Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dance of Deception by Harriet Lerner

Dance of Deception by Harriet Lerner is the third book in the three-in-one collection that includes her classic Dance of Anger and its follow-up Dance of Intimacy.  This third book is a departure from the previous two in that its primary focus is still on relationships but goes beyond the immediate faimilial ones to include professional, cultural, and societal relationships as well. It is the theme of inclusiveness, wrapped up in a strongly feminist psychological perspective, that undergirds this particular text within the volume.

Naturally, Lerner encourages the reader to be honest with other but she tempers this advice with observations from her personal and professional experience where being brutally honest is not always the best choice and even confesses a confusion with the idea of ethical dishonesty or situational truth.  Should a woman who has said to a couple of strangers that she works in a hospital correct the misperception that she is a nurse by clarifying that she is actually a doctor?  Lerner is often clear in what she believes is best but she is perhaps strongest when she dares to be less than confident.    Her lack of absolute confidence is most evident in her knowing that she herself is unable to always be assertive and feeling threatened at the idea that she is not adequately inclusive in her white-middle-class-educated-woman perspective of feminist cant.

Because the book isn’t primarily about familial or marital relationships, it is less intensely focused, for better or worse.  Some of Lerner’s readers may be put off by this while others will find it a refreshing change.  I fall into this latter category and was relieved not to read whole chapters about triangulation and under-functioning/over-functioning.  While both are certainly referenced in this book, because of its broader emphasis the issues the typify the variety of relationships are larger and carry far-reaching implications that Lerner can only begin to explore in the under 250 pages of this book.  She quotes from and recommends other books making her book an excellent and accessible introduction to the psychological importance of honesty and how personal integrity can define and even determine all of our relationships.

This book is one of the Fifteen in 2011 books and also part of my Books I Should Have Read By Now Challenge.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Romancing the Ordinary by Sarah Ban Breathnach

Romancing the Ordinary by Sarah Ban Breathnach was yet another of my morning reading books.  I originally bought this book because I was bookstore browsing with a friend and she picked it up and looked at it.  A couple of weeks later, I’m with the same friend in a different bookstore and once again she picked up this book so I knew she was more than casually interested in it and that is why I bought her a copy and one for myself.  I thought it could be a shared experience.  Then she moved away.  One day, when I was stuck in bed because of the vertigo, I opened the book and began to read it and nearly fell out of bed because in the introduction Breathnach describes her own experience with vertigo, how debilitating it was for her.  I literally got tears in my eyes and I sent an email to my friend encouraging her to check out the introduction because even then I think I found Breathnach’s words more descriptive than anything I had found to say about the whole thing.  But my friend said she hadn’t brought the book with her in the move. I sent her a link to the introduction because it was available online but now that I am writing this it occurs to me that she never said anything about it so I don’t think she ever got around to reading it.

Then late last year I won a free preview copy (ARC) of the same author’s book Peace and Plenty.  I was already familiar with some of her other books and I knew that she typically organized the content around monthly or daily readings.  Which is why I made three of her books part of my morning reading.  Only, Peace and Plenty did not break down as the other two did and I ended up reading and finishing it months ago.

Which is how I finally got around to reading this book and I have to say that I really like this book.  A lot.  Enough so that I am going to keep it with the intention of rereading it someday in the future.  At the time she wrote this book, Breathnach was not in a relationship.  She was divorced from her husband and learning how to fall in love with her life.  And with herself.  She invites the reader, as the title implies, to truly enjoy the ordinary things in life, focusing on the various sensory input we tend to take too casually.  The texture of a piece of fabric, the way a bite-sized piece of fruit feels on the tongue, the sound of the rain on leaves or how the wind spins the ivy dangling from a tree branch outside a window. 

She quotes from a lot of sources (although she rarely says where one can find these quotes and definitely never gives a page number) while recommending books to read, movies to see, and even recipes to try at home.  All of these are put within the context of her own intimate stories and by the book’s end, a reader could imagine that Breathnach is not merely a writer but a friend.

