#76 ~ Trespassers will be Baptized

June 3, 2008 at 4:54 pm | Posted in Books, Childhood Memories, Family, LIfe, Memoir, Religion | 4 Comments
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Cover of Trespassers will be Baptized

Trespassers Will Be Baptized: The Unordained Memoir of a Preacher’s Daughter by Elizabeth Emerson Hancock

Trespassers will be Baptized tells the story of Elizabeth Emerson Hancock’s early childhood as the oldest daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher living in Kentucky. Miss Em was a precocious little girl who grew up certain that she knew exactly the way it was, only to find out that even her parents weren’t always so sure. It is her experiences coming to learn and understand how her parents, most especially her father, live within the spaces between their holy” (public) life and their “human” (private) life that make this memoir interesting and applicable to almost anyone who once was a child.

Although you should never judge the book by its cover, I really feel as though I got exactly what I was eagerly anticipating from the moment I first held the book in my hand. Hancock tells her story in a vivacious manner that pokes fun at her childhood notions and background while honoring it all at the same time. She sheds light on what it is like to grow up in a Southern Baptist home, but also provide insight on girls coming of age in the early to mid-1980s.

The stories she tells specific to her religious upbringing ring true, but so do her experiences as an oldest child. She brought back so many memories for me. I laughed as much at her story about fishing a pair of acid washed Guess jeans out of the Missions box for herself as I did about times when I used my advanced reasoning with my younger siblings to get them to go along with my schemes. Once I convinced myself that what I was setting out to do was okay, I could often easily recruit the rest to go along with me. The tricky part was working it so that they would get the blame if we were caught…

I very much enjoyed my time reading Trespassers will be Baptized. It was well paced and smoothly written. I reminded me of how much I enjoyed reading A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. It’s nice to read about childhood experiences that weren’t traumatic or abusive. Living in a Southern Baptist area, I am happy now to know a little more about how my neighbors might have been brought up and some of the characters they might have encountered at church. Even still, despite doctrinal differences, growing up in an religious yet open home and regularly attending church is more alike than it is different. I would most definitely recommend this book.

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To buy this book, click here.

Prayers Needed

January 30, 2008 at 1:21 pm | Posted in Childhood Memories, LIfe | 2 Comments
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My oldest childhood friend, Kristin, was hospitalized last night due to a high fever. My mother found out this morning that her kidneys were failing. I humbly ask all of you reading this to please say a prayer for her. Even if you don’t believe in prayer, she does. Maybe it will be of help and comfort for her. Depending upon her circumstances, I may be traveling home to Grand Rapids at any time. I really want to see her. I have lost touch with her since I’ve moved to Virginia and I want her to know how precious she is to me.

Kristin, my prayer for you is that your loving God will heal you and bring you back fully to us. If that is not for the best, I pray equally hard that you find delight and joy in His arms. You are my dearest childhood friend and I love you so much. My favorite childhood memory is us riding our bikes down the hill screaming “The Heart of Rock ‘n Roll” at the top of our lungs – especially when we got to “DETROIT!” I thank you for everything you are. You are one of my life’s biggest blessings.

Amen

Update 01/31/2008

The doctors have stabilized Kristin and had hoped to get an MRI taken during the night. They were unable to do so before. The weather between Virginia and Grand Rapids is not good tomorrow through at least the early part of next week. I’m going to take my chances and wait until later in February to drive home. With her being stabilized, I feel like I can plan around the weather and will still be able to see her – and hopefully while she’s on the mend.

I appreciate everyone’s prayers so much. She needs them.

Update 2/1/2008

I am sad to say that things are not sounding very good. Kristin is in a coma, on a ventilator, and undergoing kidney dialysis. Her situation sounds frighteningly like that told in this story about a Calvin College professor who died in the middle of January. My mother gave me a number to call tonight at 9pm. Kristin’s mom is going to hold the phone to her ear and let me talk to her. Just thinking about it makes me cry. How am I going to be strong? I just have to be.

