Aren't these bookstores gorgeous?? I love the first one - it reminds me of the Vienna Staatsoper where I attended dozens of ballets and operas on my study abroad. And someday I will go to Atlantis Books in Greece. It's definitely on my bucket list now.
Poplar Kid's Republic in Beijing makes me want to be a kid again, just so I can crawl into some of those hidey holes.
After recent reports regarding the Red Cross and how they (mis)spent the money donated after the huge earthquake in Haiti, it seems all the more important to research very carefully before donating to any charitable organization. This website, GiveWell.org, does in-depth research on charities, not only how much money goes to what end, but how effectively it's used in reaching the organizations' stated goals, and how much good is accomplished per dollar spent, and is impressive in its thoroughness and transparency. They even have a whole section of their website devoted to their own mistakes and shortcomings: what they did wrong, how it happened, and what steps they've taken to make sure it doesn't happen again.
This will be my first stop from now on when evaluating a new charity.
This week has brought some rather startling and tragic news. Between the Rachel Dolezal story, and the shooting and murder of nine black men and women at a bible study at Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina - not to mention dozens of other recent stories - it's clear that race is still a pertinent issue in our society.
And then today is Juneteenth, a holiday I'm ashamed to say I hadn't even heard of until this year.
As a lily-white person of primarily northern European heritage, I feel for the most part it's my job to listen and learn, to step aside and let the voices of people of color be heard, to amplify them when I can, to acknowledge whatever aspects of racism have seeped into my subconscious and work to eradicate them.
I was going to create a list of links to helpful and thought-provoking articles, but instead I'm just going to encourage you each to do your research. Read something - lots of somethings - written by people of color since there is a wide spectrum of responses. Allow yourself to be outraged and moved to action. Don't let yourself take the easy cop-out of "I'm not racist!" Take a good hard look at yourself and how you can do better. If you are a praying person, pray to know how best to help and support those who are hurting right now. We are to "mourn with those that mourn" and to "comfort those who stand in need of comfort" (Mosiah 18:9). Let's do that.
Body Image Breakthrough is a short but powerful exploration of the concept and real-life implications of good and bad body image, communicated in the language of LDS Church doctrine and faith.
Wightman uses scriptural stories from Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego's refusal to bow down to Nebuchadnezzer's statue to the Fall of Adam and Eve to illustrate how our modern culture sets us all up, though women and girls in particular, to worship the idol of outward appearance and to feel destructive shame when we don't measure up. The book is full of quotes from General Authorities and other Church leaders, Christian speakers and authors, and scientific experts that point out the emptiness of that almost ubiquitous idolatry.
Wightman ties in the money-making motivations that drive the fad diets, fashion magazines, beauty products, weight loss companies, supplements, and specialty foods. She points out the unrealistic nature of the photoshopped images presented to us everyday and the vast efforts made to get us to feel we need to look that way as well. At best, all this emphasis on outer appearances is a huge distraction; at worst, it can lead to life-threatening medical and emotional conditions.
Stripping away all the noise, Wightman boils it down to the most essential truths.
Our ultimate goal is to stop heeding all the voices shouting at us to eat this way or that way, and to turn to the Lord for the truth we need most...One of the most important things I learned is that there's a sacred middle ground that exists between the extremes of body obsession and body neglect. It's a place of peace, a place of balance, and a place of incredible freedom...The only way I can be free is to embrace the real me.
Unlike many well-intentioned books or articles that address this topic, there is not a single word in this book about the hemline or neckline version of "modesty." Not a single one! Instead, modesty is demonstrated to be a characteristic that comes from the heart and follows naturally from a healthy sense of self-worth and value. Rather than using our body "as currency to win people over" by dressing a certain way - seeking approval or acceptance from others either by deliberately flaunting our bodies or by strictly following "modesty" guidelines - we should be glorying in the natural beauty and diversity of our bodies and finding our value in our intrinsic worth.
...take a look at the earth around you. You'll find not a cookie-cutter plan but an incredible amount of diversity in God's creations. Rather than boasting one look, one climate, or one landscape, each part of the world possesses its own unique and individual beauty...the earth stands as a witness that our Redeemer treasures beauty in many different shapes and forms.
I appreciated her chapter on fasting, a gospel principle I still struggle with. At first I was concerned. Encouraging someone who is already obsessed with their weight or body image or, heaven forbid, an eating disorder, to fast is not a good idea! But Wightman's take is much more all-encompassing than the standard twenty-four hour fast from food on the first Sunday of the month. It's "separating ourselves from the things of the world. It's about doing all we can to stifle the voices in the great and spacious building." It includes abstaining from anything that is causing us to sin or distracting us from our ultimate goals. And I love that she emphasizes how individual this type of fasting is. It may mean fasting from media that promotes a false ideal of beauty, cutting up credit cards for certain stores, averting your eyes while going through the checkstand, or even avoiding specific foods that have become an obsession for you.
