Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Rights of the People, by David K. Shipler--8/10

The subtitle of this book is important: "How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties." Frankly, I think "erodes" would be a better word than "invades," but you get the idea. This is another book that I would love to be able to persuade every person I know to read.

It's about how easily our fear causes us to give up one right after another, naively believing that as long as we're "not doing anything wrong," we shouldn't have anything to be afraid of. It's full of examples of people who weren't doing anything wrong, whose lives were invaded and sometimes destroyed by overzealous law enforcement.

People who were killed because the police burst into their homes in the middle of the night, having bypassed the required procedures and using information from a source they hadn't bothered to verify. (chapter four, specifically pages 132-134)

A man whose career was ruined and family traumatized because the FBI, ignoring evidence that their suspect was innocent and following a trail of coincidences, spied on him secretly for months, going into his house, following him, bugging his law office (driving away clients who found out that their information was not safe), and eventually arresting him. (pages 165-180)

High school girls who were forced to strip, at school, in front of adults who reached inside their underwear and bras to check for drugs they didn't have. (page 154)

Jurors who voted to convict because they were not allowed to know that the key witness for the prosecution was a cop who was under investigation for several illegal activities, or that all the evidence against the defendant--which had been presented as fact--was actually greatly disputed by experts (it was proven false  later). (pages 106 and 269)

It's easy to brush these incidents off as unfortunate accidents, but these are not one-time occurrences. Obviously they're not the norm, either, because we would be more aware of them if they were. That is actually part of the problem--these things happen so much more often than you would think, but unless someone fights back, we never hear about them. And people usually don't fight back. No, it doesn't happen everywhere, but there is a systemic abuse of law enforcement in this country that people need to be aware of. There are plenty of examples in the book. (Read chapter four; or, for a glimpse of the possibilities, just Google a little phrase called the "good-faith exception.")

You should read if you're interested in knowing the kind of surveillance we're under, too, because it is astonishing (chapters six and seven). Did you know that the Supreme Court considers online banking, writing a check, using a credit or debit card, and dialing a phone number voluntary--as in not necessary for participation in society, not just that the actual act is voluntary--and says that "people in general" can have no expectation of privacy regarding that information?
Maybe I don't fall into the category of "people in general," but I don't think that my bank and the phone company are the same as the FBI. In my mind, there is a difference between the private sector and the state. When I push buttons on my phone, I recognize that the phone company's switching equipment has to work for me, but I don't expect the numbers I call to show up on the computer screens of government agencies. When I give my banker and broker personal financial information, I don't expect cops to be looking over their shoulders. My expectation of privacy does not disappear when I share information with trusted service providers, because I am not placing it in the public square. My personal information should be treated like my personal property, inaccessible without my permission. The Supreme Court has ruled otherwise.
"The FBI continues to amass vast amounts of data on people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing," including 1.5 billion records of things like Avis car rentals, Wyndham Worldwide hotel reservations (Mike and I have stayed at one of these), travel bookings, bank records--and all passenger name records from all airlines for 2001. They keep those, even though they're "not of any current usefulness," so at any time they can check "to see if someone happened to be on the same flight with someone under scrutiny." Do you usually meet all the people on the same plane as you? Me neither, but that doesn't mean we won't become suspects if one of them becomes a terrorist. (page 248)

So I've heard people say, in reference to these kinds of privacy invasions, that it shouldn't matter to us if we're not doing anything wrong. (There's an example in the book of a girl named Lindsay whose high school began random drug testing on all its students. She was a model student and had never taken drugs, but when she decided to stand up against this unconstitutional breach of their rights--working with the ACLU to sue--she became a pariah, ostracized by the entire town. People turned on her, talking about her on the radio and on the news, saying that she must be a druggie or she wouldn't be causing such a fuss.)

Here's why that's a problem: Governments abuse power. Remember how vigilant the Founders were about setting up checks against each branch of the government, making sure that the people were protected from tyranny? Tyrannical governments don't usually announce their plans to be tyrannical--they make the people think that the government is working in their best interest, to protect them, etc.

"When the Bill of Rights is violated, it's usually hard to mobilize public concern, because the most obvious victims are the least admirable--accused criminals whose cases become the means through which courts regulate police behavior by applying the Constitution. And the resulting constitutional interpretations apply to everyone. The system, then, binds together the miscreants and the righteous: The most virtuous among us depend on the most villainous to carry the torch of liberty, for when the courts allow a criminal defendant's rights to be violated, the same rights are diminished for the rest of us." (page 66)

It's important to realize that these issues affect us all, and it's important to work hard to put aside our fear when we think about what we're willing to give up for the illusion of safety. (And make no mistake, it is an illusion--the TSA alone has had over 25,000 security breaches in the last ten years. Sure, that's a small fraction of the people who go through that system--but when it only takes one, 25,000 is a lot.)

