Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sixty Acres, a Bride, and a Happy Reader

I was about to give up on Christian fiction. This week, I finished a disappointing novel that I'd been meaning to read for months. So I was less than excited to start the book I'd gotten from Bethany House. They want honest reviews, but the good girl in me wants to speak well of things. And I wasn't sure I'd be able to put on my constructive criticism hat.

However, I had requested the book and my cousin Kristen has it too and my "To Be Read" shelf is overwhelmingly full and I really didn't want to look at the work I have to do today (pack--a lot, grade--a lot more, clean) so I picked up Sixty Acres and a Bride by Regina Jennings. It's rare I get to spend my Saturday morning reading in bed and I really didn't mean to read all of it, but now at 11 am, it's done.

I'd forgotten that this is a retelling of the story of Ruth from the Bible. Ruth is a Moabite who marries an Israelite family that's living in Moab. All the men in the family die for unexplained reasons. Naomi, the mother-in-law decides to return to her homeland, and Ruth decides to go with her even though she doesn't have to. Once there, Naomi works within the customs of the time to get Ruth in a place where they can get food. She catches the eye of Boaz, kin of some sort. There's some crazy stuff with Ruth uncovering Boaz's feet which may or may not be euphemism. And there's the passing of a sandel and they live happily ever after. There's more to it than that of course. Read the book of Ruth. It's a good one, but you might want to have notes of some sort handy cause it's light on context.

So in this retelling Rosa is a native Mexican whose married Mack while his family is living and mining in Mexico. Mack and Eli, the father-in-law, have died in a horrific mining accident caused by an earthquake, and Louise, Rosa's mother-in-law, has decided to return to the family homestead in Texas. But there are back taxes due on the homestead because of their long absence, and the gentile society of Lockhart isn't too pleased that a Mexicana is entering their peerage. While Louise's sister and her husband try to help them out the best they can, the only person who really has enough influence to help them out is Weston Granger, Mack's cousin and a rancher who lost his wife a few years back and keeps mostly to himself So where the Bible lacks backstory, Sixty Acres provides in full. Rosa shows the same strength of courage as her biblical predecessor, and we learn more about her first marriage and its impact on her budding, fizzling, rollercoaster relationship with Weston. While Boaz is an upstanding citizen of his day, Jennings adds complication to Weston who while doing the right thing also maintains an unhealthy distance from everyone who loves him. And then it's set in the West, with funny cowhands, a spunky, well-bred sister (Eliza, Weston's younger sister), well-meaning community and a dastardly villan to round out the cast.

But best of all, in the midst of the humor and drama, the story rings true. It has the overtly Christian moments of the genre without devolving into sentimentality. Rosa can't stay in Mexico because she's become a Christian, and her family has rejected her. Weston has been going through the motions of being a Christian gentleman while maintaining that polite distance he uses with everyone with God as well. The normal romance genre obstacles are delicately interwoven with these spiritual obstacles so that neither overshadows the other.

The highest praise I can give the novel is that I couldn't put it down. It didn't make me roll my eyes (okay a little bit with a case of mistaken identity but it's near the end you get through it). And I really cared for all the characters.

*I did receive my copy for free as part of the Bethany House Book Reviewer program. They require a review, but the content is my own opinion.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Birthday Reflections

Yesterday, I turned 30.

It was an introvert's dream. I dropped Mike off at UC, got Paneras for brunch, checked Facebook for birthday wishes, and went to the Art Museum. ALL BY MYSELF. Most people don't understand this. Don't you want someone to go with you? While I love going to places like the Art Museum with people, I really enjoyed this trip by myself. When I got an inspiration I wanted to share with someone, I texted them. When I wanted to spend a half hour on a bench reflecting on art and on my year, I did it. Trying to figure out how to balance the interests of one person vs. another can be complicated. And for a person with a low stimulation threshold, it's can be exhausting to pay attention to the social dynamic when I'm already being exhausted by the stimulation. So it was nice to be free.

However there were cool things to share.