This isn't a book to just read. It's a work-in-progress-you've-got-to-put-effort-in kind of book, too. Each chapter ends with a section of questions for personal introspection and investigation, pointing the reader back to the scriptures and to prayerfully consider personal applications, individual ways to peel back a layer of false beliefs about oneself and one's worth, and always pointing back to Christ.
As [Christ] teaches us--through prayer and pondering and time spent with Him--to see ourselves the way He sees us, we'll soon view our bodies very differently, not because our appearance has been altered or our trials have disappeared but because our inward thoughts and feelings have dramatically changed.
Ultimately, what Jesus Christ is offering us is rest--rest from the pressure to conform to the image, rest from our insecurities and fears, and rest from the lies that have run rampant in our heads. To be at rest is to be free of anxiety, to be at peace both body and spirit...It's a rest obtained not by reaching our goal weight or by fitting ourselves to the image but by finally embracing who we are as women of Christ.
Well, this is a bit embarrassing. A friend lent me these two books more than a year ago (Thanks, Mary!), I read them and set them aside to write the reviews when I had some free time, and then they kept getting buried by other books or stacks of papers or other paraphernalia on my dresser. So here it is, more than 12 months after the fact, and they're going to have to share a review after I briefly skimmed them to remind myself of basic plot points.
I actually was a fan of John Green before I read any of his books, before I even realized he was THE John Green, from watching some of his Crash Course youtube videos on world history and his social and political commentary as one of the two vlogbrothers. His fast-paced patter and ability to connect dots and articulate concepts in a common-sense kind of way without making the listener feel stupid or angry is phenomenal and sets him apart from many of the other commentators out there.
His fiction is a completely different format, of course, though still focused on making connections and highlighting our shared humanity.
Instead of introducing a vast array of characters in these two novels, Green settles into an in-depth study of just a few, the interactions between them, and what they can teach us about ourselves and about life and humanness in general.
In An Abundance of Katherines, we meet Colin Singleton, a child prodigy who always happens to fall in love with girls named - you guessed it - Katherine. After the first few Katherines, it became more of a quest than a coincidence and now he's on a mission to "prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability" can predict the course of any relationship, all of which, he states, inevitably end "in breakup, divorce or death." Colin and his friend Hassan, who is avoiding the thought of college like the plague, take off on a road trip to help Colin recover from the latest Katherine breakup and meet a girl named Lindsey while passing through Tennessee. Lindsey is in a relationship with a boy named - surprise! - Colin, called TOC for "The Other Colin" for clarity's sake. In the end, Lindsey dumps TOC's cheating butt, Hassan decides to register for some college classes, and Colin has his first non-Katherine girlfriend ever after realizing that his Theorem can't predict the future; it can only explain the past.
Plenty of witty pop culture references and dialogue reminiscent of Green's youtube patter make An Abundance of Katherines an entertaining read. Of course, there's lots of teen angst and a bit of navel-gazing, too, but it's familiar angst and navel-gazing. Colin says, "I just want to do something that matters. Or be something that matters. I just want to matter." Lindsey's concern is that "I'm never myself...I'm nothing. The thing about chameleoning your way through life is that it gets to where nothing is real." Both of those are very real holes I felt as a teenager and young adult - and some days still do!
Paper Towns takes a different approach. Late one night towards the end of his senior year, someone sneaks in Quentin's bedroom window. It's his childhood friend and current classmate, Margo, wearing black face paint and a black hoodie. She enlists his help in wreaking revenge on eleven people who have wronged her - a boyfriend who cheated, the friend he cheated with, etc. - before she runs away. Quentin, determined to track her down, finds clues in a Woody Guthrie poster, a book of Walt Whitman poems, and old maps. He interprets these disparate hints as a trail of bread crumbs deliberately left by Margo who wants him to find her.
Long story short, when he finally tracks her down, she's not pleased. She didn't leave clues intentionally, and she didn't want to be found and dragged back into what she called her "paper life," "so trivial, so embarrassing...paper kids having their paper fun...", fake and empty. Quentin has to face up to his real motivations for looking for Margo.