Breathnach’s target audience is, admittedly, is probably a white-middle class woman although I suppose some admirers will fall outside that narrow definition.  And odds are that those who adore Simple Abundance will be disappointed that her happily ever after ended in divorce.  What’s worse, for those who have read Peace and Plenty even the joy she experiences in buying a cottage she adores and finds inspirational is overcast with a prescient awareness that she will lose this lovely and well-loved home in the future.  I would suspect that most of her adoring readers will even be threatened or at least turned off by the fact that she is more introspective and even melancholy in this book.  She did go through a divorce, after all, and she is living alone; seems to me that introspection and some sadness are to be expected. 

I, for one, find her honesty a lovely complement to her occasional perkiness.  She doesn’t try to pretend she has  it all together and she invites the reader to struggle alongside her as she tries to find ways of learning to love herself.  At the end of the book she points out what any reader would have observed already:  this book is meant to be read more than once.  It stands to reason.  After all, falling in love is the easy part; maintaining a loving relationship is the real challenge.  Above all else, I appreciate Sarah Ban Breathnach’s courage because it takes a lot more courage to write from a place of vulnerability than it does to only share the joy and light of life.  Maybe the next time I read this book, I’ll find someone who will want to share in the reading with me.

Note:  Add this book to the Books I Should Have Read By Now Challenge because I've had it on my bookshelf, have wanted to read it, for over five years, at least.  I'm glad I finally got around to doing so.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi is the graphic memoir of a girl’s childhood in Iran during the change from the Shah’s regime, back in the 70s, to a more fundamentalist Islamic society.  I was just old enough to remember the Shah of Iran being exiled from his country, the concerns regarding what effect this would have on the political climate in the Middle East.

Marjane tells her life story in short chapter-like vignettes, each with a particular focus.  The first contrasts her life before the Shah was removed and after, going to a secular school where she is learning French before the revolution to wearing a veil and learning about Islam.  The next chapter introduces her family history from her grandfather who served under the old regime and died in prison to her own parents’ own revolutionary leanings, protesting in the streets but refusing to allow their daughter to participate.

Through the eyes of Marjane, the complexity of political change is experienced.  As friendships are forced into separation and even her parents cannot tell what is or is not propaganda, Marjane matures, her feelings becoming more confused as her awareness continues to mature.  The ending is a cliffhanger that will leave any reader wanting to read the second book immediately.   

Friday, December 23, 2011

Reflect on changes, set some goals (My Turn)

Reflect on changes, set some goals (My Turn):
This is an interesting personal article about taking time at the end of the year to assess where you've been and where you would like to be going.
"As 2011 comes to a close and 2012 welcomes us in, now is a good time to reflect on what has changed for you in the last year. I am a proponent of journaling for several reasons. " 'via Blog this'

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J K Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J K Rowling is the fourth book in the Harry Potter series and, as I’ve mentioned before, the first book in the series that convinced me I might actually end up really liking these books.  From the very first chapter you know something has changed.  Whereas the previous three books begin with Harry miserably living with the Dursleys, the fourth book begins elsewhere altogether.  The careful reader will, of course, have an idea why the novel begins here and the less careful reader will figure it out sooner rather than later.  But Rowling’s decision, to move the beginning of the novel away from the protagonist is both an interesting choice and an intelligent one.  It puts off the reader just enough to give warning because this is the book that serves as a turning point for one and all.

After the first chapter, the book falls into the familiar pattern and themes from previous volumes are picked up almost immediately when Harry is awoken by a sharp pain to his scar.  As with the previous rereads, I found myself seeing things I had casually overlooked, or perhaps had forgotten because I didn’t realize they held any real significance.  There is a great deal of foreshadowing throughout and once again minor characters are introduced, even if only mentioned in passing, who end up proving to be more significant later on.