I completely understand the fear. Every time I hear about a car bomb in Israel, I wonder how my family can live there, because it would terrify me to live in such proximity to that kind of danger. I completely understand wanting the government to protect us from the threat of terrorism. But even if it were possible for the government to eradicate that threat--which it absolutely, unquestionably is not--there is no way it could be done without scrapping the values this country was built on. People need to understand that if they are okay with allowing the government to take away their civil liberties for the sake of safety, then they are choosing to change the country into something it is not and never has been--something very different from the country the Founders tried to create.

"Because terrorism combines ideology and violence, authorities have trespassed on the First Amendment by considering speech and religion when targeting suspects. Because prevention is paramount, officials have tunneled beneath the Fourth Amendment's restrictions on search and surveillance, and have sometimes breached the Fifth Amendment's shield against self-incrimination to gather intelligence. Because state secrets need keeping and public trials are unpredictable, the protectors of national security have sporadically evaded the protections of due process in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, including the right to counsel and the right to confront and summon witnesses."

And the book gives countless examples of each of those breaches. Keep in mind, the people they do this to are not just terrorists. They are anyone who is suspected, for any reason at all, of having any kind of connection with someone who might be a terrorist. This means innocent Americans.

You want your Constitution "hanging by a thread"? There it is.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cinderella Ate My Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein--8/10

This is an excellent book, and I wish I could persuade everyone I know to read it. Orenstein covers several issues in only 192 pages, so obviously she doesn't reach the depth she could for any given topic--but that's actually something I like about it. Instead of trying to be a definitive work, this book is a short, accessible introduction to and summary of the subject of raising girls in a pink commercial world, and it provides a lot of direction in where to go for further study.

There are too many pieces of information I would love to share--facts and statistics about the Disney Princess franchise, Barbie, American Girl, Bratz/Ty Girlz/Moxie Girlz (what she calls "girlz-with-a-z" culture), Disney Channel stars, toddler beauty pageants, etc.--but there's a passage near the beginning that I think illustrates pretty well the importance of giving this some thought.

"I have never seen a study proving that playing princess specifically damages girls' self-esteem or dampens other aspirations. And trust me, I've looked. There is, however, ample evidence that the more mainstream media girls consume, the more importance they place on being pretty and sexy... Even can-do girls can be derailed--and surprisingly quickly--by exposure to stereotypes."

Here she references a study in which college students enrolled in advanced calculus classes were asked to view a series of television commercials: four neutral ads (for a cell phone, a gas station, a pharmacy, and an insurance company; no humans in the commercials) and two that depicted cliches--a girl bouncing on her bed in excitement over acne medicine, and a woman drooling over a brownie mix. A second group of students was shown four neutral ads interspersed with two "counterstereotypic" ads--one showing a woman talking about health care and one showing a woman impressing a man with her knowledge about cars. One of the tasks both groups were given was a difficult math test, on which the women shown the cliched ads did significantly worse than both the men and the women who'd seen the counterstereotypic ads.

"Let me repeat: the effect was demonstrable after watching two ads. And guess who performed better on a math test, coeds who took it after being asked to try on a bathing suit or those who had been asked to try on a sweater? (Hint: the latter group.)

"Meanwhile, according to a 2006 study of more than two thousand school-aged children, girls repeatedly described a paralyzing pressure to be "perfect": not only to get straight As and be the student body president, editor of the newspaper, and captain of the swim team but also to be "kind and caring," "please everyone, be very thin, and dress right." Rather than living the dream, then, those girls were straddling a contradiction: struggling to fulfill all the new expectations we have for them without letting go of the old ones."

If, unlike almost every Goodreads reviewer who gave it less than four stars, you can get past the fact that the author comes from a different lifestyle than you do, I think you will agree that the book addresses a serious issue--even if you don't agree with Orenstein on every issue. (I mostly do, with a couple tiny exceptions.) I will probably want to own this book for the sheer amount of information that's packed into relatively few pages, and I'm anxious now to check out all the references I got from it. Definitely a necessary read.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Ancient Ones

Today I gutted several closets in my parents' house, looking for the old things my mom said had to be in there somewhere. I had a journal when I was very young, around five years old, that's been missing for a long time, and I've been determined to find it. Earlier today I did, as well as class photos, research projects, and pottery I made myself in elementary school. (Yeah--pottery. I don't know if this is because it was twenty years ago or because I lived in Arizona where they focus a lot on ancient Indian tribes, but either way, my elementary school experience was a billion times cooler than my brothers' was a few years later.) That's where the title of this post comes from, actually; I did a project on the Hohokam Indians with that name.