The message of Paper Towns seems to be that other people are not just projections of us. They are they protagonists in their own stories, not supporting characters in ours, and are as complex and complicated as we are, rather than the one-dimensional caricatures we sometimes assume them to be as they fill a role in our story. "It is easy to forget how full the world is of people, full to bursting, and each of them imaginable and consistently misimagined," Quentin muses.
Both interesting and entertaining reads, I'm intrigued enough to pick up his other novels next.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (whose books I've reviewed here and here) delivered some beautiful words of wisdom a couple of weeks ago at the 2015 commencement for Wellesley College.
A few highlights for me:
"Your standardized ideologies will not always fit your life, because life is messy."
"Feminism should be an inclusive party. Feminism should be a party full of different feminisms. So, Class of 2015, please go out there and make feminism a big, raucous, inclusive party."
"All over the world, girls are raised to be make themselves likeable, to twist themselves into shapes that suit other people. Please do not twist yourself into shapes to please. Don’t do it. If someone likes that version of you, that version of you that is false and holds back, then they actually just like that twisted shape, and not you. And the world is such a gloriously multifaceted, diverse place that there are people in the world who will like you, the real you, as you are."
"I don’t speak to provoke. I speak because I think our time on earth is short and each moment that we are not our truest selves, each moment we pretend to be what we are not, each moment we say what we do not mean because we imagine that is what somebody wants us to say, then we are wasting our time on earth."
Screen-time is a constant battle in our household. From the time the kids wake up in the morning until they drift off to sleep, it seems they are constantly either in front of a glowing screen or asking when they can be in front of a glowing screen.
And it drives me nuts.
It became such a problem that for now, screen time is only allowed on weekends, after chores are all done, and limited even then, but summertime introduces new problems. I've been pondering how to approach screen-time once school gets out and these two posts have given me some food for thought:
I want to help my boys develop some self-management skills with regard to screen-time, since I won't always be there to tell them to get off. And I want them to add some variety into their daily summer activities. I'm considering requiring completed chores, an hour outside, a half-hour reading, and piano practice before permitting screen-time, but I really like the idea of setting aside "creative time" and a few minutes for school-like stuff, too.
What do you do to manage screen-time madness?
This video is a brilliant and witty way to explain the concept of consent. When public figures and elected officials are unclear on what consent looks like, or what qualifies as rape, it helps to break it down simply and with humor. Major kudos to the artists at Blue Seat Studios and RockstarDinosaurPiratePrincess!
Or at least I'll read the book that Berthoud and Elderkin, a couple of bibliotherapists, wrote, The Novel Cure. From the article linked above:
One of the ailments listed in “The Novel Cure” is “overwhelmed by the number of books in the world,” and it’s one I suffer from frequently. Elderkin says this is one of the most common woes of modern readers, and that it remains a major motivation for her and Berthoud’s work as bibliotherapists. “We feel that though more books are being published than ever before, people are in fact selecting from a smaller and smaller pool. Look at the reading lists of most book clubs, and you’ll see all the same books, the ones that have been shouted about in the press. If you actually calculate how many books you read in a year—and how many that means you’re likely to read before you die—you’ll start to realize that you need to be highly selective in order to make the most of your reading time.” And the best way to do that? See a bibliotherapist, as soon as you can, and take them up on their invitation, to borrow some lines from Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus”: “Come, and take choice of all my library/And so beguile thy sorrow…”
A few weeks ago I attended a women's retreat in Seattle. This meant that I would spend at least twelve hours in the car - six hours driving each way - not including any incidental driving over the weekend. So I decided to try to listen to an audiobook from beginning to end for the first time in, well, ever. The Storyteller was that book.
I generally don't care for audiobooks. Verbally told stories don't seem to stick in my head as well as reading printed words on a page does and it's not often that I find myself doing something that keeps my hands busy but leaves enough space in my brain for listening to and comprehending a complex story. But I didn't mind this one so much. I actually think The Storyteller worked well as an audiobook. The reader did a good job differentiating between characters and her German accent was pretty decent. It enhanced the story rather than being distracting, which was my initial fear.
Here's the blurb from the book's website:
Sage Singer is a baker. She works through the night, preparing the day’s breads and pastries, trying to escape a reality of loneliness, bad memories, and the shadow of her mother’s death. When Josef Weber, an elderly man in Sage’s grief support group, begins stopping by the bakery, they strike up an unlikely friendship. Despite their differences, they see in each other the hidden scars that others can’t, and they become companions.
