Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Goodbye for now, Santa! As much as I'm going to miss that jolly old man, I'm looking forward to the next year. The past year has been a pretty good one - my second year of marriage, tons of wonderful books, some fantastic mini-vacations with my husband and a wonderful week in the mountains with my family. It had it's hard moments - recovering from a major surgery, being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and connective tissue damage, and losing my Papa to liver cancer. Spiritually it has been my year to discover God as Jehova Rapha (the Lord my Healer). Educationally, it has been my first year of graduate school. Halfway there!

I don't usually do resolutions, but this year I have come up with some "goals" to try to focus my work and my life:

1. Physically: Lose all of the gabapentin-induced weight (I'm finally off this medication and MUST get back to my normal size before a spring wedding)

2. Academically: Finish graduate school with a 4.0

3. Personally: Read more than I read last year. I haven't decided yet if this means reading more books or more pages. Go through the alphabet and read one book representing each letter that is written by an author I've never read (letter can be first word in the title or the author's name).

4. Personally: Keep updating my blog.

5. Professionally: Continue working on computer skills, especially in relation to work. Choose one program used at the school (AutoCAD, MultiSIM, Project, or Visio) to learn very well.

6. Spiritually: I want to spend the year focusing on getting to know God as Emmanuel (God with us) and in remembering that every moment of every day. If you have any suggestions on studies to deal with this name of God, let me know, because it's going to be my focus this year. Also, i want to continue to grow in my knowledge of the Lord my Healer as, hopefully, my health continues to improve.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I Made It!!

Last night I finally reached my original goal set last January of 150 books in 2009. Feel free to view my spreadsheet to see the full list. My favorites from this year have been:

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
A Return to Modesty by Wendy Shalit
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Shutter Island by Dennis LeHane
Crossbearer by Joe Eszterhas
The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs
When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Website Recommendation

I put this website together for the girls on my internet book club and have since become obsessed with updating it and adding features. It's a wiki, so we all add to it at times, but it's currently locked until I get it backed up, so it's a good time to share it on my blog. Take a look and let me know what you think!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Power of An Encouraging Word

Before I review this, I have to confess that I'm a little bit biased. I consider the author to be one of my dearest friends and his wife was my mentor when I lived in Little Rock. I actually spent a few months living with them. They sat behind my parents at my wedding and I consider them my adopted family.

Ken gave me this book as a Christmas gift a few years ago and I was a horrible friend and didn't read it until now, but it is a beautiful book. I cried several times during it and I'm really loving the idea of becoming an encourager and sharing life affirming words with others. I definitely recommend it! It has several short stories illustrating the power that we have in the words we say as well as practical suggestions for encouraging others.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

150 in 2009

I'm so close to reaching my goal of reading 150 books in 2009. I'm working on number 141 right now, which means I have 14 days left to read 10 books. Around July when I had my surgery and wasn't reading as much I lowered my goal to 125, but when I passed that, I decided I could make 150 if I try really hard. Give me some encouragement and leave me some ideas for quick reads!

Good Tidings of Great Joy!

Tyndale is offering this free download of the Christmas story by Matthew West. Check it out!

Scroll to the bottom of the page and you can download the Christmas story as well as the entire gospel of John.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Sacred Meal

This book was a beautiful gift from Thomas Nelson and I certainly enjoyed it. The cover is as beautiful as the writing, and I will certainly keep it on my shelf. The title, The Sacred Meal, reflects the authors respect and honor for Communion. She provides a detailed examination of the act of communion as well as the history behind the act. My favorite aspect was her description of the importance of community of believers to take Communion with.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I had one major complaint – throughout 137 pages of description of Communion and the reason it is important for us, the author never mentions the cross or the resurrection. I kept expecting that this would be explored in the next chapter, but before I knew it the book was over, without a single mention of Christ’s death or resurrection. Because that is such an integral part of Communion, I could only assume that the author was avoiding any topic that may cause offense to readers who do not hold similar beliefs. I, for one, would much rather have read a differing opinion from my own than to have the entire issue so blatantly ignored.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Autobiography of a Face, Truth and Beauty, and Suellen Grealy