The Cincinnati Art Museum is renovating their old art school wing. And by renovating, I mean gutting and putting in all new stuff. It kind of looks like the Colosseum in Rome. We so rarely get to appreciate the old things in America. Even old stuff is laughingly recent when compared to the remains in Europe and Asia. It's cool to see old building get a new life. Also this particular building has an awesome rounded edge. It's fascinating. I hope it doesn't look too new when they are done. :-)

Cincinnati Art Museum has like three really impressive special exhibits going on right now. There's a lovely little Monet exhibit with the Waterlilies and the Wisteria and everything you expect of Monet. But then there's a Picasso exhibit of his master prints--line drawings, sketches, and lithographs. It's the last that I was most intrigued by. I think we often think that art is something that we can't do. It takes months and years to paint with the accuracy of the Renaissance era. The massive scale of Monet's canvasses just can't compare to the 8x10 canvasses I bought at the two-for-one sale at Michaels. But Picasso's lithographs made sense. Still his style is so unique you couldn't duplicate it, but it's a technique that looks really fun to try out. The final one is a contemporary fabric artist Nick Cave who makes these giant sound suits. It's really crazy. Here's a sample (though much more than at the Art

Museum and not featuring the sweater animals I adored). Cave's work was inspiring in the fact that he took normal things and through quantity and repetition made beauty. I think in my own life, I don't push to make enough whatever to get to the beauty. Try it once, twice, and I'm done. Take some risks and then take them again. That's what I'm trying to apply this year.

After the Art Museum, I walked down to the reflective pond that overlooks the Ohio River. I've seen the pond drained and it has these cool swirly designs in the bottom. Right now the pond still has water, and it's mildly iced over (you can skate on it when it freezes over enough--they have a flag). So you have this thin ice layer which you can see through to the moss and scum and other colors in the pond and it's just gorgeous. Like Monet's Waterlilies all muddled with much more brown, red and pink. Off to the side is a little stair case that has these old stone reliefs on either side. A child had colored the relief with chalk. It was so appropriate to contribute this little bit of extra beauty to the area.

Finally, I walked into the pavillon that overlooks the pond. Normally in the nicer weather you can catch a wedding party taking pictures there or even conduction the actual ceremony. Along the stone wall that rims the pavillon, there are tons of engravings--initials, X was here, HS loves BT. There was just so much presence there. The idea of getting married in a place where so many people had literally left their mark is captivating. It's not just pretty (though it's that too).

Then I walked back to my car, drove home and read The Fault in Our Stars (my only bad decision--don't read a book about kids with cancer on your birthday no mater how much you like the author). Then Mike came home and we had Indian and watched a movie.

All in all a great start to my 4th decade. I'm looking forward to what my 30s hold.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ten Years Ago

I know! I know! I just wrote about how I wouldn't write to my teenaged self. And really there's not a lot I'd change. BUT I have been thinking about my 30th birthday and the decade that's past since I left my teens.

Ten years ago, I was an angsty child. I still have angst. But ten years ago, I had a t-shirt that said "I have issues" and I wore it with pride. I had little sense of where life would take. (And had I known it would go to Cincinnati, I would have laughed.)

Ten years ago, I was starting Hebrew III. I loved Hebrew. I loved hanging out with my study buddy, Leah. I started to love (being around) Speech and Debate. I was hanging out in the Communication prof's office. I was reading interesting books. I was fully embracing feminism (which is not a dirty word fyi). I learned about grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. Yum...

Ten years ago, right about this time, I was talking to my Hebrew prof about taking Hebrew farther. He recommended that I apply to this fellowship program in Biocultural Anthropology sponsored by Notre Dame and the National Science Foundation. (Technically it was to get to Israel, but that was becoming politically unstable due to the eventual declaration of war on Iraq.) It would expose me to related fields of study alongside Israel.

But I was angsty and doubtful and unsure. I was pretty sure I wasn't good enough. But in sharing these insecurities with the Communication prof, she told me to stop doubting. The Hebrew prof thought I was good enough, the least I could do was apply.

And so I did.

And I got in.

And I went to Notre Dame that summer. I had the most eye-opening summer of my life. Scholarship as a vocation (heck an avocation) became the goal. It was hard. I live with some of the criticism ringing in my ears. (I'm still an angsty adult sometimes.) But it was good.

I learned about interdisciplinary studies. I learned about Byzantists (Note to my adult self: relearn Greek and become a Byzantist, you'd love it.) I learned about college life outside Concordia. I learned about JEPD. I saw machines that split DNA. I sifted through dirt on a dig.

And it all started only cold winter afternoon, ten years ago.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Past Script

This fortnight's topic for Via Scribendi is "A Letter to my Teenaged Self"--which is great, truly. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what the women I write with have to say if they could "turn back time." Many of them work with teens and pre-teens every day, and, I'm sure, have often reflected on what they would have done differently and what they'd like to tell today's teens from the long-term perspective.

