Thursday, May 26, 2016

My favorite place to buy books

These days I can scarcely pass by our local D.I. (Deseret Industries, ie. good will) without making a quick turn into the parking lot and bee-lining it to the books section. It combines three of my loves: treasure hunting, getting a good deal, and reading. It's a win!

I ALWAYS find something good when I go. At best it's a fun activity and at worst it's an addiction. Whatever it is, it gives me pure JOY. In fact, I believe God speaks to me through the books I find at D.I. It may sound crazy, but too many times I've found JUST THE THING I've needed to learn at that time in my life. The books jump out at me and I add them to my small stack and wonder what message I'm meant to learn. When I was struggling with my son, I found the perfect parenting book. Seriously life-changing! One day when I was really depressed I found Dante's Divine Comedy--the book that was on the TOP of my to-read list at the time. And it was in perfect condition. I KNOW God put it there for me to find. I felt it when I picked it up. It was this funny little tender mercy. 

I should mention here that I believe in buying books at full-price to support the author. The books I get at D.I. are ones I typically wouldn't purchase at all. That's what's so fun about the experience. It makes the whole "finding the right message for me" a pleasant surprise. There are exceptions, such as the case with Divine Comedy. That one was sitting in my CART on Amazon at home. But I figure Dante's not getting any of the proceeds from his books now anyway. Ha ha. Also, I end up spending a decent amount on new books every year, so I don't feel bad getting a good deal now and then.

The other thing is I feel good about supporting our local D.I. Usually, I'll return the books after I read them for them to be sold again. I will keep a book, however, if it becomes an unexpected favorite. Such was the case with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Eat, Pray, Love. That's what makes it different from the library. I do enjoy the library, but it doesn't give me the same thrill as D.I. does.

I'd like to invite you to share the joy. Donate your books to D.I. Not just old crappy ones, but good ones that may not be your favorites. Don't let them just sit on your bookshelf never to be touched again. See the literal "good will" that can come to your life with this practice. And in turn, check out what books you might find for $1 or $1.50. 

Yesterday's haul includes Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (I've heard a lot of buzz about this lately), and Super Smoothies (you never know).

Have you ever found a great book at good will? One that has changed your life? It happens to me almost every time I go there.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

February Reading

This is what's on my nightstand for February. I've scaled back the number of books this month because I'm Beta reading a friend's manuscript and I have to be realistic about time.

The first is Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor. I've been wanting to read this YA fantasy for months now. Thanks to my friend Karena, I have my very own copy!

I'm also excited to read Dante's Divine Comedy. Lately, I've been feeling a longing to go "back to my roots." In my college days, all I read was the heavy stuff. The stuff you have to analyze to understand. The real uppity, high-hanging fruit, so to speak. This will take me back there. 

In fact, I've been missing college itself lately (as much as I never thought I'd say that.) The other day I went back to my campus to run an errand. I people-watched the students going from class to class, socializing, engaged in smart conversations. What I felt was nothing short of pure envy. I was a fraction of an inch close to grabbing a student by the shoulders and saying, "You will NEVER get these days back! You may hate it right now--the tests and papers--but just love it." Even now I feel a pin-prick in my chest thinking about it. Maybe I should go back to school. I love the university setting. But I digress. 

What's on your nightstand this month?

January Reading

I completed my January reading goal! Well, I finished the last book today, but I'm still counting it.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Great parenting book--from someone who hates parenting books

Five stars for this one. I realize this isn't a discussion on literature. But still, this book changed my life--and continues to do so. It's called Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting by Noel Janis-Norton and it delivers just that. 

I started passively using these techniques (the 5 core parenting strategies) as I read the book and immediately they started producing positive results. My husband has agreed to go through the book with me chapter by chapter and really tackle each strategy one at a time. We plan to make them part of our parenting practices because they just make sense and they are so respectful to both children and parents. And they can be practiced with any child, even those with more difficult temperaments. 

The first half of the book talks about the 5 core strategies and the second half discusses more specifics about rewards & consequences, screen time, sibling rivalry, etc. I find both sections to be very helpful, but the first half is ESSENTIAL. For me anyway. 

I read in some reviews that the book got repetitive and I agree. But frankly, I needed that. It really drove each point home and discussed HOW to put these into practice. 

God often puts books in my hands when I need them, and He knew I needed this. The relationship with my seven-year-old was heading in a direction I didn't want it to go. He is my buddy and we are kindred spirits in so many ways, but with his more difficult and inflexible temperament, there were times when I was simply out of ideas for how to get him to do even the basics without him (and, er, me) throwing fits. This book is helping that.  

I actually thought of buying this book for some of my closest friends not even caring if they might be offended. (Instead I'll just give the review.) Yes, it's that good.