The weather in Grand Rapids is supposed to be very bad between now and Monday. I haven’t purchased the tickets yet, but I found a good deal on a flight with a rental car leaving Charlotte, NC to Grand Rapids on 2/7 with return flights on 2/11. Hopefully that will give the conditions a chance to normalize and make the flight into GR possible. I am praying very hard that Kristin can hold on. I just want to hold her hand. It won’t be long now.

Update 2/4/2008

I held up much better than I expected when I spoke to Kristin Friday night. It helped that I talked with her sister, Kim for about 10 minutes before they put the phone to Kristin’s ear. I have felt so much better since then. That was such a gift to me and I greatly appreciate it. This is a hard time for the family and they didn’t have to even think to offer me that opportunity. They are working on removing the ventilator, which is good. Kim was hopeful on the phone. That being said, the nurse said that if you took a 12 inch ruler, with 12 being healthy, Kristin is at between 1 and 1 and a half. There is a long road ahead and I pray that she makes it.

I have purchased plane tickets from Virginia to Grand Rapids for later this week. They are anticipating more bad weather there today, but hopefully that will subside by the end of the week. I actually got a great deal through Priceline.com that included a rental car as well. Given the cost of the tickets and the wonderful flight times, I took that as confirmation that I’m doing the right thing by heading home. If all goes as scheduled, I should be sitting next to Kristin by 5:30 or 6pm on Thursday. I’ll return to Virginia by noon on Monday. Not too bad and no long drives on my part. I am so thankful!

I am so appreciative of everyone f0r their thoughts and prayers. I hope to have some good news when I return.

Update 2/8/2008

I spoke with Kristin’s sister again today.  Kristin’s kidneys are starting to function again and she’ll soon be off dialysis!  Now they just need her to wake up from her coma.  They were working on that yesterday and will be trying again today.  I will be seeing Kristin on Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday.  I can’t wait to see her and her family.  Thanks again so much for your prayers!

#55 ~ Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

January 27, 2008 at 1:43 pm | Posted in Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Disappointment, Family, LibraryThing, LIfe, Memoir, Religion | 4 Comments
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Stealing Buddha’s Dinner: A Memoir by Bich Minh Nguyen

Sometime toward the end of the year I was adding some books to my library on LibraryThing and wanted to add a book I received from my parents for Christmas the year before. It is a book of vintage postcards from Grand Rapids, my home town. I was sitting in the office at the time and the book was in the living room. I was feeling too lazy to walk into the other room and, figuring that there couldn’t be that many books about Grand Rapids, Michigan, I just used “Grand Rapids” to search for it. Much to my surprise, there were quite a few interesting books about my home town. Of those, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen stuck out when I read the following description:

“As a Vietnamese girl coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bich Nguyen is filled with a rapacious hunger for American identity. In the pre-PC era Midwest, where the devoutly Christian blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jennifers and Tiffanys reign supreme…”

I was one of those blonde-haired, blue-eyed (well, slightly green as well) Jennifers and I was very curious to learn how I reigned supreme (it didn’t feel that way at the time). Because I wanted to read this book very badly, I rented it from the library (I’m trying to economize). I figured that if I loved it the way I knew I would, I’d buy it later. In the end, I’m glad that I just rented it.

There is something fun and invigorating about reading about your home town and it was even more exciting for me when the author’s family moved to the Ken-O-Sha area. That’s very close to where I grew up. I recognized many of the locations mentioned in the book as well as the type of people as well. I may have been Dutch, blonde, and named Jennifer, but there are more ways of sticking out like a sore thumb in southeast Grand Rapids than by being Vietnamese: you could be Roman Catholic. In an area heavily populated by members of the Christian Reformed Church, being Catholic is just as “unfortunate.” As Nguyen describes her early experiences living next doors to CRC neighbors, it brought me back to my childhood as well.

