Welcome to my bookshelf


I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Now I'm Just Mad

Currently Reading: How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex

Pg 100: "Emergency contraception was available in other countries long before it broke into US religious politics."

And herein lies the problem, religious politics. Why do we Americans insist on bringing our religion into politics when we were founded on the separation of church and state? And now we are bringing it into other countries' politics as well. This is just not right. Too many people are sticking their noses in places where they simply do not belong. Where do we draw the line? As a woman, educator, and all around intelligent person, I am completely and totally embarrassed by the state of our union when it comes to stances on the issue of abortion and contraception. These are two separate things that have been combined into one big fight. While they are related, someone who uses contraception is not committing an abortion. In fact, it is the exact opposite. They are preventing the need for another abortion and yet our political (or should I say religious) leaders are saying that they are the same thing and leaving our young people unprepared to face the realities of being a human. We all have sex (for the most part). As a high school teacher, I am all too aware of the fact that teenagers are sexually active. Abstinence education has been proven ineffective, however this is what everyone is saying is the solution to unwanted pregnancies and STDs. I am not going to go into all the details and highly suggest this book to everyone be they pro-life or pro-choice. The author has scientific backing for every assertion and really is just stating facts. It is amazing what people can convince themselves to believe. Please read this book and please allow women to be the masters of their own fates. I cannot state the arguments better than Cristina Page and so will not go into all the details here. Seriously, read this and educate yourself. If not for your own education, for the future of our children. Why not seek ways to decrease pregnancies rather than decrease the availability of knowledge? Allow each person to make their own decision. Don't make them for others who you do not know or understand. I mentioned in a previous post how it seems we always know what is best for someone else. How can you know what is best for the single working mother who is living below the poverty line? I can't, but maybe she has a better perspective of her situation. Isn't it better to avoid having one more needy child growing up in an unfortunate environment. Ugg. I am just mad and not making any sense. Please, please read this book and educate yourself on the truth of the matter.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I, we, he...which one to use?

Currently Reading: Prey

Pg 106: "There's one problem with all psychological knowledge - nobody can apply it to themselves. People can be incredibly astute about the shortcomings of their friends, spouses, children. But they have no insight into themselves at all. The same people who are coldly clear-eyed about the world around them have nothing but fantasies about themselves."

I am probably the most guilty of this practice. I have all the answers for everyone else, and not a one for myself. It is so much easier to focus on the flaws of others and then just ignore the flaws of yourself. You always know what is right for someone else, and that is fine. Maybe you have solved that problem in your own life, or maybe it wasn't a problem for you at all. At the same time, you have to be able to take advice from people who have solved your problems in your own life. At least if you want others to listen to your advice at all. Still, it would be best if we just focused on fixing ourselves. If everyone spent as much time solving their own problems as they do solving the problems of others, we would all be perfect. Just a thought.

Now onto literary thoughts. How do you decide to write your book in first person or third person? This one is a first person narrative, but I have read other Michael Crichton books from a third person point of view. I guess it depends on how personal the story is or whether it is a memory or simply a relaying of activities. If you want the reader to sympathize with the main character and really see into their mind, you probably stick with first person. If the plot itself is more important than individual feelings, then you should tell the story from a third person point of view. I suppose this harks back to the first "books" or rather oral stories. If you were relaying something that happened to you, you spoke in the first person. If you are telling a tale about someone else, it would obviously be told from a third person point of view. This is an interesting idea and I am sure that there have been papers published about the reasoning behind authors and their perspective choices. I may have to research it further.

On a side note, how crazy that I go from a book about an immigrant family struggling to make their way in Canada, to a story about replicating nanotechnologies. See, I'm a weird one. I still love the diversity. How boring if you just stuck with one genre. I'm not done with this one yet, however I do know that nonfiction is next on tap. Just to keep you on your toes.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Now I'm Just Sad

Currently Reading: Midnight at the Dragon Cafe

So the secret it out, but true to tradition, it is not discussed. How sad for little Annie. She is forced to grow up in such a closed family. How can one develop emotionally when emotions are supposed to be felt and not seen? I know that I am not the most emotive of people, although others may argue that statement. I am guilty of keeping it all locked up inside until I explode. I wish that the story of Annie continued into her later years so that I could see how she ends up coping with these emotions and whether she ends up OK. While the story is told from her memories, there is no mention of what her life is like now. I guess from this we can take away the idea that she still dwells in the past and that it has truly influenced her future. Perhaps even causing her to not truly have a future at all. Life is just carried out in her memories. This was a fantastic read an I highly recommend it to all.