Thank you, Ms. Janis-Norton.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Five Reasons to Skip "Go Set a Watchman"

Warning: major spoilers and disillusionment forthcoming.

I have purposely avoided reading any reviews of Go Set a Watchman. I read it as fast as I could so that my mind wouldn't be swayed by anyone or anything about its merits. As I write this review, I have not read any others. I didn't want it to be reflective of anything else out there. Only my own review. And here it is: 


As a reader and lover of literature, and--I will add--a huge fan of To Kill a Mockingbird, I feel messed with. (As a side note, this is the only book I've ever pre-ordered.) I set the book down five minutes ago and my heart is still pumping with rage. No, I did not just read that book. No, that is not what happened to Scout. No, that is not what happened to Atticus Finch. No, that is not what happened in the town of Maycomb. No, no, no. 

Without further ado, I offer my reasons to flat-out skip this book, if you haven't already fallen victim to the hype, as I have. (The "hype" being that this book in any way resembles its predecessor.) 

1. It will crush you. Never mind the real disappointments in your own life. The book you once loved will offer no respite either. Atticus Finch, a racist? No, just no. I know there is value--and typically an interesting story there--when a character becomes disillusioned with someone he or she has looked up to. In this case, Scout is disillusioned with her father. But, for Pete's sake, Atticus Finch? 

Can't we, as readers, have ANY heroes? Is nothing sacred? Isn't there anyone we can get all warm and fuzzy about when we think of them? Can't we just sigh at the memory and be done?

I understand the whole concept of character flaws, but this is taking a heroic figure--one of the most beloved in all of literature--and making him a villain. (Of sorts. He doesn't do anything particularly mean-spirited in these pages, but he is presented as a sort of ideological villain.) He went from being the anti-racist in Mockingbird to a racist in this novel. 

My own disillusionment aside, how does the author justify this change in his character? In Mockingbird Atticus is one who goes against the grain in his ideals and passions. He embodies the kumbaya movement. The very name "Atticus" means a good, kind, love-for-all-people, willling-to-risk-his-career-for-the-good-of-humanity, gate-keeper of justice type character. Suddenly, a few years pass and he's a card-carrying, board member of their white man's evil society. And he takes great pains to get Scout (Jean Louise) to see the joys of going with the flow. Oh, and I adore how the uncle just casually mentions (in order to twist the knife into my heart farther) that Atticus once wore the robes of the KKK? Gosh, it's almost laughable if I weren't so bloody angry. OK, in his defense, Atticus only went to one meeting in order to see who and what was behind the robes. But still. KICK ME WHILE I'M DOWN.  

2. It goes from small-town sweet-life anecdote to angry rant in 3.5 seconds. The first quarter of the book nothing much happens. Scout learns some new things about the quirky folks in Maycomb. She remembers the follies of her past. She elaborates on the oddities of her Aunty Alexandra. Then, like a slap in the face--the whole book becomes one big angry rant. She argues with her boyfriend about his views, she argues with her uncle about his views--and then we get the grand pappy--her argument with Atticus about his views. Once Jean Louise sets her tongue a-blazin' there's no turning back. She argues her case to the misguided people she once loved. During these conversations, there are almost no other descriptions of what else is going on--just quotes--people pontificating. I have to believe Harper Lee meant to make changes to this manuscript. I have to. 

To what end is all this in-text arguing? Is anyone reading this book actually going to disagree with Jean Louise's enlightened opinion? Is anyone reading this book not going to be horrified by the town's transformation? Maybe back when it was written, it would've had greater impact, but for today's readers, this is a moot point. Stale mate. The main character is preaching to the choir the whole time and I found myself thinking--why am I reading this? I agree with her. I've settled on my opinion about racism and I'm not learning anything. I'm certainly not being swayed by any of the yahoos she argues with. Which brings me to my next point.

3. The main character doesn't change and grow. Ok, here's where I pull out hours of writing conference rhetoric that tells me, "Your main character changes over the course of your novel--and that change is what your book is about." If that's true, then I'm at a total loss of what this book is about. Jean Louise already has an enlightened opinion. It's everyone else that's messed up. But they don't change either! I found myself getting annoyed at this high horse mentality. Yes, we GET that everyone else is a backward-thinking idiot. What is your point, Miss Jean Louise? Are we supposed to marvel for hundreds of pages about your lofty ways of thinking? As a reader, that doesn't entice me.

So, as far as theme. I think it was hinted at a couple of times, but I'm not certain. I may need to take some time and put my knee-jerk reaction aside to think about this one. 

Here's one idea. Atticus says to Scout in the context of him being proud of her for holding to her convictions: "Every man's island, every man's watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscience." (Except in Maycomb, apparently.)