This first third of the book felt very authentic to me. I laughed out loud at the way she described her uncle he discovered after enrollment that Calvin College was “serious” about being a CRC school. I related to the scenes where Nguyen experienced orchestrated attempts to “save” her under the auspices of a neighbor girl simply bringing other girls over to play. I know very well the disgusted way those other girls reacted when she made it clear that she was not interested in their God. I was five or six the first time I was told by another child that I was going to hell for “worshiping Mary.” It was so frightening and I can remember the way my chest felt as I ran home crying to my mother. When there aren’t vocal attempts to convert you, there is always the feeling of being held away at an arm’s distance. There was one CRC family that wouldn’t let their children play with my siblings, but they had no problem asking my parents to borrow our camper. That always made me so angry. So, when a scandal rocked our neighborhood in the late 80s, I did take delight in it. The neighbor lady from across the street had apparently been having an affair with one of the husband around the block. I did feel bad for the pain the children and the other spouses experienced, but for me also felt somewhat like a vindication. Although I’m not proud of feeling this way, it was nice to see two people from that group, who made no secret that they were better than my family simply because of their religious affiliation, fall in such a public and shameful way.

While I related to Nguyen’s early experiences, I did not find her memoir enjoyable as a whole. About a third of the way through it went back in time for no apparent reason. From that point forward, the book felt disjointed. There were also large portions of the book that described food and books in such minute detail that I found myself often jumping over large sections until the story picked up again. In the section where she describes the books she read and enjoyed at the time, I was taken back in time to the books I loved so well. Unfortunately, this section began to feel like a book report. Why spend so many pages describing each of the scenes in The Little House on the Prarie that made her wish that was her family? One example would have been so much more effective.

I really wanted to like this butt, but in the end I couldn’t even finish it. I set it aside with only 7 or 8 pages to go. I just didn’t care to continue to read every painful detail of her reunion with her mother. Yes, this should have been a strong way to end her novel. To me, it felt like it was going no where – and very slowly at that. Stealing Buddha’s Dinner would have been more effective if it ended about a third of the way through with the stories about her grandmother from later in the book added to that portion.

Read the first third if you’re interested in what it was like to grow up in the midwest when you’re not a WASP or if you’d like to read about the Vietnamese experience in America in the 70s and 80s. Otherwise, I would pass this book by.

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To buy this book, click here.

#50 ~ Fight Club

November 26, 2007 at 2:23 am | Posted in Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Film, Free, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading | Leave a comment
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Fight Club: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk

Throughout the year I’ve been talking with people at work about the books I’ve been reading. Two of my co-workers mentioned Fight Club. I’ve never had a desire to read this book or see the movie. They are six and 13 years younger than me respectively and I reasoned that I was too old. I missed the boat for this book. After arguing that I was not, in deed, too old to read this book, I asked if either of them had a copy of the book that I could borrow. I figured that would be the end of the story. Not so fast. The very next morning, I was handed a nearly pristine copy in paperback.

After finishing Love in the Time of Cholera, I wanted something quick to read. Thumbing through this book, it seemed the obvious choice. Well, maybe it wasn’t such a good next choice. Given the lack of hope, kindness, and charity of the characters, it wasn’t the best book with which to start off the holiday season. Additionally, where there was too much personal hygiene-type information in Cholera, that was amplified and modernized in Fight Club. Had I not made a promise to myself that I would finish every book I started this year, I would have tossed this book as soon as I found out that the main character, who is never named (what’s up with that type of thing happening all at the same time with my book choices?), does not kill the wanna be veterinarian. I can not stand torture in art (or life – but I thought that should go without saying – although I am saying it here). I threw up because my date wouldn’t let me leave The Silence of the Lambs. Reading that scene in Fight Club wasn’t much better for me.

Now that I’ve finished the book, it’s good that I didn’t simply toss it during the torture scene. It gave a very interesting insight into human nature – especially when not everything is fitting together as it should. I can’t say that I would ever read it again, but I’m glad that I read it the first time. If for no other reason, knowing what happens will save me from ever having to watch the movie. I can now report back to my co-workers that no, I’m not too old for this book (or the movie). I just don’t have the stomach, and that’s been true since I was in college.