It's all pretty fun to look through. I suspect most of it will only be interesting to my family, since I wrote about cousins' birthday parties, family reunions, etc. But some of it is pretty amusing no matter who you are--like the fact that on November 3, 1992, I wrote this:

"Tuseday Today is the day they vote for a new prisidint! I vote for Gorge Bush but a girl in my class said they won't vote for him. That is sad."

Amazing! I was distressed to read this kind of thing written in 2000--who knew it went back so much further?? I honestly have no memory of knowing or even hearing about politics back then. (Clarification: the distressing thing is not that I supported the Georges, but that I supported them without knowing who they were. Note to future self... Be aware that children will repeat what you say without knowing why.)

And the moral of the story is that I have some more scanning to do.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Today should probably be a great day. I woke up to rain and thunder, I got extra sleep, I've been reading a fantastic book during Lana's nap.

It isn't an especially great day, though. That rain actually woke me up an hour before my alarm was supposed to go off, and it took me a while to fall back asleep. Then my alarm never did go off--I'd forgotten to set it--so that extra sleep I got came by way of waking up, to Mike's alarm, fifteen minutes after I was already supposed to be at work. An inauspicious beginning.

The weather was incredible all morning--the last twelve hours have been the first actually nice weather we've had since May--but now all the lovely clouds are gone and it's back up to 101 degrees. I'm picking up Alex from school in half an hour, which, yes, means listening to Bossypants in the car, but also means half an hour of sitting in the car in the sun waiting to get through the circus that is the elementary school parking lot. (Thankfully the school is less than five minutes away; that half hour will be spent pretty much entirely in the parking lot.)

I do get to watch Alex this afternoon, but an hour and a half of that will be spent at outdoor soccer practice, which is--let's be honest--not something I will enjoy. Mike only has three stops left on his route, but one of them is a scheduled 5:00 stop in Irving, so he won't be home until 7:30 or so. But I suppose that's fine, since he'll only be missing soccer practice anyway.

And, finally and probably most importantly... I am hungry. I've been "on" a juice diet since Monday, which means I've been hungry nearly all of the time since then. I am not good with diets, and after only four days I'm ready to give it up--it turns out that, as much as I'm always irritated and frustrated by trying to decide what to eat on any given day, I am even more depressed by not being able to eat anything. Add this to the sneaky headache that I've just noticed starting to develop, and it turns out that today is a grouchypants kind of day.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Song of the Silk Road, by Mingmei Yip--2/10

I saw this book at a Real Bookstore in Allen a few months ago; I fell in love with the cover, and I've been dying to read it since then. Now that I have, I can tell you: This book is absurdly, laughably bad.

At first I wondered if it was a translation, because of how awkward the writing was. It isn't. Then I wondered if it was just because the author is a native Chinese speaker, but I think we've all read books by non-native English speakers and they sounded perfectly normal (or at least like they have good editors). Finally I gave up looking for an excuse--I think this book is just that bad.

I honestly don't know why I let myself finish it; the story is interesting, but not anything so intriguing that I couldn't have just skipped to the end to find out what happened. (In the beginning of the book, Lily--who thinks she has no relatives now that her parents are dead--receives a letter from an aunt she's never heard of, giving her instructions to take a trip to China and fulfill all kinds of crazy tasks in order to receive three million dollars at the end.) She's a fairly unlikeable protagonist and has the usual love interests that make anyone with the faintest feminist tendencies gag, but this book wouldn't actually be bad if it didn't also suffer from some truly awful writing--that's what really killed it for me. Being the super-perfectionist bizarrely anal editor that I am, I just couldn't get past the awkwardness.

The disaster began on page one, when I saw the words "Three Million Dollars," capitalized just like that. That was followed by this sentence:
Wow. I had to use all my willpower to stifle my about-to-shoot-out, uncontrollable, deliriously happy laughter to be able to continue to read. 
By page three I had determined that the weirdly hyphenated adjectives were not a solitary occurrence, and in fact they only got worse as I went. Observe:
I also did not want to take any chances on this dropped-from-the-sky bonanza.

I was willing to face the challenge, of course for the pending fortune, but also to satisfy my dying-to-be-relieved itching curiosity.

I told myself that if I didn't come back alive from the Silk Road, So. Be. It. At least I'd die in a romantic place--not as a back-straining, leg-numbing waitress; a stomach-rumbling, mind-constipating novelist-to-be; or a bed-warming, albeit not-childbearing, mistress.

But of course I swallowed these would-be-firecracker-like strings of words. This was not the time to be antagonistic.

Once she wriggled her mahjong-table-wide bottom away from my sight, I got up and hurried to Alex's room.
Speaking of bottoms, Yip likes to talk about them. A person can never just walk away--it's always "her generous bottom waddled away," or "she dragged her wide posterior away." (Or "I settled what Chris referred to as my cute little yellow bottom on the sofa," which isn't talking about someone walking away, but is just really annoying.)