Everything changes on the day that Josef confesses a long-buried and shameful secret—one that nobody else in town would ever suspect—and asks Sage for an extraordinary favor. If she says yes, she faces not only moral repercussions, but potentially legal ones as well. With her own identity suddenly challenged, and the integrity of the closest friend she’s ever had clouded, Sage begins to question the assumptions and expectations she’s made about her life and her family. When does a moral choice become a moral imperative? And where does one draw the line between punishment and justice, forgiveness and mercy?
Josef's deep, dark secret is that he was a Nazi - a guard at Auschwitz, to be precise - and he wants Sage to kill him as he believes he deserves. The story alternates between different perspectives: Sage, Josef, and Sage's grandmother, Minka, who was a prisoner at Auschwitz. So much has been written about World War II and the Holocaust, it can be difficult to find new ground to tread, but Picoult breathed life into these horrific, inhuman situations, finding the slivers of joy, humor, and humanity that remained amidst the tragedy and horror.
Picoult creates interesting characters with rich backstories and believable foibles and traits. I'm not sure I can say that I "liked" Sage - I object strenuously to infidelity, particularly when there's a marriage involved - but I could sympathize with her pain at the loss of her mother, her unhealthy coping techniques, and her loneliness. It was interesting to see how she changed over the course of the book - the strength she drew from the process of learning about Josef's past, turning him in to the authorities (personified by Leo Stein, a lawyer with the Department of Justice, who also develops a romantic relationship with Sage by the end), and settling on her final decision. Even the supporting cast of characters is intriguing. One of my favorites is her boss at the bakery and best friend, Mary D'Angelis, a former nun who found her true calling baking and painting. Minka's relatives from decades ago are three-dimensional and relatable, living as family and friends and reacting to the unbelievable events of the Holocaust.
But with all that, I can't help but feel just a bit emotionally manipulated whenever I read a Jodi Picoult novel. She sets the plot up to move in a fairly predictable direction and then there's always some kind of "gotcha!" twist toward the end designed to throw everything on its head (which actually gets pretty predictable itself after you've read a few of her books - I saw the twist in The Storyteller coming by halfway through).
It's not that I have anything against twist endings, or authors who want to surprise readers into thinking differently about a charged topic, or dealing with heavy, emotional issues, but it seems a bit exploitative to use the suffering and death of millions of people as a tool to get your point across, you know?
So read for the fascinating and well-drawn characters, read for the insight into the incredible depths of inhumanity humans are capable of, read if you're drawn to learn more about the Holocaust. Just brace yourself for the emotional whiplash.
I mentioned this to a friend-of-long-standing the other day (we've known each other for about seven years) and she was shocked - shocked! - that I wasn't an extrovert. "Really?!? I never would have guessed!"
In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain discusses some of the misconceptions about introversion - for example, that introverts are shy - as well as why some introverts are mistaken for extroverts. For one thing, introverts are the minority. About one-third of people are introverts and it's easy for the majority to simply assume that others are like them. Secondly, our culture favors extroverts. "Americans are some of the most extroverted people on earth." Extroversion - being outgoing - is seen as both a personal virtue and as a business advantage, so if you aren't naturally extroverted, developing some extroverted traits is pretty much required for survival. "Nowadays we tend to think that becoming more extroverted not only makes us more successful, but also makes us better people." And that's why many of us introverts fake it, at least some of the time.
But, Cain points out, this view is counterproductive and prevents introverts' skill sets and gifts, such as sensitivity, keen observation, intense focus and concentration, introspection, and depth of contemplation, from being used to their best advantage. It "fail[s] to distinguish between good presentation skills and true leadership ability." It neglects the fact that "there are many different kinds of power in this world...The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you've been granted."
Cain cautions against New Groupthink, brainstorming, and open plan offices, which put introverts at a disadvantage. She urges introverts to self-monitor, identify our own core personal projects, and find restorative niches in our everyday lives. Introverts and extroverts have vastly different "sweet spots" or "preferences for certain levels of stimulation." An extrovert will often get bored at an introvert's optimal stimulation level, while an introvert will be overwhelmed and emotionally drained trying to sustain an extrovert's level. Recognizing your personal "sweet spot" can "increase your satisfaction in every arena of your life" she avers.
I was particularly interested in the intersection she describes between introverts and "highly sensitive" people. "It's as if they have thinner boundaries separating them from other people's emotions and from the tragedies and cruelties of the world. They tend to have unusually strong consciences. They avoid violent movies and TV shows; they're acutely aware of the consequences of a lapse in their own behavior." While not every introvert is highly sensitive and some extroverts are, I found the descriptions went hand-in-hand for me.
It's nice to have what are sometimes seen as weaknesses recognized as strengths, and to read a book that provides the scientific evidence that demonstrates the benefits of the way your brain works. Definitely recommended reading for everyone who is an introvert, thinks they might be an introvert, knows an introvert, or just wants to better understand how a third (or more) of the population thinks.