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To buy this book, click here.

#48 ~ The Ice Queen

November 14, 2007 at 4:51 pm | Posted in Books, Childhood Memories, Family, Sexual Identity | 1 Comment
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The Ice Queen: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

Something I’ve never really warmed up to in general fiction is not naming the narrator. I suppose that author’s have their reasons. I might by it in circumstances where the reader could be the narrator or “anyone” could be the narrator. This is not the case in The Ice Queen, the story of a young woman who is plagued by relationships with other people after she wished her mother to never come home the night her mother’s car runs off the road and kills her. I don’t believe that this narrator could be “anyone,” so this narrative device doesn’t work for me. It frustrates me instead. That being said, I enjoyed reading this book and exploring the narrator’s world (henceforth referred to as Jane).

As I read the beginning of this book, I felt very much for Jane. As a child,who didn’t have negative “wishes” or thoughts about one’s parents from time to time? How would your life be different had your parent died before you saw them again? Jane simply determined that she was a selfish and unlovable soul. She became introverted and obsessed with death. Jane finds that she is a good listener and only has a series of casual sexual affairs throughout her life. As soon as a suitor indicates that he wants more than sex, she ends the relationship.

Jane and Ned, her older brother, were taken in by their maternal grandmother after the car accident. They were close as children. Jane grows up loving Grimm’s Fairy Tales while Ned prefers the scientific. He becomes a meteorologist and moves to Florida to work at Orlon University, the school at which his wife is also a professor. Jane remains in New Jersey. She becomes a research librarian and takes care of their grandmother. Although they haven’t remained close, Ned convinces Jane to move to Florida with him after their grandmother’s passing. On the way down there, Jane makes a near fatal wish to be struck by lighting. It didn’t take long for her wish to become reality.

This book explores how lives are impacted by one single factor. This story was an interesting story within which to wonder “what would happen if.” I enjoyed reading about her relationship with her brother and sister-in-law. Her struggles with friendships and adult relationships felt true to her. This may not be a story that will live with me forever o even next year, but I enjoyed my time in this world. It is a pleasant read. Everyone wishes for one of those every now and again.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#47 ~ Without a Map

November 11, 2007 at 4:29 pm | Posted in Adoption, Beach, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Inspiration, LIfe, Memoir, Parenting Dilemmas, Post-Partum Depression, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity, Writing | 2 Comments
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Without a Map: A Memoir by Meredith Hall

I am angry. Correction. I am pissed. Really, I’m f*cking pissed off after reading this book. I am angry and hurt for Meredith in specific and for all women in general. That one woman should have lived through a teenage pregnancy is horrific to me. That this is by no means an isolated incident makes this even worse.

Meredith Hall became pregnant, at the age of 17. This happened after a non-conventional summer romance that ended with one sexual encounter on the beach before Anthony, five years her senior, returned to college. Meredith’s mother, who had been left to raise her three children as a single mother, also found love that summer with a hippy. After spending so many years using negative pressure to keep Meredith a virgin, she began staying out until all hours of the night herself. She, in fact, left Meredith alone at the beach most days while she worked with her new lover. Going from suffocating boundaries to nearly none at all made that summer confusing for Meredith. She ended up paying dearly for it.

Meredith’s family was seen as an upstanding family in their small New Hampshire town. After her father left, Meredith’s mother became extremely involved in her local Protestant church. Once it was discovered that she was pregnant, Meredith was permanently expelled from her school. She was then abandoned immediately by her church and her mother. When Meredith’s father asked what they were going to do about the pregnancy, her mother simply replied, “She can’t stay here.” Meredith went to live with her father and step-mother, but being forced to stay alone in the house (and mainly in her upstairs room) for the remainder of her pregnancy was of no comfort. There was no one for her to cry with. There was no one to explain what was happening to her body. She was not allowed to take an active role in the decision to place her unborn son for adoption – except she was forced to set up a meeting with the baby’s father by herself and get him to sign the adoption papers. I will not even get into the verbal abuse she suffered at the hands of the obstetrician who allowed an abusive family adopt the baby.