She uses the expression "shot out from __ mouth" at least once every twenty pages ("the question shot out from my mouth," "a loud 'What!' shot out from my mouth), and describes people's eye contact in ways like this: he threw down an "I'll-be-right-back" look, and she cast me an "old Chinese horny with young American honey" look, and he cast me a "don't pretend, you know exactly what I mean" wink. In fact, all her descriptions are weird. "His two fingers collided to give out a small explosion." (Did you automatically know that she meant he snapped his fingers?) "The adults would bounce against each other like pork chops slapped down upon a sizzling grill." (Describing a bus accident. Do pork chops on a grill bounce against each other?) Everything is sensuous. A woman's lips. Someone's fingers. The weight of an ivory bracelet.

Then there are the really awkward sequences that sound like they may have been written by a fifth grader with a thesaurus:
Just as I was wondering what to do, the hawk plunged toward me. "Ahhhh!" I ducked to avoid a possible hit and run. It was indeed a hit and fly, albeit the prey was not me, but my camera!
"Alex, do you think we're crazy doing this?"
"Doing what?"
"Traveling through this hellish Go-In-But-Never-Come-Out place."
"Lily, then you're the one who's crazy, because it was your idea, not mine."
"Are you afraid?"
"Hmm, yes and no. I feel OK having you with me, though."
We turned to look at each other before a loud "Yeah!" exploded from our mouths as we bumped fists... "Oh, my God!" we screamed simultaneously.
Why do American publishers let writers use "OK" instead of spelling out "okay"? Maybe this is something I should remember from my editing classes, but all I know is it makes me want to rip out a page in the book. And of course she does the thing where almost every sentence of dialogue starts with a person's name, which in real conversation never happens. Think about it--when you're talking with someone, how often do you actually say their name? The answer is, approximately 1/1283439th as frequently as Mingmei Yip believes you do.

So, that's that. The book really wasn't worth this much description, but whenever I read something truly awful, I can't help but try and demonstrate to you just how bad it was--and I could go on and on with the examples. I even had to create a new label for my book rating system, because this is the first book I've rated below a 4. (Yes. Grammar and style mean that much to me.) Like I said, you actually might like it if you don't care about these things as much as I do. But as far as Chinese literature goes, this doesn't even count.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I've Just Had an Apostrophe

(I think you mean an epiphany.)

I like to read books from and about different cultures. And I like reading themes. I think I should try out a new theme for my reading: A different country each month.

I'm actually particularly interested in France right now; I have several books on my shelves that I've been meaning to read for years--The Three Musketeers, Les Miserables, The Scarlet Pimpernel--and I've heard of a few others recently that I want to check out. I went through my to-read shelf on Goodreads, too, and I already have a pretty good list to start with:

South Africa--This Thing Called the Future; Long Walk to Freedom
Northern Ireland--One by One in the Darkness
India--Sisters of the Sari; The Inheritance of Loss; The God of Small Things; Kim
Jamaica--Dreaming in Color; Pao
Ghana--Pigeon English
Malaysia--Evening is the Whole Day
Cambodia--First They Killed My Father; Spare Them? No Profit. Remove Them? No Loss.
Israel--I Shall Not Hate; To the End of the Land
Brazil--State of Wonder; The Witch of Portobello
Vietnam--Vietnamerica; The Beauty of Humanity Movement; The Lotus Eaters
France--A Woman's Way; A Novel Bookstore; Madame Bovary
Hong Kong--Girl in Translation
Nigeria--Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away; Oil on Water
Liberia--The House at Sugar Beach
China--The Painter from Shanghai; The Bonesetter's Daughter; Shanghai Shadows; Gold Boy, Emerald Girl
Russia--Crime and Punishment; Anna Karenina; War and Peace; Absurdistan; A Mountain of Crumbs
Canada--The Sentimentalists; Alice Munro; Obasan
Bangladesh--An Atlas of Impossible Longing
Japan--Hiroshima in the Morning; Haruki Murakami; The Samurai's Garden
Saudi Arabia--Sharaf
South Korea--Waiting for Appa
Iran--Rooftops of TehranReading Lolita in Tehran; Lipstick Jihad; The Age of Orphans
Mozambique--Under the Frangipani
Germany--The Book Thief; The Hiding Place
Poland--A Blessing on the Moon

I have a few books left in the queue before I get started, but I'm looking forward to it. Anyone have any other good suggestions?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Watching The Daily Show doesn't usually make me angry...

But tonight it did. I've calmed down a little since posting this video on Facebook (as you may have noticed), but I still think it's sickening, and I need to talk about it more.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
World of Class Warfare - The Poor's Free Ride Is Over
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

I've been working on a post for the last few days, and since there's a chunk of it that goes perfectly with this video, I'm going to include it here. 