I, however, have little to say to teenage me. She was academic, a late bloomer, and sometimes painfully annoying, but no more so than most teenagers. There was typical teenage angst, most centering around a cross-state move right before my senior year. More than anything, I wish I had handled that move with more maturity and grace, but you can't develop maturity and grace without painful moments like that year provided.

I'd tell myself to be more outgoing, but I'd rather appreciate the introvert that dug deeply into the topics which interested her--personality theory, neurology, biology. I remember and appreciate the friends I had through high school, and I don't especially miss the friendship opportunities I passed over.

I'd tell myself to take French I my freshman year, but it's just so I could discover my love of learning languages a year earlier. My college didn't offer French, and I'm awfully glad I went there so I didn't miss out on much. Hebrew, Greek, Akkadian, and Ugaritic didn't suffer from a lack of French grammar and vocabulary. (Actually, fluency might be helpful for the last two because the earliest grammars are written in French, but I'm still pretty sure one more year of high school French wouldn't have helped.)

I might tell myself to try out for cheerleading freshman year. I'm still not sure I would have been athletic enough to do all four years, but I would have had a better shot. And it sounds much cooler to have cheered in high school than to have cheered in grade school. But I wouldn't have played Field Hockey and that sounds pretty cool too. (I was horrible, but...)

I'm glad I didn't date. I have regrets from my first two boyfriends (which did occur in my teenage years--the college part of it), but I didn't screw myself up too badly, and I deeply adore my husband--a relationship product of my 20s. I wish I had been a little bit less concerned about dating, more interested in figuring out teenage boys as people. But that too is a maturity thing that I just can't ask my teenaged self to achieve.

I'd tell myself to whine less. But then my teenaged self would say "Pot, meet kettle!" And I'd say, "Oh, snap!"

The overall impression I get from my teenage years is anticipation--the gathering of experiences and growing up that would find fruition in college. I choose to remember my high school years as those of a late bloomer. The work that was being done under the surface--foundations for lifelong friendships, learning about my parents as people, life skills that I never seem to acquire enough of--all happened quietly with little intervention on my part whether of high school age or retrospective.

And while I can't claim that high school was the best time of my life, I can tell my (future) children that the teenage years happen and whether they are great or not, they're worthwhile.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Year of the Books

I will remember 2011 as the year of the books. First and foremost because I rang out the old year by finishing my 200th book of the year (Lutheranism 101 for those keeping track). But there are other reasons too. I started reading ebooks seriously. I reclaimed my serious love of adolescent literature. I kicked butt at Summer Reading. And I set a reading plan and (almost) finished it.

Last January, my library science class of choice was "Library Materials and Literature for Young Adults." Part of the course structure was to read and discussion 25 YA books. That's a lot in general, but then I'd learn about new books that didn't fit into my reading plan for class and squeeze those books in. Or I'd get tired of YA and need to read something else. By the end of the class in May, I had read 20 more books than I had at that time in 2010. I discovered some great books: The Book Thief, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, Feed to name a few.

Then there was my reading plan. It was my way of rebelling against being told what to read for 4 months. (Even though I liked many of the YA books, but I'm a fantasy/historical/sci-fi/dystopian/fairy-tale-retelling girl. Keep those realistic and non-fiction books to yourself.) I didn't really know what I was getting into when I decided to read everything Madeleine L'Engle ever published, but I knew I'd need James Bond and Harry Potter to balance it out--which turned out to be a good call. That it landed at the same time as the Summer Reading program was a bonus. I realized I didn't agree with everything L'Engle said, but that was okay. And I appreciated reading the series that produced so many tropes of secret agent fiction and enjoyed (rather than seethe at) the rampant chauvinism, racism, and colonialism. I really enjoyed Moonraker and cried at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (the movie is nothing like the book). It was a great summer that ended with a Nook!

After such a dedicated burst of reading (in the midst of Library Science classes and working full-time), I was burned out. I caught up on magazines, read fluff, and tried not to be obsessed with reaching 200 books. But when you've reached your previous year total in July, it's hard not to think that just a little bit more could push you over. I returned to my Top 100 lists for some inspiration (BBC Reads, Times, Great Reads, and YA Books for the Feminist Reader).

And so I squeezed reading into every nook and cranny of my time. I rarely left the house without the book I was currently reading. Read before bed, during my dinner break at work, in the car when I was early to places. It was a year immersed in the written word. And now I'm going to be happy and done.