I read this portion of the book on the plane from Atlanta to Denver last week. It was enough to make me want to lash out at society. Sex is a shame that is only worn by women, and most especially when they get pregnant outside of socially acceptable settings. There was no shame for Meredith’s father when he left his family with almost nothing to settle down with another woman. Yet, no one could speak to or about Meredith because her unplanned pregnancy was so shameful. I could scream.

So, Meredith was told either directly or indirectly by everyone who was supposed to love her that she was a dirty, shameful person. One sexual act and your life is judged as unworthy of any respect. You are shunned by the rest of society. She was not even allowed to have a roommate at the alternative school she graduated from after the birth of her son. No one wanted her to have the opportunity to even share her experiences with another girl for fear of “infecting” the others. Yes, because this was all working out so well for Meredith, right? Wouldn’t every young woman want to sign herself up for a complete societal shunning? So, alone in her grief and full of shame, Meredith did a lot of wandering after she graduated. The relationships she became involved with were not (in my opinion) good enough for her. They were only good enough for a woman who thought she was tarnished and trash. The reactions to her pregnancy became a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is what happens when people and institutions only use principles to guide their choices and reactions instead of love.

I have the greatest respect for Meredith Hall. She ultimately discovered her own self-worth. She has raised two exceptional sons and has established a warm and familial relationship with her first son. Due to circumstances, she was not able to ever confront her parents about how they abandoned her when she needed them the most. Her mother developed MS. When she needed her children the most, Meredith did not abandon her. Although it was painful for her never to get the opportunity to even tell her mother how the shunning impacted her life, she was an ever faithful daughter. Even though her brother and sister’s families were always invited to her father’s house, Meredith was not allowed because of an argument with her step-mother. Still, she made a point of meeting with her father before he died to tell him that she loved him.

This memoir stirred up many personal things in my heart. I can only hope that I can forgive as Meredith did. She was able to do for her parents the very thing that they and her church failed to teach her by example.

Meredith, thank you for sharing your story.

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To buy this book, click here.

#41 ~ The Monsters of Templeton

October 16, 2007 at 12:49 am | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Barnes & Noble, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Exercise, First Look Book Club, Free, Gothic Fiction, LIfe, Margaret Mitchell, My Life with Books, Parenting Dilemmas, Pre-Release Sneak Peak, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies, The Monsters of Templeton | 13 Comments
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The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

There is something spectacular about a book whose first line lures you into its spell like a siphon and never lets you go. In my 36 years of reading, there has only been two books whose first lines I’ve memorized and cannot forget:

“Call me Ishmael.” ~ Moby Dick (who hasn’t had that beaten into their skulls with an ice pick?)

Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” ~ Gone with the Wind

With that line, I fell in love with Scarlett and couldn’t wait to find out just what it was about her that had men panting like exercised puppies. There was no way I could not read the book after just that first sentence – and I never thought to. With the noted exception of Moby Dick, I’ve found that a compelling first sentence isn’t a fluke. It’s a sign of a gifted author and a book worthy of reading.

The fact of the matter is that most books I’ve read and even those I’ve enjoyed immensely begin forgettably. This is the 41st book I’ve read this year and prior to picking up this book, not a single first sentence has struck me this year – and I’ve read some great novels. So, when I read, re-read, and then could not stop thinking about:

“The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.”

I knew that this would be a book I would love. I finished this book as satisfied as I was with the first sentence. This is a novel that I will keep forever and re-read several times.

The Monsters of Templeton is the story of Willie Sunshine Upton, a young graduate student who unexpectedly returns to her ancestral home “steeped in disgrace” just as her home town is overcome with media upon the discovery of an as-of-yet undiscovered mammalian creature. The existence – or actually previous existence – of the monster gives this novel a Gothic feel. This along with the mystery of Willie’s famous family prove to work together well.