What a treat to read these two books together over the weekend. Until I read Autobiography of A Face, I had no idea that the two were related, although I own them both. Autobiography of A Face describes Lucy Grealy's struggle with cancer at a young age, causing 30-something surgeries over her lifetime and leaving her with a disfigured face. Years after the book was published the author died of an accidental heroin overdose.
Ann Patchett, a close friend of Grealy's since they were roommates at grad school, later wrote a book, Truth and Beauty, about her friendship with Lucy Grealy. In the book she describes Lucy's neediness and consuming desire to be loved. The book is honest and reveals faults in both women, but is a beautiful portrait and friendship and devotion. Both books are beautifully written and moving.
Following the release of the book, Lucy's sister, Suellen Grealy, wrote an angry article in The Guardian regarding Ann's book. Suellen attacks Ann's portrayal of her sister as unfair and damagint to the family in their time of grief. Unfortunately, having to read both books, this article seems unfair to me. I must admit that I am a huge Patchett fan, so this may have colored my opinion, but it seemed to me that a large portion of Suellen's anger has nothing to do with Ann's book (the missing picture - which Ann did not take, the study guide questions regarding her mother in Lucy's book - which Ann did not write, etc). The worst part was her description of Ann as an inferior writer who was hitching her wagon to Lucy's star. What a bitter and obviously incorrect way to describe Patchett, who won a Pen/Faulkner Award as well as an Orange award for Bel Canto which was published while Lucy was still living.
I highly recommend both books, and it is fascinating to read them together if you are able to do so. Take a look at Suellen Grealy's article as well, for an interesting take on both books:(

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Book Review: Angel Time

I really wanted to like this book. I mean really. I've never read Anne Rice but I've heard about how great she is from all my friends who read all my life. Her vampire books never appealed to me, but I was thrilled to get her memoir for Christmas last year (even though I have yet to read it). I was so excited for this book to come out and I've been watching for it ever since it was announced.

That said, I didn't really like it. I wanted to like it. I wanted it to be this awesome book that appeals to everyone and fulfills my expectations for "roaring lamb" literature (well-written, critically successful, artisitic expression from a Christian, although not necessarily with a Christian focus). It actually pains me to write this, but as far as books about angels go, I much prefer Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. I'm interested to see what my friends think of, but it seemed so overtly Christian to me that I'm surprised to see it marketed as popular rather than inspirational fiction. Don't get me wrong, I'm always thrilled to see Christian authors break out of the ghetto that is Christian fiction, I think I just expected more. The story wasn't all that interesting to me, the writing didn't seem great, and I didn't like the main character at all.

Monday, November 30, 2009

H1N1 and the Cat ER

My Thanksgiving was eventful, thanks to the exposure to H1N1 from a teacher right before we left for the break. No one is impressed when you work while you are sick - we are just annoyed that you are sharing it with us. Anyway, tomorrow is my H1N1 test, so keep your fingers crossed that it's just a nasty cold. On top of that the cat had his teeth cleaned, which means giving him antibiotics - which apparently, he is allergic to. We were in the kitty cat ER from 11PM - 2AM last night so I'm too pooped to worry about posting book reviews tonight. I've got a couple of good ones that I'll try to drag myself out of bed to post tomorrow.

For tonight, I'll leave you a picture of my sweet little baby, who is going to make a full recovery!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bought and Read This Week

This week begins my fast on book buying. I'll still be posting my weekly list of books read, but I'm giving up book buying until after Christmas. My student worker has six kids and her husband was recently laid off - instead of buying books, eating out, etc. for the next few weeks Luke and I have decided to put all of our extra money towards providing Christmas for her children. I'm pretty excited about my little project, but I am already having book-buying withdrawal!

Books Read:

The Best American Short Stories of 2008


This brings my total to: 121 books read this year and 32,791 pages!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

Do you think any current author is of the same caliber as Dickens, Austen, Bronte, or any of the classic authors? If so, who, and why do you think so? If not, why not? What books from this era might be read 100 years from now?

I definitely think there are some modern authors who not only measure up to the classics, but also will be read years from now (here's hoping Twilight is NOT one of those). Authors I'd say who have the staying power of classics would be:

Ian McEwan

Barbara Kingsolver

Jeffrey Eugenides

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

John Irving

These authors certainly embody the story-telling genius that Dickens is known for. There are others, but these are the first that come to my mind.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Faces of Poverty

Although dry at parts, this is a good exploration of the problems faced by women and children on welfare. It's an honest exploration of their lives and motives, and presents a mostly fair and unbiased view, although in the study notes the author does mention that she became friends with some of the interviewees and that her position may be skewed. I wish the book had provided more practical answers to the issues raised, beyond "provide better health care" and "provide child care" for those on welfare. At the end of the day, someone will be paying for the increase in those benefits.

It is a very hard issue to deal with, and one I struggle with almost daily at my job. The majority of our students are below the poverty line. Many struggle with day to day expenses such as food, gas, electricity, etc. It is almost impossible to differentiate among students who genuinely need help and those who are milking the sympathy of other students and staff to the best of their ability. For example, a student tells me he may lose custody of his son to a drug addict mother because his father is in prison and his father is his only source of child care. The student needs money to bail out the father so he can continue working to support the family. It's really hard not to feel sympathetic until you learn that the student put an $800 cruise on a credit card two days ago. Or a student who has no heat, no running water, and no groceries, but somehow shows up at class with a milkshake and a hamburger every night, smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, and drinks a 6 pack every night.