One of my library blogs noted the trend of the reading recap and proudly proclaimed she did not keep track of her books because she didn't want the pressure of competition. I get that. My type-A personality does pay attention to the numbers. But I like the record too much to stop making my lists. I'd like to do something radical like commit to only reading 12 books this year, but that wouldn't be fun. And reading should be fun. (Plus I already have 11 books on my library holds list--what a bummer if I couldn't read them.) However, I'd like to be content with not hitting a number. With reading as I can and what I enjoy. The Book of Concord is on my list this year. A couple YA series are in the works. My "To Be Read" shelf is near capacity. So those are my half-goals. Anything else is bonus.

This post is part of a writing adventure. See it at Via Scribendi.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Reading Report: November 2011

Life Would be Perfect if I Lived in that House by Meghan Daum
Once upon a time, I took a creative writing class. I don't know if I was good. I know that I've always wanted to write, but I procrastinate and I don't think like a fiction writer. Not bad. Not impossible. Just not right now. I'm at peace with my blog where I spew and some people read. One day, all this typing might shape me into a paid writer, but I'm not honing my craft. ANYWAY, in that class we read My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum who was dating the ex-husband of the professor. They were friends. I fell in love. I could write like that. The prof is now on Facebook; she linked to Meghan's LA Times column; I follow and read occasionally; and I found out her book was coming out. And I had to read it. Result: it's a personal look at Meghan's own experience with the Real Estate bubble, growing, growing, then bursting. She's self-depricating, humorous and understandable. I wouldn't make the choices she did (cause I'm frugal doncha know). But I feel her desire.

The Changing Academic Library
CLASS BOOK. Not my fav, but I did read all of it even though the class didn't require it. (It left off half a chapter!?!) I'm totally an academic librarian. 

Heat Rises by "Richard Castle"
I love Castle. I love Nathan Fillion. And while neither Castle nor Nathan Fillion wrote this book, I still love the meta-ness of reading a book by a fictional author. AND the ghostwriter keeps putting in Firefly easter eggs. Expect little, love much.*

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
I didn't like this book to start. The pictures were creepy and the story was scary. I would read it before bed and then read something else before I actually needed to sleep. But then it got all fantasy and awesome and the pictures made sense and it was really cool. So I say read it, keep reading it, and if you don't root for Jacob at the end, you can hate me. But you should also know John Green wrote the blurb. Squee! I didn't til I had finished the book and realized I should have never doubted.

Then I was sad and read Romance novels.** (They helped. I like happy endings. I really like happy endings that I know are going to be happy. I also like books that I can count in hours not days.)

Contesting the Sacred
And in the middle, I finished one of my pilgrimage/liminality books.*** It was actually pretty cool. One of the chapters was about the people who live and work in pilgrimage sites. They're either really devout or really cynical.

Estrella's Quinceanera
I decided to start working through my Top ____ Books. I recently added the Top 100 YA Books for Feminist Readers, and this was on it. I wish I knew about this book last Spring when I was putting together my Latino book talk. It's such a great look at how we try to escape our cultural identity, but we don't have to deny it to become our real selves. I think that's going to be my favorite Top ____ Books list.

The Handmaid's Tale
This was on the BBC Reads list and seemed familiar. Published in 1986, it's a dystopic novel about a totalitarian society where feminine roles are divided into classes of women: Marthas--the housekeepers, Wives--the hostesses, and Handmaids--the child-bearers. The Handmaids take the name of the man to whom they are assigned; for example, the narrator is Offred. It's a really interesting critique of the backlash against the feminist movement of the 1970s. As someone who gladly claims an identity as a feminist even as I choose to take on some very traditional gender roles, I also found the book unsettling. I'm glad I read it; I'm glad it's over.

Wicked
Mike and I listened to this novel in preparation for seeing the musical after Thanksgiving. I have read the book, but it was years ago and I didn't really like it. Given developed appreciation for books that I don't necessarily like**** (see above), I thought it was worth a new look. And I did like it better. I feel for Elphaba even though she's very hard to like. The love story between her and Fiyero was beautiful. When Mike was driving, I read along with the audiobook on my ipad to help me pay attention and stay awake. (I listen to mildly interesting talk to help me fall asleep--and this fits that category.) I think I'll actually check out the other 3 books in this series.