Willie returned to her mother, Vi, in hopes of finding a safe place to lick her wounds before facing the responsibilities and consequences of the choices she’d recently made. Vi, a single mother and former hippy, refuses to let her daughter settle, even if it is into shame. As a result of her recent radical religious conversion, Vi feels the need to come clean to Willie. She tells her that she is not the product of an orgy-istic time in San Francisco. In fact, Willie’s father is alive and well in Templeton. He never knew of her existence. When Willie asks who he is, Vi refuses to tell her. She provides only a single clue: he, just like Willie and Vi, is related to Marmaduke Temple, the father of Templeton. It was as if Vi through down the gauntlet. Willie, no matter how down her current circumstances have made her, cannot sit still having this mystery hanging around her. Her archaeological dig through her family’s past proves to be an enchanting and humorous adventure.

I don’t want to give away many details in this review. I enjoyed uncovering things along the way with Willie. I will say (that just about everything else recently in my life) that there was a strong connection for me between Vi and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Both characters hold an important truth that could very easily be given to the young woman in need: Willie needs to know who her father is and Dorothy needs to know how to get back to Kansas. If this information was simply handed over, what would have happened? Neither Willie nor Dorothy would never grasped or appreciated the importance of family in their souls. In that way, what both characters needed was the discovery as much as the truth. Given that Glinda is traditionally played by the same actress as Auntie Em, it seems that teaching a child to learn for herself is the mark of the best mother/mother figure.

The Monsters of Templeton is mainly narrated by Willie, but there are also sections narrated by The Running Buds, Templeton’s jogging protectors, and several of Willie’s ancestors. I found myself drawn into the genealogical research myself. The pictures, portraits, and family trees along the way also made me feel included. Just as with Special Topics in Calamity Physics, they enhance the experience and do not feel out of place.

One of the best things about reading this book was the humor. There were several times I found myself chuckling out loud while I was reading. I don’t do that very often. It was this humor that endeared the book and its characters to me. Perhaps it was because I am of a similar age to Willie’s character that I found the sarcasm and smack talk genuine. It is such a pleasure to read a book that is both interesting and fun.

** Thank you Barnes and Noble for providing me with an Advance Reading Copy of this book. Your First Look Book Club is an incredible opportunity. **

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To buy this novel, click here.

#39 ~ The Winthrop Woman

September 23, 2007 at 2:54 am | Posted in Barnes & Noble, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Historical Fiction, LIfe, Margaret Mitchell, Reading, Religion | 4 Comments
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The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton

I joined the Historical Fiction forum at the end of last month. [I need to write another post on that later – it’s a lot of fun.] They have a book of the month forum for anyone who would like to join. From the beginning of September on, the picture above has been on the Home page. After about 10 days, I took the plunge and bought the book. I’m so glad that I did. The Winthrop Woman is a wonderful fictionalization of the life of one of the New World’s first citizens, Elizabeth Winthrop. To most, she would be best known as Elizabeth Winthrop, niece and then daughter-in-law of John Winthrop.

The Winthrop family is one of the best known Puritan families. John Winthrop served as the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony off an on from the moment he arrived in the New World. Much of his family followed his beliefs. Elizabeth, however, is an exception. From an early age, she is scared of the manner in which her Uncle John rules his household and holds his extended family to account. At a tender age, prior to the death of her mother in childbirth, Elizabeth was caught while staying at her maternal family estate in a grave lie. Her Uncle John punished her per his view of Biblical principles. This event, as envisioned by Seton, became the basis for Elizabeth’s view of God as vindictive and harsh. Elizabeth never follows along the path of faith tread by her family and always distrusts her uncle’s motives.

Elizabeth is a fascinating character. I found her to feel very much like Scarlet O’Hara, a woman who doesn’t set out so much to thumb her nose at society as she does to live her life as she sees fit. In fact, there are parts of Elizabeth’s story that are similar to the early life of Margaret Mitchell. Both Mitchell and Elizabeth grew up in the midst of a family member with very fierce religious/political beliefs. In Mitchell’s case, that person was her mother, Mary. Mary was a suffragist who pushed Mitchell extremely hard to excel in academics, only to have her daughter push back. I will have to reread the early portions of Southern Daughter, the Mitchell biography I’ve read, to see if there is really a likeness between the two women. That should make some interesting research.