Mmm...dim sung

Currently Reading: Midnight at the Dragon Cafe

I love books that have modern Chinese, or other Asian background, women sharing their stories about growing up with traditional parents stuck the old country. These women have to translate for their parents, hide their emerging Americanism, and basically have unique childhoods that few of their peers have. I enjoy reading about how they are forced to live two lives, one at home and one at school, and how these lives inadvertently intersect. A common theme in these stories is don't ask, don't tell. This one has a doozy of a don't tell. And of course, I am not going to. I am about half-way through, but am intrigued to find out what happens when someone does tell. How hard to be growing up in a place where women are typically valued, appreciated members of the community, but having to succumb to a domineering father and husband. I will write more as the tale progresses, but I wanted to make a post as it has been like forever!

And yes, I'm sure I managed to spell something wrong in the title.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Family Ties

Currently Reading: The Librarian

But I have been meaning to post through several books now (school is keeping me way too busy) and so I am going to talk about a theme I saw throughout Plain Truth and A false Sense of Well Being. Family. It is amazing how the simple comforts of home can make us feel so much better. Even if home is not the best place in the world, it is still comforting to go back to where you know things are going to be the same. The predictability of our childhood homes, even if that predictability is actually chaos, it is wonderful to know what to expect and what is expected of you. In Plain Truth, home is an Amish community where family is key. The characters strive to live up to the expectations of home and these expectations dictate many of the actions taken. The main character, a girl accused of killing her newborn baby, cannot imagine doing something that her family would not approve of. She makes ridiculous decisions based on this and never thinks of herself first. In A False Sense of Well Being, the main character is experiencing uncertainty and woe in her marital home and heads home for a break. Here she gets what she expects and is soothed by the usual antics of her parents. Once she is back in a safe and familiar place, she is able to make sense of what she has been feeling and manages to come to a decision. Family is so important and often our American culture puts it in the background. As a teacher of a multicultural bunch of kiddos, I see how important family is to other groups. Is this a strength or weakness? Americans tend to celebrate the individual, but we would never be the individuals that we are without the experiences we had at home. I am lucky that my childhood provided me with such a strong foundation on which to excel and grow. I know that I do not focus on this boon and regret not voicing my appreciation more. So thanks mommy and daddy. I need to take more time out of my crazy life to appreciate the constants. Family.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Themes

Currently Reading: The Mermaid Chair

I just finished this one which was recommended by one of my reading buddies at school. She thought it was amazing, so I was surprised when one of my other reading buddies, my mommy, said that she didn't like it. Of course I was part way through it at that point and enjoying it, but I found that after hearing her opinion, I was suddenly suspecting everything I read. It is amazing how much the opinions of others affect our own opinions and thoughts. I tried not to let this change my own thinking, and can honestly say that in the end, I generally liked the book. I will say though that I didn't care for the ending. I am interesting in reading The Secret Life of Bees now though as my mom said she loved that one, a sentiment shared by my other reading buddy too. Catholicism was a main theme in The Mermaid's Chair. That and mermaids. Odd combination, eh? I'm not going to get into how destructive religion can get (as I do that all too often), but it does seem that the opinions of religious leaders are the ones that we revere more than anything else. Are we living up to the standards as listed by our religion? I think it is easiest to do this in the Catholic religion as they have such a giant list of dos and don'ts. Unlike these new made up Bible churches where all you have to do is say, "I love God!!" and hooray, you are saved. Part of me likes the structure of the Catholics. It is much more suited to my personalities. No choices. Of course, that is one of my main beefs with religion in general. Ahh! I said I wasn't going to do this. Back to the book. Religion does dictate the actions of one of the characters, but not the main lady, Jessie. What I enjoyed the most about this book was how many different themes and motifs were intertwined throughout the tale. I love finding these and figuring out all the underlying thoughts. But it is the most fun when you get to decide for yourself. In high school English they usually tell you what you are supposed to be seeing, but I hated this. If I didn't feel the theme for myself, I just didn't get how it could be a theme. I think we all have our own ideas of what is being depicted in a story and our own personal experiences cause some things to be more important than others. In my grad school class right now, we are constantly talking about how to use students' prior knowledge to help build the foundation for a new lesson. It is so important to know where your audience is coming from. That's why the Twilight books appeal to young girls and romantics and not so much to level headed adults. She is definietly aware of her audience. Sue Monk Kidd is enjoyable in that she is writing for woman, clearly, but I feel like there is a wide enough variety of subjects that all types of women can get something from the book, even if it is not the same thing. To each his own, right?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Really? Him again?