There is also a moment at the end when Jean Louise learns to accept and even love her racist father. "As she welcomed him silently to the human race, the stab of discovery made her tremble a little." So, then, is the theme learning to love someone with disgusting opinions? Because this little discovery of Scout's happens on the last page. So, is that what this story is about? I don't know. I'm trying reaaaaally hard to think of it anything beyond this: Woman visits her hometown. Woman is disgusted by her hometown. Woman leaves hometown.*

4. Everything is stated so obviously. There is no subtext. No subtlety. As readers, there is no need to think on our own. All the thinking is done for us. Mostly in the form of Jean Louise's angry rants. I kept thinking, "Just tell the story and let me arrive at my own conclusions." But the problem was that all the conclusions were already arrived at. It was too overt. It was definitely an anti-racism story but it was told from their mouths and not told by what happens. In essence, not at all like To Kill a Mockingbird

I've resolved to re-read Mockingbird, this time with another set of lenses. My "did I like this book as much as I thought?" lenses. YES, I am now questioning my love for a book that is very dear to me. Doubts are creeping in. Will I still love it as much knowing what Atticus becomes--what the town becomes? 

5. It leaves you hanging with no rope in sight. The whole town has let her down. Everyone has become racist. The town has changed and everyone in it. No one is the same. She visits Calpurnia, the Black woman who raised her, and Calpurnia will barely speak to her. She seems to be in a sort of trance. OK, that avenue is gone. Her boyfriend--the childhood love of her life--she dumps because, well, he's now a pig, too. Did I mention that Jem, her brother is dead? It's just as well. One less person for Jean Louise to loathe in the present. The ultimate blow is of course, Atticus, the person who taught her everything is now an adversary. Where is the hope? 

The story ends with Jean Louise about to leave to go back to New York.* Will she return to Maycomb and make a difference? Will she turn hearts and help others see the error of their ways? We will never know. If Harper Lee was so hesitant to release this book then I strongly doubt she would consider writing another. In fact, now I understand her hesitancy. Now I see that there was more to the release of this book than meets the eye. Having read it, I'm more suspicious than ever. 

Harper Lee is an amazingly gifted writer. There is no doubt of that. To Kill a Mockingbird is evidence to that. And there are moments in the book, Go Set a Watchman that were powerful and lovely. The imagery, phrasing, and understanding of human nature are pure brilliance. That's why I'm so disheartened at my violent reaction to this book as a whole. Don't pick it up. And if you do, do so to be part of the inevitable discussion that I'm sure will happen and is probably happening now on social media.

My goodness, I hate that I am saying this but that manuscript would've been better left in that safety deposit box.

*Footnote: I re-read the ending and it isn't clear whether she intends on leaving or staying in Maycomb.

Monday, February 16, 2015

"Why didn't your mom want you?" And other classroom chatter

Last week, I helped in my son's classroom for their Valentine party, making me privy to lots of classroom chatter. The casual atmosphere of a party often makes first graders say whatever is on their minds. Heck, they're first graders. They'll always say whatever is on their minds.

That's why my ears perked up when a girl said to a boy, "Why were you adopted? I'm glad I wasn't adopted."

I couldn't help but intervene.

"Oh, you're adopted?" I said to the boy. "My son is adopted, too. Did you know that?"

He nodded with a  smile. 

"Being adopted is awesome," I said, a phrase I've often used in my house.

"Why?" the little girl asked. Here was my opportunity to educate her about the awesomeness of adoption. To influence one more person in the world about the beauty that can come from it. As those large, inquisitive eyes blinked at me, ready for an answer, I was momentarily stunned into silence.

Why is adoption so awesome? I thought, in those seconds.

Both my boys are adopted and in both cases, our experiences have been miraculously wonderful. Not necessarily perfect. Not without the stumbling that inevitably accompanies anything human. (Or anything involving me. I stumble a lot.) But, on the whole, so overwhelmingly positive.

How would I manage to take the all-encompassing love, miracles, anticipation, joy, confusion, heartbreak, and overall beauty of my experience with adoption, condense it into a glowing orb of brilliance, and just hand it to the girl, saying, "Here you go. Love this as much as I do."

"Well," I stammered, still hoping to answer her simple question, "because you have lots of people who love you."

The girl continued her line of questioning to her classmate. "Why didn't your mom want you?"


I looked around the classroom. My son was busily cutting out paper hearts, away from this conversation. Good.

I'd heard this question before. That is to say, I'd heard of this question. And part of me knows why children ask it. I remember being that age and having a primal fear of being lost. Given away. Kidnapped. Not wanted. In a child's mind, adoption must be like one of those things.