In addition to learning more about the Puritans in England and their dreams for the New World. They had dreams of being able to freely practice their faith and to set up a society based upon worshiping God in the manner they believed humans were intended. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, the Massachusetts Bay Colony under Puritan leadership was worse than living in England as a Puritan. John Winthrop and many other leaders became increasingly more hard-lined as the colonies matured. Isn’t that just like human nature? I came away from this book with a much deeper appreciation for the religious freedom I live with every day. Thankfully, whether I go to church or not is my own business. Elizabeth suffered a great many disappointments in her life for this very reason. I have to wonder how relations with the American Indian tribes could have better been handled if the European leaders were more interested in governing their territory than they were in monitoring the day to day lives of those they found ungodly.

If you are a fan of historical fiction or simply interested in reading about one of this country’s strong settlers (who happened to eventually own land in her own right!), you will enjoy this book. In the Author’s note at the beginning of the book, Ms. Seton makes mention of the fact that prior to writing this novel that the modern day Winthrops of her time knew that Elizabeth was someone for whom they should be embarrassed. She was the family’s black sheep. They just weren’t sure why that was the case. I hope that they read Seton’s novel. I hope that they now are proud to be related to such a strong woman. They should. She is a wonderful role model in my eyes.

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A Friendly FYI:

I purchased this book from Barnes & Noble. The next day, while on my lunch break, I read up until page 46 until I realized that the pages were out of order. B&N was great about exchanging it for me. I posted this on the Historical Fiction forum and another person had the same experience. If you decide to purchase this book, I would ensure that the pages are all there and in order before buying it. I was lucky to have bought it at the store. My friend on the forum had bought it on-line. The company refunded her money without incident, but she didn’t feel comfortable buying it again on-line.

If I Had a Hammer

September 13, 2007 at 4:18 pm | Posted in Books, Childhood Memories, LIfe, Memoir, Post-Partum Depression | 1 Comment

I like Rosie O’Donnell.  I used to watch her talk show frequently and it was sure to make me laugh.  She made A League of Their Own for me.  I may not always agree with her politics, but I tune out when celebrities talk about that for the most part anyway.  I don’t personally turn to entertainers when that topic comes up.  I heard about her fight with Tom Selleck on her talk show way back in the day as well as her blow-out with Elizabeth Hassellback earlier this year.  I didn’t watch or read the exchange.  I know all about that kind of drama in the work place in my own reality.  The last thing I need is to revisit it on my own time.  I’m hoping that Rosie’s recent trend toward the serious ends soon.  I miss her comedy.

The reason I bring this is up is because I caught a headline on People about some of the contents of her upcoming book, Celebrity Detox.  In it, she apparently goes into detail about her proclivity to break her own bones.  This really saddens me one more than one level.  First, that her home life was such a disfunctional place that she would get to a point where breaking her own bones seemed good or logical to her.  Mostly, maybe, it saddens me that she is being so public about all of this.  I’m not saying to hide this in shame.  No way!  But does a person have to reveal every single detail of an abusive situation to be honest?  I’m wondering if being this open about everything in her life isn’t just another manifestation of her self-destructiveness.  It makes me feel all the more sad for Rosie as a child.  Not only did she suffer, but now the intimate details of all that suffering are being laid naked under the spotlight.  Why?