As I've said before, I'm not a Democrat. I'm independent right now, just generally liberal, and frankly I don't think it's likely that I'll ever find a party I can fully agree with. But I don't mind not having a party to sign up with, because what's actually the most important to me is just being not Republican

In the current battle about the deficit, Republicans are fighting to preserve tax cuts for the wealthy; Democrats fight to preserve programs that give aid to the poor and the elderly. Completely regardless of any arguments about fairness or effectiveness (since those are absolute nonsense anyway), my belief comes down to this: I simply don't want to be aligned with the party that chooses to fight for the wealthy instead of the poor.

Even assuming that all wealthy Americans got their wealth through honest means and hard work (which is a grand assumption indeed, but one that lots of Fox pundits like to make), the simple fact is that Jesus Christ taught his followers to care for the poor--not defend the rich man's right to be rich. There is nothing wrong with being rich (at least as far as politics in our country go; we'll ignore Christ's warnings on that subject for now). But Republicans have chosen defending the wealthy as their standpoint, and there is simply no way around it--that is one hundred percent the opposite of what Christ's followers are told to do. "Plead the cause of the poor and needy."

Did you watch that video I posted? Neal Boortz believes that "it is all-out war on the productive class in our society for the benefit of the moocher class," and called welfare recipients parasites for depending on the government. John Stossel thinks our society is made up of "makers" and "takers," and that we shouldn't be rewarding the takers. Ann Coulter, that horrible, horrible woman, says that welfare is going to create "generations of utterly irresponsible animals." Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning--an elected official--called welfare recipients raccoons because "they’re going to do the easy way if we make it easy for them." This attitude is wrong, and these statements are as un-Christian as you can get.

1. Jesus Christ commanded us to care for the poor and needy. 
2. It is flatly impossible for any agency besides government to provide the support the poor and elderly need. 
3. Billionaires pay less taxes than anyone else. 
4. Jesus Christ commanded us to care for the poor and needy
5. "Expanding the tax base" is a disgusting euphemism for "making poor people pay even more because we like rich people better." Oh hello, Sherriff of Nottingham, nice to see you today. Please give Prince John our regards.
6. Oh, by the way. Jesus Christ commanded us to care for the poor and needy.
7. Did I mention that Jesus commanded us to care for the poor and needy?
8. Guess what else:

I'm just saying. It is not about the "reach of government" or the effect on the economy or any of that. If you are a Christian, you believe in helping the poor. If you believe in helping the poor, then you should support helping the poor. Republicans don't.

Proverbs 29:7
The righteous considereth the cause of the poor: but the wicked regardeth not to know it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Because of Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea--9/10

This is one of the best books I have read in a really long time. So sweet, and so wonderful.

It's about a fifth-grade class in Massachussetts, specifically seven children who alternate as the book's narrators, and their new teacher, Mr. Terupt. Peter is the class loudmouth and troublemaker; Alexia is queen of the girl wars; Luke is the brainy kid; Jeffrey just hates school; Danielle is Lexie's lackey, in one day and out the next; Anna never talks in class; and Jessica is the new girl from California. Mr. Terupt is new, and he's like no teacher they've ever had.

The cover blurbs let you know that the book is leading up to some kind of tragic accident, so from the beginning I was reading with a sense of apprehension. The narration, the pacing--everything is done beautifully, and when it happened, I pretty much had tears in my eyes for the whole second half of the book.

It's a middle grade book, so it goes really fast--I read almost all of it in a couple hours yesterday (and we were late to hang out with friends because I was not putting it down 30 pages from the end). No matter how little time you have to read, or what kind of books you usually like to read, I think you will love this and I recommend that you locate a copy of it immediately.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Little Women

I grew up watching the Katharine Hepburn Little Women; I always loved it, and it's still my favorite version. I saw the Winona Ryder version sometime in the 90s, and once I got over my initial conviction that it was an abomination and actually watched it, I think I ended up thinking it was okay. And then, a few years ago, I watched the June Allyson version and liked it too--better than WR, but not nearly as much as KH.

I've been feeling the urge to watch any and all versions of it for a while now and finally found the two older versions at one of my libraries. The KH version is, of course, still amazing--although weirdly enough, I felt like there was a scene missing from it, and I tried to Google to find out if they'd cut the movie when they released it on DVD, but I didn't find anything. (There's supposed to be a scene where they go ice skating and Jo tells Amy she can't come and Amy freaks out and oooh is this from the WR version, is that why?? That just popped into my head... I've only seen that version once and haven't read the book in at least ten years so I can't remember where that scene comes from, but I know it exists somewhere. Winona Ryder version, am I right?)