I love my students and I believe that Christ meant what he was saying when he said "when you've done it unto the least of these". I'd rather go too far in loving than not far enough, but I think sometimes loving means saying no. I have no solutions to the welfare issues, but I'd be interested in reading a book that provides more solutions and less discussion of the problem Any suggestions?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bought and Read This Week

Books Bought:

Hypocrite In A Pouffy White Dress
A Literary Book of Days
A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomaniacs, and the Eternal Passion for Books
Open House
The Dumas Club
The Browser's Ecstasy
Two "Grandma's Attic" books that I read as a child
Two books to give to a friend (Baby Laughs and Belly Laughs)
The MLA Handbook for the library
Doing Honest Work In College for the library

Total cost: $24 and some change

Books Read:

The Year of Living Biblically
Velvet Elvis
Not Tonight Honey, Wait 'Til I'm A Size Six
Faces of Poverty: Portraits of Women and Children on Welfare

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bad Books

Do you read everything all the way through or do you feel life really is too short to read bad books?

Life is definitely too short to read "bad" books. Of course everyone's definitions will vary on what makes a book good or bad, but I do not force myself to read books that I'm not enjoying. The exception is for school or work, and occassionally when I'm interested in what the author has to say even though the book is dragging. This really only happens when I'm reading non-fiction. Most recently it was Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. I was bored with the book, but wanted to find out what exactly the point was and how the author would defend his theology. Another example is a book I read a while back about what happened to children in Nazi-occupied Europe during WWII. Very dry, slow reading, but I wanted to possess the information, so I slogged my way through.

I won't go into the whole debate on whether or not people should or shouldn't read "good" literature. When I'm reading for pleasure, I read what I like to read. When I'm reading for information, I look for good writing and accurate facts.

Some books that may start (or stay) slow that are worth sticking with:

Bel Canto by Anne Patchett
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
Blindness by Jose Saramago

A Passion for Books by Harold Rabinowitz
Ceremonial Violence by Jonathan Fast
Actual Innocence by Barry Scheck

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Year of Living Biblically

I really expected to be put off by this book. I was ready to stop reading it, especially after a blurb on the back described it as "irreverent." I don't enjoy hearing people mock something I strongly believe in as a Christian, and I worried that Jacob's experiment (following the Bible as literally as possible for a year) was really just an excuse to mock the traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs. Instead, the book was actually one of the most reverent treatments of the Bible that I have ever read. Jacobs doesn't just tell us how stupid/weird/hypocritical/etc the Bible is - he makes an honest attempt to find the meaning behind even the most bizarre commandments and never stoops to mocking Judaism, Christianity, or those who practice even the most extreme forms of these religions. How refreshing to read the observations of an agnostic on the Bible without the mockery. I just love how Jacobs really tries to find out the meaning behind everything he questions. This is quite possibly my favorite book of the year. I was challenged in my own beliefs many times through the book, and learned quite a few new things about the Bible. Plus, it's hilarious! I definitely recommend it, five stars, two thumbs up, etc, etc!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Christy Awards Challenge

I'm quite possibly joining too many challenges, but this is one that I am fairly excited about. Christian literature has a nasty reputation and for the most part I've had negative experiences reading Christian fiction in particular. However, I recently read Roaring Lions which is actually what prompted me to start a blog. I want to embrace Christians who are participating in the arts and doing so well - and one way to do that is to look into the Christy Awards and see if I can find some great Christian fiction to get behind. I'm hoping that I will find some books that aren't just "Christian" fiction, but that will be able to stand up to and compete with "secular" novels on an artistic basis. I'll keep you updated on what I find...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bought and Read This Week

Books Read:

Martyrs: Innocence, Vengeance, and Despair in the Middle East by Joyce Davis
What No One Tells The Bride by Marg Stark
The New Yorker Book of Literary Cartoons collected by Bob Mankoff

This puts me at 115 books read this year and 31,231 pages.

Books Bought:
Mystic River by Dennis LeHane
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolff
Couldn't Keep It To Myself by Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julie Alvarez
The Bloomsbury Guide to English Literature
Shutterbabe by Deborah Kogan

I also picked up four books for the school's library on interviewing, dressing professionally, and working at your first job.

Total cost: $16 and some change! I also got to spend an hour and half wandering McKays and count is as work time!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

Today's Booking Through Thursday Question: Which do you prefer? Biographies written about someone? Or Autobiographies written by the actual person (and/or ghost-writer)?