Still, I wanted to influence her in that moment. But I wanted too much. I wanted her to love birth moms. I wanted her to know that their decision was the hardest thing they have ever done and that they thought only of their child. I wanted her to know they chose adoption out of the very essence of love, not because they didn't want their babies. I wanted to protect the boy being questioned, protect my son from these kinds of questions, protect all adopted children from believing they are anything "less than."

But I can't do that. No more than I can hand out glowing orbs of brilliance.

"My birth mom did want me," the boy said, completely unfazed.

I was impressed. His parents had obviously taught him well and had equipped him with an unflinching sense of self, which is, I believe, what every parent wants for their child. In addition, he'd instinctively replaced his answer with the term 'birth mom,' even though that wasn't how the question was put to him.

Later, as in five minutes, the teacher introduced me to the boy's mom, who also happened to be helping out in the classroom that day.

We chatted and I told her about what I'd just overheard. I added, "It sounds like we need to do some educating about adoption."

"I don't know," she said with the same worry-free attitude of her son. "Kids will say whatever they want. I just make sure my son knows all the facts. That way he won't worry when people say things."

"Well, you're doing a great job," I told her. At the same time, I couldn't help but feel slightly rebuked. Not by the boy's mom, but by myself.

Am I doing something wrong? Is my desire to educate everyone around me obnoxious? Is it even possible? Am I seeking to 'change the world' rather than influence my own sons?

Immediately, I thought about an article I'd read in the Huffington Post some weeks ago, which offered a mantra that has become my own:

"We need to prepare our children for the road, not the road for our children."

What more perfect opportunity to live by this advice? Yet, I wasn't.

That mom was doing what I want to be doing, what I should be doing more of: Focusing on my sons and the things I teach them, not protecting them from what those around them might say.

We speak openly of adoption in our house. And we speak so affectionately of their birth moms. We treat adoption as something special, because it is. But, is there a chance that we are SO positive about it that one day my sons will be shell-shocked when they realize that not everyone is? That some people might even be mean to them about it?

That night, I said to my first grader, "Is adoption cool or not cool?"

"Cool," he said, without pause.

"Are there some people out there who might think it's not cool?"


"Does it matter what those people think?"

"No," he said.

I have no idea if this was the right thing to say to him, but I went with my gut, which hasn't failed me miserably yet. Little by little, we'll keep the conversations about adoption open and honest. We'll keep the focus on preparing them for the road, not the reverse.

Even better than handing out imaginary orbs of brilliance will be sending my sons out into the world with the confidence that they'll be able to handle the situations they're confronted with, adoption-wise and otherwise. If they can manage this, they'll be the best ambassadors of adoption I could ever hope to offer the world.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

My Top 10 Favorite Books (in no particular order)

I started this post a few months ago but put it on pause. Now I've picked it up again because my sister challenged me and I can't back down from a challenge! One reason I've put it on hold is that I'm somewhat self-conscious of my list. I'm drawn to true stories of WWII and the Holocaust. It's heavy stuff, I understand, but I love what they teach us about humanity, good and bad. Not to despair; there are a few light-hearted choices as well. 

My list of favorite books seem to change from here to year. But here goes.

1. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. The vivid imagery is spell-binding in this one. That and the fascinating cross-generational stories kept me turning the pages.

2. Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose. Excellent true stories of the Easy Company paratroopers of WWII. It doesn't sugar-coat or aggrandize war. Even the heroes' flaws are shown. The thousands of hours Ambrose muse have done are quite evident and I love a well-documented story. (The movie adaptation is on my favorite movies list as well.)

3. In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke. Like I said, I read a lot of Holocaust books, and this one is absolutely gripping. I was so enthralled that I brought it with me to the movies and read it in the car.

4. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. It has to be the complete version, restored after so much was edited and removed from earlier versions. I have never read a more powerful story that helped me relate to something of which I have no right to relate. If there's an opportunity to meet folks in the hereafter, you can bet I'll be in the Anne Frank line.

5. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. If you take a fascinating, survival war story and put it in the hands of one of the most gifted writers, you find yourself at Unbroken. Amazing. Can't wait for the movie. I hope I'm not disappointed! And on a lighter note...

6. Holes by Louis Sachar. I love stories like this one where all the plot lines connect like a puzzle to complete the whole.

7. Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Another great story for young (and old) readers. I have a whole separate blog post on this one.

8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. A masterpiece in its own right. Scout is one of my favorite characters of all time.

9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. People always ask me why I love this one because of the tragic ending. My reasons: great writing and great symbolism.

10. In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. It surprised me that I enjoyed this one so much. It's all about the whaling industry in 19th century New England and follows the crew to unimaginable horrors.

Equal honors go to anything by William Shakespeare (another soul I'd love to meet), Jane Austen, the ancient writer Homer (The Iliad and The Odyssey), and J.R.R. Tolkien.