On another blog I was very frank about some of the things that I experienced during my battle with post-partum depression.  It felt good to know that I was – in that medium – about to explain exactly how I saw things and how they felt.  They weren’t pretty.  There was one post, though, that went over “the Rosie edge” so to speak.  I wrote it later in the afternoon and posted it.  By 2 or 3 the following morning, I removed it.  It felt good to write it out, but it wasn’t meant for public consumption.  It was sacred to every part of me and it needed to be kept that way.  Removing that post did not in any way say that it was something I should continue to feel ashamed about.  Removing it honored my experience even more than writing about it.  My deepest pains should be treasured for what they are and what they mean to me.  The more I thought about that post being “out there,” the more I felt that I was exploiting and even prostituting that part of me.  I found that it was time for me to be kind to myself both in the past and in the present.  Doing so was then being kind to my future.

I have no idea who, if anyone, read that post before I took it down.  For that, I am thankful.  Rosie is not going to have that luxury, especially once the book is published.

Rosie, I beg you to go back.

#33 ~ Special Topics in Calamity Physics

August 8, 2007 at 3:27 am | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Brain Food for Thought, Childhood Memories, Inspiration, LIfe, Marisha Pessl, Memoir, My Life with Books, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 2 Comments
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Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Just 75 pages into Special Topics in Calamity Physics, I knew that I was going to enjoy it. When what I was reading spoke to me personally in conjunction with an outside conversation I had just moments before reading it, I knew that I was reading something spooky-spectacular. Now that I’ve completed this novel, I can say that I’ve never read anything quite like it. It is as fabulous in its story as it is original in its style and form. I hope to keep my mind long enough to see how this book is regarded by future generations.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is the story of Blue van Meer, the only child of an amazingly intellectual college professor named Gareth. She lost her mother at the age of five in a terrible car accident. From that time forward, the van Meer’s traveled from one small college town to the next ~ usually once per semester. The main story begins just before Blue’s senior year of high school. As a special “treat,” her dad takes a year-long teaching position in a small North Carolina town with an excellent prep school which will help Blue get into Harvard. Truth be told, Blue’s intelligence matches her father’s. There’s little doubt that Harvard would pass her up.

Given Blue’s nomadic childhood, she developed a strong bond with her father ~ in equal parts because he was her only constant and because she tended to keep to herself. That all changed at St. Gallway. Through a fluke encounter at the local grocery store, she catches the eye of Hannah Schnieder, a beautiful woman who happens to be the film teacher.

Hannah has mentored a group of five classmates called the “Bluebloods” by the rest of the class. Upon Hannah’s insistence, Blue is reluctantly included in their weekly Sunday dinners at Hannah’s house. After a couple of months, she’s even seen as one of them. In one form or another, they all get embroiled in figuring out Hannah’s mysterious life away from them. When Hannah is discovered dead, Blue’s newfound life is destroyed along with it. Worse still, while the “Bluebloods” are nearly violent in blaming Blue for Hannah’s death, no one else will believe that her was anything other than a suicide. Blue is forced to go it alone to detangle Hannah and why she was so mysteriously attached to her.

This book is written in first person by Blue as a memoir of her childhood. Pessl uses the experiences of this interesting father/daughter relationship to construct this novel. It is full of references and hand-drawn reproductions of pictures used to illustrate her points. One might think that references would bog down a novel written as a memoir, but they were nothing short of a delight. Blue never used a quotation unnecessarily. Although I never bothered to check to see how fictitious (or not) they were, this novel would not have worked without them.

I would have to say one of the most amazing things about the construction of this novel is the Table of Contents. It is created in the form of a syllabus from one of Gareth’s courses. Each chapter title is that of a well known novel or story. Each one (for at least those that I was familiar with) was absolutely perfect for that chapter. I could not believe how ingenious and creative that little touch is. How could I not buy a book with a chapter entitled, “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man?” For that matter, how could I not adore a character who makes up a Ulysses study group to get out of her house and out with her mentor? There were times that the Table of Contents alone made me happy to be alive as a literate human being.

There is still some summer left. Do yourself a huge favor. Buy this book.  I swear you’ll want to keep it. Take a long weekend (Labor Day if you must), sit back, crack open this book and be delighted. You may find yourself reading way into the wee hours of the night without being exhausted the next day.

Yes, my friends, it’s that refreshing.

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