Anyway. So, here are my thoughts after having watched them this week:
  • June Allyson plays a wonderful Jo, but for me, Katharine Hepburn is Jo. Also, JA sounds the tiniest bit unnatural to me every time she says "Christopher Columbus."
  • I think everyone else was cast pretty well, especially Meg and Amy, but except Laurie.
  • Peter Lawford is lovely and very attractive, but not nearly spunky enough for that character. The original Laurie (Douglass Montgomery, or something like that) was a little less attractive, but better overall.
  • I find Margaret O'Brien the teensiest bit annoying as Beth.
  • They switched up a few things plot-wise in the 1949 version, and although that would usually bother me, I actually think they did it quite well. It was a good way to make the remake something more than just the exact same movie with a different cast. 
Interesting trivia:

The basket that Beth carries in the 1949 version is the same basket Dorothy carries in The Wizard of Oz. 

In the scene where Beth talks to Jo before she dies, June Allyson was actually really crying. She was so moved by Margaret O'Brien's performance that they had to send her home to calm down.

In 1978 there was a version with William Shatner as Professor Bhaer. And Eve Plumb (aka Jan Brady) as Beth. Oh. My. Word.

And, in 1958, there was a version with Florence Henderson (aka Carol Brady) as Meg! And Margaret O'Brien as Beth again, nine years after the first one! What a strange idea someone had.


Friday, August 19, 2011

I don't think I can put it off any longer...

I need to reread Harry Potter. I spent entirely too long tonight looking at these ridiculous photos; most of them are just screen shots of people's Pottermore letters, but there were a few that absolutely killed me. Seriously, I almost choked myself trying to keep from waking Mike up with my laughter.

Anyway. The point is, those photos--and knowing two people who are just now reading HP for the first time ever (!!)--are making me want to pick them up myself. The thing is, though, I have a queue of books to read on the shelf above my side of the bed. I actually shelved them in the order in which I planned to read them and everything. And there are eighteen books, excluding the two I'm already reading. But I'm probably going to do it anyway. I may make it through another couple before I do it, but sooner than later, I'm thinking that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is getting bumped to the front of the line.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ow! I tell you what, ow!

So... Yesterday I went running with Mike.

I do not run.

We both happened to have a day off yesterday (Mike's usual day off + Lana was sick so Chelsea stayed home), and Mike always goes running in the mornings on his day off. It was actually quite a nice morning, so I decided to go with him.

It was fun. I listened to my "dance party" playlist, which includes mostly music I don't actually listen to in real life (Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, etc.) plus some songs with a fun beat ("Memory," by Sugarcult; "Sedated," by the Ramones; "Voulez-Vous," by ABBA (the Mamma Mia version), etc.). I started out jogging, went as long as I could, walked for a bit to recover, then started walking to the beat of my music. This is a fairly fun way to keep your pace up, and the variation in tempo from one song to the next gives your body a pretty good workout, since I've read that changing speeds makes your body work more.

Anyway. I felt really great afterward, especially because I also did some pushups and situps before collapsing altogether. But the real moral of this story is... Ow.

My legs are really, really sore today. They started out sore in the morning and have been getting worse as the day goes on, despite my trying to stretch them out; it seems like every time I sit down and stand back up again, they've gotten sorer.

It's alright, I'm not complaining. (Well, yes, I actually am--I suppose what I'm not doing is regretting the running.) But I just had to say something, and since I am watching Anastasia with Lana, I decided to let Bartok help me out.

The end.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson--8/10

My Goodreads review:

This book is really, really exciting. Brandon Sanderson is pretty much the master of the last-minute completely-unforeseeable twist. I want to start The Well of Ascension, but since I have a queue of about twenty books on the bookshelf by my bed, I can't decide if I want to just bump the whole series up to the front or wait and merge them into the list.

Anyway. I'll be honest, even while I was finding it really interesting, I wasn't completely hooked until fairly close to the end. In fact, for most of the book I was wondering why I wasn't feeling more invested, because of course the story is well done, and I really liked the characters. Maybe it was because of the unbelievably irritating way BS has of starting sentences with conjunctions--which doesn't bother me--and following them with a comma--which does. Literally two or three times in a paragraph, he'll say things like:

"Yet, he had to be stronger than he looked."
"Yet, no one stopped them as they passed through the room."
"But, there's more."
"But, not like you and me, right?"

I can't remember if he did this in Elantris, but I have to admit, I'm not looking forward to more of it in the next two books. I hope The Way of Kings isn't the same... It's just such an irritating thing to have to force myself to ignore every few sentences.

Yes, that's my only real complaint; the book is pretty fantastic otherwise. I love that Brandon Sanderson is such a competent fantasy writer. His style is totally accessible, and he's much easier to read than a lot of other fantasy writers. If you're thinking about exploring this genre, Sanderson is a great place to start.