I definitely prefer to read autobiographies/memoirs written by the actual person. I'm not a huge fan of first person fiction, but I love it in the autobiography/memoir style. Personal favorites: All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg, House Rules by Rachel Sontag, Divided Minds by Pamela Spiro Wagner, Crossbearer by Joe Eszterhas, and both volumes of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
One of things that most people consider a drawback in memoirs is the fact that the narrator is not necessarily reliable. I actually love this part of memoirs. It isn't a heavily researched, detail driven day by day description of the individual's life. Memoirs typically cover one aspect of the author's life (war, alcoholism, an eating disorder, domestic violence) and I really enjoy trying to read between the lines to see how reliable the author is. Do they skew everything in their favor? Do they always paint themselves in a positive light? I don't mind that the author may not be as reliable, and I enjoy something that is less fact/research-driven and more story-driven.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Shelf Discovery Challenge

So in addition to my Nest Book Club seasonal challenges, I think I'm going to jump into this this one as well. It looks like tons of fun!
I'm planning to read:
Jacob Have I Loved
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret?
Summer of My German Soldier
Of course these very well may change, but those are my plans! I'm pretty excited about this one!

Possibly not the best choice of book to read while my husband is in Israel, but an enlightening read nonetheless. I know next to nothing about the current situation in the Middle East and this book really opened my eyes. We frequently hear on the news that the Qu'uran promotes violence and our idea of jihad. It wasn't until reading this book that I realized how similar interpretations of the Qu'uran are to interpretations of the Bible. As a Christian I cringe when I hear of other sects or denominations misinterpreting the Bible publicly - and I hate that the correct interpretation is frequently lost amid the negative publicity of the misinterpretation of a small group. I really felt like Islam faces a similar problem with the various sects taking portions of the Qu'uran and using them to validate violence.

I feel like I have a better grasp on some of the issues faced by those in the Middle East, but there is so much more I need to know. It's definitely a subject I'll continue to study, and I'm pleased to change some of my political ideas to reflect my newfound knowledge!

My one complaint with the book is that in some of the longer chapters, individuals are referenced only by last name. Normally not a problem, but in a long chapter when several individuals have the same last name it can make things hard to follow.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bought and Read This Week

Books Bought:

The New Yorker Book of Literary Cartoons
Between, Georgia
We Need To Talk About Kevin
Not Tonight Honey, Wait Till I'm A Size 6
How To Buy A Love of Reading
Murder Ink
The Bookseller of Kabul
Maisie Dobbs
First They Killed My Father

Total Cost: $11.13

Books Read:

Along Came A Spider
Mommy Knows Worst
Narrow Dog to Indian River
Roaring Lambs

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Narrow Dog to Indian River

A septuaginarian couple and their whippet, Jim, navigate the Intracoastal Waterway (from Virgina to the Gulf of Mexico) on a Eurpean canal boat. A great travel book, and one I enjoyed reading. From reading the back, I expected a lot more action than was actually in the book. A lot of time was spent doing the things you'd expect any couple in their 70's to do: taking the dog for a walk, napping, relaxing on the boat. I think I expected more adventure and more interaction with locals in the areas they travel through. As a huge fan of all things Southern, I was looking forward to reading about how an older English couple interacts with Southern Americans. It took me a while to get through this one, which I think was related to the slow pace.

I recommend it to people who enjoy a travel diaries, but aren't looking for much action. If you are familiar with the Intracoastal Waterway or the Atlantic coast, you might have a particular interest in the book. The writing is also train of thought and hard to follow at times, but works if you enjoy his particular style. I went back and forth between enjoying the writing and being frustrated by not understanding how he had moved between paragraphs. It's a fun light read, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn't just familiar with the South as a whole but the Intracoastal Waterway in particular. My brother and father have sailed this area with my uncle and grandfather, and I think that I might have enjoyed the book more if I had been on that trip and could picture the journey. I loved the description of Savannah because I knew the places he described.

Check out their website as well if you plan to read the book. I didn't find the website until about halfway through the book and it cleared up a lot for me to see a picture of the boat. I also love all the whippet pictures. Jim is too cute for words! Finally, if you read this one, note the map in the back of the book. That would have also been a big help in reading it, but my pages were stuck together and I didn't realize there was a map until the last chapter.

Friday, October 23, 2009


What to write in my first book blog entry? I think I'll steal Nick Hornby's format from The Believer and weekly summarize my books bought and read. Welcome to my addiction - buying more books than I can possibly ever read!
This week...

Books Bought:

Israel My Beloved by Kay Arthur (to read while Luke is in Israel)

I Thought My Father Was God And Other True Tales from NPR's National Story Project by Paul Auster

Mommy Knows Worst by James Lileks

What No One Tells The Bride by Marg Stark (yeah I know I'm way past claiming being a bride, but I'm still not over it)

CompTIA Study Guide (for the school library)

Books read:

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard

Roaring Lambs by Robert Briner