Olivine Love, the oldest daughter of the Reverend Everlasting Love, is tired of traveling. Being the child of an itinerant preacher means three days tops in a town before packing up and heading off to the next stop, and though she loves her dad, Ollie is ready to settle down somewhere with flush toilets, electricity, and ice.
They pull into Binder, Arkansas, one hot, sticky morning in the summer of 1957, and Ollie good-naturedly sets off to deliver flyers inviting the townspeople to the service that night. She meets some kind people, some mean ones, and then there's Jimmy Koppel. Scrawny, dirty, and about her age, Jimmy hesitates when Ollie encourages him to come to the revival. She learns from the taunting of other kids that his father is dead and his mother is in jail for the murder, but she's moved by "the sorrow buried in that poor boy's eyes--sorrow too deep for someone so young."
Determined to help Jimmy, who is convinced of his mom's innocence, Ollie asks her dad if they can stay in Binder a little longer than their usual three days, just this once. The whole family, including Ollie's four younger sisters, gets involved in seeing that justice is done.
Hilmo has created a family full of interesting characters in the Loves. They all have different strengths and dreams, but they pull together to support each other. Ollie's descriptors are delightful and spot-on. One person gives her "the pure and undefiled willies." Another sells "full-up bottled hatred"at her story. Ollie loved another "like a bee loves a fat flower." Her daddy "loves people and loves the Lord and just wants to get the two together."
Hilmo's done an incredible job with the setting, too. The small, sleepy, rundown southern town of Binder becomes almost another character itself. While some of the minor characters are pretty one-dimensional, others have some surprising depth to them, like the Sheriff who isn't interested in an actual investigation of Henry's death - he's just happy to have a confession regardless of whether it's true or not - but who shows up with his son to clean some gruesome vandalism at the church.
With a Name Like Love is a short, sweet story of a young girl finding her way in a life that doesn't suit her much, but making the best of it and refusing to turn away from someone in need regardless of the cost to herself. She learns a bit about human nature - both the good and the bad - and makes some grown-up decisions including when to let go and move on.
We catch glimpses of such a small sliver of other people's lives. Even those we know best often have talents, abilities, interests and aspects to their personalities that we never have the chance to see. This holds especially true, I think, for those we only see from afar and those who have a carefully crafted public persona. So I found this article about Marilyn Monroe fascinating.
Marilyn died more than 50 years ago, but she would have turned 89 earlier this week. She was far smarter than she is often given credit for. She loved reading and expanding her mind. She was instrumental in launching Ella Fitzgerald's career. And she was an excellent chef.
It's so easy to make snap judgments of people based on a single interaction or a few rumors or just outward appearances, but people are infinitely more complex, more diverse, and more beautiful than any single event or characteristic could possibly capture.
I can't remember exactly how, but last night at book club we got on the topic of animals that reproduce asexually (book club conversations are often rather winding and inexplicable, but always fun!) and I recalled reading this article about female sawfish that don't need a male to create offspring.
It's called facultative parthenogenesis, a phenomenon that is thought to be rare in vertebrates but has generally been observed in species, such as the Komodo dragon and several shark species in captivity. Females are able to switch between sexual and asexual reproduction, often depending on the availability of a mate.
With parthenogenesis, an egg absorbs a genetically identical cell to create offspring about half as genetically diverse as the mother. These offspring often don't survive.
But the sawfish produced through parthenogenesis that were caught by researchers, then tagged and released, were found to be not just viable, but perfectly healthy.
Crazy what nature comes up with in order to survive...
The official trailer for the movie Suffragette was just released and it got my heart racing! I'm so grateful for these brave women who challenged the status quo and risked the ridicule and disparagement of the "respectable" people of their time (not to mention physical abuse as well) to fight for their rights and dignity as full, autonomous human beings at such great cost to themselves.
A couple of years ago, we stopped on the way home from the Oregon coast to visit with an old friend of Gene's from high school. Ty and his wife Corre were absolutely delightful and I enjoyed getting to know them and their kids briefly. Now Corre has been diagnosed with skin cancer. The tumor is located on her head and is extensive, reaching down to her skull, though the complete damage won't be known until the surgeon goes in some time in the next two weeks. It will require plastic surgery and possibly radiation implants as well. She'll be out of work for several weeks to recover.
Even though they have medical insurance, the financial burden will still be great. If your heart is moved to help, please consider donating to their GiveForward campaign and keep her in your prayers.