Better Book Titles

Discovered a nerdy new website today called Better Book Titles. It's just what it sounds like--someone takes book covers and redoes them with a title that sums up the plot of the book a little more... interestingly... than the originals. Here are some of my favorites: 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The Lord of the Rings (all of them, I'm pretty sure) 
 Going Rogue
Um... I forget. Some Sookie Stackhouse book. 
Wuthering Heights

Saturday, August 13, 2011


You know what's interesting to me about capitalism? It's glorified as the economic epitome of freedom--you know, the free market, supply and demand, anyone can do anything they set their mind to, no interference of the government, etc. This economic system is as central to our idea of America as the Constitution or the Bill of Rights (which is ironic, considering how those things have been trampled in the war on terror, but that's a story for another day), and yet it's not a system I feel good about.

The thing is, I am all about the government getting the eff out of our lives, so I've never been able to understand why I feel so grouchy about capitalism--after all, it is the ultimate in economic freedom, right? So why would I want anything else? About five minutes ago I figured it out.

What capitalism protects is people's freedom to make money. This, to me, is not an especially noble cause. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, either--but the thing is, innate in the structure of the free market is the idea that if someone is succeeding, it's because others are failing. The reason I don't feel all warm and fuzzy about capitalism is that I care about the people who are failing. A totally capitalist society doesn't take care of anyone. It relies, as people like to say, on the goodness of people's hearts rather than the authority of the government.

Well, guess what, friends--the goodness of people's hearts is not a reliable thing. It's not a universal thing, either; it can't reach everyone who needs it. There are people who are screwed by our system, and only the government is in a place to help. It's either incredibly naive or kind of coldhearted to say that in place of government programs, we should rely on the generosity of those who can afford it. (It's also naive to think that if people fail it's because they didn't do enough--or, by extension, that if people succeed it's because of their hard work--just in case that was going to come up. Read this.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tess of the d'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy--8/10

Ah, Tess. I have such fond memories attached to this book. I'm going to be honest, normally literature from this time period takes me a little longer to read--not because I'm less interested, but just because the writing takes longer to wade through. But for some reason, Tess goes really quickly for me, and this time I read it in only a few days.

In case you don't know, Thomas Hardy writes sad stuff. You should probably be aware of that going in. But if you have never read Tess of the d'Urbervilles, I highly recommend that you do; it's a classic, and it's beautiful. It's about a young girl named Tess, whose father finds out at the beginning of the book that he is one of the last descendants of a rich and powerful old family. Since he's a lazy bum anyway, this gives him an excuse to do even less work, and he starts spending all his time finding ways to get that family name to work for him. Naturally this responsibility falls on Tess, the only real adult in her family, and things only get more complicated from there.

It's funny that I decided to reread this just now, because only a day or two after I started, I came across this picture in my scanning and uploading craze. It's from a dirtbiking/camping trip a few years ago, and I love it because how many times do you get a candid picture of yourself reading a book where you can tell what the book is? The answer is not many, and this one makes me happy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Poll

Which of these is my favorite? I am in love with them all; if I had $546 (sigh) I'd be buying them all immediately, but I don't, and I'd like to get at least one or two (assuming they hang around long enough for me to be able to, or that she does prints).

Love Transforms
Original textured Abstract Crimson Flowers
Abstract Dandelion landscape Painting  Swalla studio original mixed media
Original Abstract Painting  Rich Saturated Color  Highly textured
Original Painting Moonlit  Abstract Textured 22 x 28
Original Abstract textured Painting  Emerald Whimsy   Swalla Studio 20x20 Large
I See You
Original Abstract textured painting  Glowing Roses
Click on that last one and go see the full version of it; this is a closeup of just one section of the painting.

Why It's Okay for Grownups to Read YA

The best description I've seen yet of the things that make adults read (and love) Young Adult literature:

A good novel doesn't just transcend the boundaries of its target market — it knows nothing about target markets. Young readers have always reached above their reading level to get to meatier stories, and lately we've seen adult readers reaching into the world of teen fiction in search of the same thing — no-holds-barred storytelling. But the attraction isn't just related to the fact that young adult novels tend to have faster-paced narratives. Many of these crossover "teen" novels are satisfying to adult readers because they tap into ageless themes, namely the sense that each of us longs to know who we really are in a strange, confusing and sometimes otherworldly world. As it turns out, the search for self is a lifelong one.

It comes from this list of teen novels for any age. Anyone heard of any of them? Karma looks fascinating.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Random Story

Remember this book? I read it about a month ago?

Yesterday Mike and I went to church with our friends Lori and Christian. They asked us a few weeks ago if we'd want to go with them sometime, and on the week that we ended up going, this guy ---> was there! Guest speaking!