I almost wish that she would top being so expositional, reminding the reader of previous events, like how last year Harry Potter’s Gryffindor team lost a Quidditch match to Cedric Diggory’s Hufflepuff team.  Or explaining how Dobby was once a house elf to the Malfoy family until Harry tricked Lucius Malfoy into freeing Dobby from his servitude.  I suppose the justification for this is that the books are written for a younger audience who probably forget details from one book to the next.  Perhaps.  But I think it’s safe to say that by the time someone has read through the first four books, they’ve pretty much made a commitment to the series and most young readers who fall in love with a series of books don’t just read them the one time.  They read and reread and reread them.

I hear some adults do this as well.  Imagine!

Upon reading this book yet again, I can better appreciate why this is the one that really turned the series around for me.  It is superior to the previous three but doesn't completely outshine them because the first three are building up to this pivotal moment, building up the necessary tension, and putting as many of the primary players front and center as possible.

Anyway, here are the rankings:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Garland of Love by Daphne Rose Kingma

A Garland of Love:  Daily Reflections on the Magic and Meaning of Love  by Daphne Rose Kingma is a collection of very brief thoughts on love, focusing primarily on romantic love but also touching upon relationships between parent and child, friends, even coworkers.  The book itself is small, so there is not a great deal of content on each day’s page.  As  a result, most of the entries lack any real depth.

As with any collection of “daily reflections,” some are more meaningful than others, more personally relevant.  The author tries to be gender inclusive but I doubt many men would appreciate most of the book.  Similarly, I think most women will find something to like about this book.  It doesn’t aspire to be much and it succeeds.

However, there is something insulting in how superficial this book turns out to be.  This is spirituality “lite” and pop-psychology cum relationship advice.  I could see where each day’s reading might be an invitation for a couple to begin a dialogue, to perhaps go deeper into the lesson’s meaning.  And it has the occasional sentence or two that’s quote worthy (as my weekly quotes would suggest).  So this is not to say that I didn’t find it a pleasant book to read.  I’m glad it wasn’t my only “morning book” because I’m afraid then I might have found it more disappointing.   And I’m going to pass my copy along to someone I feel will appreciate it, although my copy is a bit beat up and battered.  

The reason my copy is battered is because I've had it since 1999 which is why it is yet another of my Books I Should Have Read By Now books.  There will be at least two more by the end of this month.  Woohoo!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sanditon and Other Stories by Jane Austen

Sanditon and Other Stories by Jane Austen is a collection of some of her unpublished and unfinished works, along with some of her juvenilia and miscellanea.  As the editor, Peter Washington, notes in the introduction, “The purpose of the present text is unashamed enjoyment of a novelist who, great or small, major or minor, never fails to provide it” (xxv). 
Ultimately, this book is for the Jane Austen fan, or Janeite; a person who wants to read anything and everything by Austen even if it includes works that are unpolished.  Albeit, even when unpolished, the writing is surprisingly witty.  And the reader is bound to walk away appreciative of how Austen revises her writing. 

For those who have been following this blog, you may recall that I’d read a part of this book earlier thisyear.  I wanted to read Austen in the order in which she wrote her, although Northanger Abbey was written before Persuasion so I made a valiant effort.

Part Two, because it included her juvenilia is where my reading began.  I then back-tracked to Part One and read her novella Lady Susan.  You can read about those parts here.

Part One also includes two unfinished novels:  Sanditon and The Watsons. Both have been published with the help of a “continuator.”  Sanditon is the unfinished novel that everyone especially seems to praise.  The typical Austen elements are in place with a family trying to get a beachside resort town established and taking in a young girl who will naturally find true love when all is said and done.  And it likely would have been typically gratifying with few surprises. 

The Watsons is another unfinished novel and I especially enjoyed this one.  A young girl, who had been raised by a more affluent family member, returns to her family of origin where she doesn’t quite fit in because of the disparity between her education and upbringing (nurture) and that of her siblings.  The nature and nurture theme that is evident in many of Austen’s novels, is obviously at play here.  I would have very much enjoyed seeing how this novel would end, even though it would obviously end with a happily-ever-after marriage.