Book vs. Musical--I like the music of the musical, but I think it changes the point of the book. The musical really seeks to retell The Wizard of Oz so that all Dorothy's characters become Elphaba's characters; the book on the other hand points out that there's a different perspective going on. It doesn't have to all make sense and line up neatly, but recognize your point of view is not the only valid one. I like stories that remind me it's not about me. Or better, I need to hear stories like that. :-)

At Large and at Small by Anne Fadiman
Once upon a time, this magical little book called Ex Libris came into my life. I don't remember how or why, but I read it and it was the first time I almost followed through with writing an author. (I have distinct memories of Mike and I trying to find her email address via this new thing called "Google".) I fan-girled hard. While I was doing some research for a class I'm developing, I found out Anne Fadiman wrote a non-fiction book in my field. And that was the end of my research; it went on my syllabus. (I'm still trying to decide--it's huge and the class is only 8 weeks long.) And I once again started googling Anne Fadiman... and discovered she had another book of essays. And this was it. While it wasn't the rush of undying devotion I had with Ex Libris (which was all about booklovers), I still really enjoyed her writing style and discovering the genre of the familiar essay. It's personal yet scholarly and nerdy. I could totally get behind a genre like that. So I definitely recommend Ex Libris and if you fall hard like I did, read At Large and at Small to continue to get your fix. She also edited a book Rereading: Seventeen Authors Revisit the Books they Love. That's going on my list, even though I don't know any of the authors.

And we made it to the end of November. At this writing, I'm slogging through The Adventures of Augie March because I love the name Augie. However, I'm thinking I'll give it to page 100 and then decide if I want to put it down. It's a Top ____ Book (Times Top 111 Books of the English Language), but why read it if I don't like it.

Also for those who care, I'm within 10 books of breaking 200 books read this year. W00T!

*I was going through old drafts and I found this post where I thought I had become a high-brow reader. HA! Double HA! HA! I'm glad I never posted that pretentious thing.

**Told ya.

***Yay! I can read hard things.

****It is worth noting that I did probably start that old post in the sense that I could enjoy reading the non-fairy-tale-ending novels considered classics even though they didn't make me happy.

Monday, December 5, 2011

To tree or not to tree

I may not have a Christmas tree.
Christmas Tree Clipart

The Christmas tree was a big part of my family Christmas celebrations. Early in my parent's marriage, they had saved the trunk from one of their trees and drilled holes in it to make a giant Advent log to light a candle every day from the first day of Advent until Christmas. We ALWAYS cut our own tree, scouring the tree farm for the perfect tree with the straightest trunk, no bare spots, a good height, the right needles. We used white lights, not colored ones--much to my dismay as a child, fortunately Grandma decorated with colored lights. We had handmade ornaments, beautiful ornaments my mom received from her students, and others that we collected over the years, until we had so many that my brother and I used mini-trees for our ornaments.

But then one day-after-Christmas, Mom bought a fake tree just in case. Twenty years of Christmas tree success was bound to run out. And the next year it did. We cut a tree, but somehow missed how crooked its trunk was. It wouldn't stand up straight for all our efforts and we pulled out the fake tree. We might have tried a live tree again, but my brother and I were away at college and beyond, Mom was doing grad school, and things were just easier with a tree that has three pieces and just needs fluffing.

Fast forward to Christmas in my own apartment, creating new traditions with my husband. We're coming upon our fifth Christmas together. The first year, I actually borrowed a tree from my best friend, because I wanted one so badly. The second year, I was taking three classes and was so stressed out I couldn't handle a tree. The third year we put up our own tree decked in blue and silver, and I dreamed up the idea of creating Chrismons for the next year. The fourth year, the Chrismons fell through a bit and we ended up with a red and gold tree which was lovely. And now...

Should I let the practicalities drown out the sentiment? I work full-time, I'm finishing up classes, we won't be around for the two weeks around Christmas. Do I let the tree function as a form of procrastination? You know my list isn't long enough. What does a tree mean in the scope of my Advent preparations? This year, I'm much more excited about the devotion practice I've been cultivating (guilt-free!) over the past year.

I'm conflicted and giving too much thought to my musings. (Ah! Another form of procrastination!) Last night I pulled down my early Christmas box and decorated in about 5 minutes; okay 10 because I kept losing a nail. Maybe over the weekend, I'll find a similar gap of time and just go for it. Christmas will come regardless. We'll celebrate the birth of Jesus, anticipate his return regardless.

This post is part of the blogging adventure Via Scribendi. Check out the blog to read more Christmas Memories.