It was random.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I Should Be a History Teacher

I wish I were back in school, I really do. I love school. I never appreciated it while I was there. Last night Lori and I were talking about why we couldn't wait to get out when we were younger; I think it's because we hadn't yet learned the difference between doing homework and learning. (Incidentally, I've always said that I wouldn't go back to high school for a million dollars, but it occurs to me now that I might actually really like to do that, if only so I could learn all the things I was supposed to have learned back then, but didn't.) I love learning, and now that I have to do it on my own, I wish like crazy that I could take classes again. Someday I will, hopefully soon. Ish.

And along those lines, something I was reminded of today by this blog post by a girl I had a couple classes at BYU with: In most pre-college history classes, the curriculum includes almost no primary resources. This befuddles me. It's like if you took English classes and never read actual books, just learned grammar and sentence structure and little biographies about authors; can you imagine such a ridiculous situation?

So why do we learn history without reading the things that were being written at the time? I'm sure I remember reading little excerpts here and there from someone's diary, but shouldn't that be a significant part of our study rather than just a supplemental note? How do we study Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler without ever--once, in all of our years of school--being required to read Das Kapital or Mein Kampf? What about Malcolm X?

(Obviously I'm not referring to people who make this their course of study in college, because I'm sure those people do have to read a lot of these things. I'm only referring to the average person who doesn't get a degree in history.)

For that matter, why don't we read novels in our history classes? Even accounting for the fact that they're fiction, I've learned more from A Thousand Splendid Suns, Dreams of Joy, The Lacuna, and Madame Tussaud than I ever did about those topics in school (Afghanistan/the Taliban, Red China, Frida Kahlo/McCarthyism, and the French Revolution, respectively). How about Say You're One of Them? March? Empire? I can practically guarantee that students would learn--and enjoy--more from reading than they do from those endless fill-in-the-blank worksheets.

It just seems like an incredible waste. History is absolutely fascinating to me now, but in high school I couldn't have cared less. I still got good grades, because how hard is it to fill in a worksheet, but I am not kidding--I learned nothing. It's just such a shame.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thanks a Lot, Blogger.

So, wow. As you can see, I have updated my blog. When I switched the layouts, I was pleased to be asked by Blogger whether I wanted to take my widgets with me in the switch because I used to have to redo them all myself when I changed layouts; and it's funny, actually, because I ended up getting rid of most of them anyway. But. The one widget I really needed Blogger to bring for me, the list of blogs I read, did not come. Oh, there's a widget there labeled blogs--and it's empty.

So, I am now going to have to try and recover each of those manually. Since there were several on that list that hadn't been updated in months (family members who don't blog very much, mostly), I know I'm never going to be able to remember them all, which is kind of frustrating. Also, I still have work to do to make all my widgets fit and decide on font colors I like.

In other news, what do you think of my new layout?

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett--8/10

"Somewhere in South America at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxane Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening--until a band of terrorists breaks in, taking the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different continents become compatriots. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion... and cannot be stopped."

It's funny that the blurb from the back cover means so much more once you've already read the book than it does before. (It's also interesting that it's based on real events, which I did not know until I was writing this review.) 

Oh, this is a wonderful book. It gets away with things that in another story, written by someone else, I might have hated; in other circumstances, would have thought pretentious or just trying too hard. A few times I thought she was overdoing the opera thing, the intensity of the music and its power over the listeners. But each time I paused to think about it, and realized how apt it probably was. And I will tell you three things this book made me want to do--listen to opera, sing, and play the piano again. 

This is a story of every kind of love and fear and learning who you are, what you're capable of. It's a story of the human need for connection, and the emotions and desires that even people who are completely different share. It's also a story of music, which is really the same thing I just said, because music is possibly the single clearest, deepest way in which human emotions are both felt and communicated. 

That "moment of great beauty" is what all but a few pages of this book are about, and it isn't only the characters who get swept up in it. As you read, you, too, will forget about that danger that's been waiting outside. But it's still there. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer Thomas Hardy

I don't think I've ever done something like this before: I am specifically reading Tess of the d'Urbervilles to keep myself from whining about something every five minutes of my life. Lately I feel like I have something to complain about pretty much constantly, and I don't let myself because I can't even imagine how annoying my blog would become if I wrote every time I wanted to gripe. I don't know what it is about Thomas Hardy that feels indulgent, but it works--so every time I find myself wanting to complain, I pick up Tess. (You wouldn't believe how often this happens.) 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Why Summer is No Longer My Favorite Season

In case you are wondering, "right now" is 10:30 pm. 
If I thought we were really going to get those isolated thunderstorms next Wednesday, I would be a lot less grouchy about this (even considering the fact that they are over a week away); however, since last week's "tropical storm" passed us by completely, I am not getting my hopes up. It just needs to be fall already.