help us. Don't you know that?" Emina looks down, and fastens the top two buttons on her coat. She puts her hands in her pockets. After a while she says, very quietly, "I know no one is coming. I just don't want to believe it."

Later, when Emina tells him about a kindness she did for a neighbor, she says:

"Isn't that how we're supposed to behave? Isn't that how we used to be?" "I don't know," Dragan says. "I can't remember if we were like that, or just think we were. It seems impossible to remember what things were like." And he suspects this is what the men on the hills want. They would, of course, like to kill them all, but if they can't, they would like to make them forget how they used to be, how civilized people act. He wonders how long it will take before they succeed.

I find their struggle to retain their humanity, and their hope, so powerful. I am reading this book slowly, on purpose. It's so easy for me to rip through a novel - I WANT to sit with this one for a while, to let it really get into my head. I think it will be worth the wait.


Don't forget to stop back here tomorrow, as well as at The Printed Page, where Marcia and I will both be giving our final thoughts on The Cellist of Sarajevo.