Currently Reading: How to Talk to a Widower

I'm sorry, but although his books are generally entertaining, Jonathan Tropper writes the same thing over and over again. I have tried several of his books, and yet am never surprised. They are always from the viewpoint of a Jewish twenty or thirty something male. He has relationship issues and there are usually several characters with drug/alcohol problems. He is always quick-witted and clever, yet oh so misunderstood. His family is crazy but he deals with it and usually manages to solve a problem for one or two of the members. I have even found that orphans appear quite often. There is very little literary complexity and all allusions are references to pop culture. This is all fine and good, but really, would it hurt him to step outside the box and try something new? Maybe he is incapable of it, just like Janet Evanovich is incapable of writing realistic characters. Now I'm not saying that you should shun all of his books, but don't expect anything prolific or unique. Now I am off to read something that is turning out to be quite the opposite of this predictable and trite tale. The Mermaid Chair. At least I can relate to the Catholics better than the Jews. Maybe that's why I don't get Tropper's stuff (although I really think not).

Monday, September 6, 2010

Illusions

Currently Reading: The Edible Woman

Or rather allusion in this case as it may be. As the main character is meeting these crazy people at their disheveled abode, she is inundated with their graduate school opinions on all the underlying messages in Lewis Carroll's Alice stories. One of the men is making dinner for them and as the night progressed, what actually came to mind was the Mad Hatter's tea party. It was funny because they were talking about it and emulating it at the same time, although totally unaware it was happening. I wonder if Atwood was thinking about this when she wrote it. One of the best parts about being well read is that you get all the literary allusions in other books and movies. Of course the fact that you are reading again probably causes these things to happen more often. Still, it makes me feel smart.

I think that Atwood is probably the lone woman on my all time favorite author list. I love everything I have ever read by her and was actually amazed when I found out that this was her first book. It was so good!! One of the best parts of her books is that she is totally honest about her characters and all their flaws. It seems like female authors either make their characters too perfect, or they have those flaws that you expect and aren't really flaws such as being a hopeless romantic or slightly overweight. Atwood's characters are real. Not fake real, but real, real. I love it. Mariam is a women who is being devoured and yet at the same time is losing her ability to devour anything at all. It starts with meat and continues from there. It seems like she is unable to find what she needs to be satisfied. She tries different things and interacts with different people, but nothing seems to work. In the end, there is a very symbolic moment that several of the main characters participate in. Usually these types of moments seem cheesy to me, but it works in this case. Sometimes we need a concrete way to deal with our inner demons. I have tried several techniques and some work better than others. Drawing and painting, music, photography, yoga. These are just a few possibilities. It is amazing how powerful just seeing and interacting with a physical form of your mind can be. Does Mariam find total peace? I don't think so, but I do think she found some solace and comfort and I wish her well.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Swept Under the Rug

Currently Reading: Sarah's Key

Pg 5: "As we waited for the elevator, my mobile phone chirped out the Darth Vader theme."

OK. This book has to be good.

Now on a more serious note, this is a fantastic tale that switches between the horrors of Paris in 1942 to the present day. A young girl and her family were taken from their home in the middle of the night by the French police to be brought to concentration camps in the area. I am not going to go into too much details so as not to ruin the story, but I will do a bit of a synopsis. The present day character is a journalist who stumbles upon the terrible night during which the French police, not the Nazi's, rounded up the French Jews to be taken away. She is having a hard time finding more information about this event as it has basically be covered up and forgotten by the French people. This reminds me a bit of the Japanese internment camps that were here in the US during WWII. We rarely hear about this part of our history and it is glossed over in social studies class. We are ashamed, and so should be, but that doesn't mean it never happened. We need to start acknowledging the truth. Throughout this story, people are scandalized by the desire of Julia, the main character, to want to uncover the truth. They say that things should just stay in the past. But how are we going to learn from mistakes in the past if we never study them and see what decisions led to the circumstance at hand? In the end, when the truth comes out to all the characters involved in Sarah's, the young girl, life, they are happy to finally know the truth. Yes, it was difficult to accept and come to terms with, but it is always better to know than to be left in disillusionment. At least that is my humble opinion. And now back to the initial quote. I did dog-ear it initially because I just thought it was so cool, but as I thought about it, Star Wars is another place where we can see atrocities that mimic the holocaust and Japanese plight. The Empire came in and took over. Prejudice against non-humans was rampant not to mention the whole killing off of the Jedi. The Emperor used Wookie slaves to build his Death Stars and his storm troopers were basically just brainwashed young men. Initially they were actually specifically grown clones! Their name even comes from the SS of WWII. We need more Jedi like Julia to be brave and tell the truth as it is. It hurts, but we must pay attention and learn. Humans are well, humans (gasp). They make bad decisions that often affect many people and instead of just going with the flow, we need to call these people out, especially when in a position of power.

Again, in a nutshell. Read the book! It will make you sad, but also cause some excellent self-reflection.