I then moved on to read the second half of Part Two, the miscellanea.  This was, in my mind, the lease cohesive and interesting part of the collection.  I don’t begrudge the editor’s choice to be inclusive but if I were to want to reread this book at some point I doubt I would choose to read this part of the book.  The “Plan of a Novel” is not as interesting as I had hoped it would be.  There are then two short pieces:  “Opinions of Mansfield Park” and “Opinions of Emma” are of most interest in that one is bound to come upon an opinion that matches one’s own.  But a few snippets of comments, a sentence or two at most, is not as interesting, perhaps, as a full book review.  Last and  subjectively least, the last two parts, “Verses” and “Prayers,” are not particularly exciting.  The verses do exhibit some of Austen’s wit but they are only moderately inspired, quatrains that sometimes sink into a sing-song rhythm.  The prayers are typical, complete with thee and thou and contrived elevated language.  I was disappointed that polished prose of her novels wasn’t evident in the prayers. 

As I said at the beginning of this review, this book is written for the reader who adores everything Jane Austen has written.  I cannot deny that I love Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.  I very much like Sense and Sensibility and Emma.  But I doubt I’ll ever reread Northanger Abbey or Mansfield Park.  I suspect that someone who can honestly say that they love all of the published novels will at least like every page.  Some die hard loyalists will likely love this book cover-to-cover.  I did not.  I guess my admiration of Austen has its limits.  I do, however, wish that “The Watsons” had been completed before Jane Austen’s death.  I would have loved it; of this, I have no doubt.

Aside:  I was not aware that I had not already posted my review for Northanger Abbey which I finished a couple of weeks ago.  It could be that I saved it as a draft and forgot to publish it.  If not, I'm sure I have it in a file somewhere and just thought I'd published it.  Either way, I dropped a ball somewhere and I need to pick it up.  Oops.

This book is a part of the Books I Should Have Read By Now Challenge because I've been wanting to read Austen's juvenilia ever since I first heard it was published and I promised myself I would the next time I read Jane Austen.  That was many years ago and I'm only now getting around to it.  

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Morning Readings

I wanted to share one more list of books I’ll be reading this upcoming year, albeit this is a short list by comparison to some of the previous ones. This list is for the books I plan on reading throughout 2012 as part of my morning. They are designed to be read daily, short passages addressing different topics. One of these should look familiar to those of yo who’ve been reading this blog for a while.

The first, Goddesses for Every Day, should be an interesting complement to my readings on Hinduism. When I was working on a poetry chapbook, I learned a few things and in my research I came across a variety of things, among them the name of a Chinese goddess. (I have been unable to find the file with the rough draft of the chapbook or I would tell you the name. Hopefully it won’t remain missing for much longer and I’ll remember to come back here and edit this post accordingly.) I thought this book would be interesting to read. Who knows, perhaps one or more of the entries will inspire something in me as did that one goddess I turned up while researching the chapbook.

The second book, Younger by the Day, is one I’ve read before. I liked it so much before I’d even finished it that I bought copies for two of my dearest friends: Love and Pia. The three of us may be reading the book together, sharing any thoughts we have on each day’s reading. The book is written for “women of a certain age” and offers a variety of ways of living with the changes that come with the approach and arrival of menopause. I especially appreciated the author’s holistic approach, offering traditional and complementary healing practices, including everything from Ayurvedic practices to dietary changes, recommendations for lifestyle changes, and more. I suggested to the others that we might check in with one another, share how we apply each day’s readings or discuss those with which we are less in agreement. Where a dietary change is recommended, we could pass along a favorite recipe or where an exercise or meditative practice mentioned we could check in on whether we gave it a try or not. I’m really looking forward to sharing this book, especially with two people I love.

Finally, I may also be reading Simple Abundance, which I've been reading this year. It was suggested to me by someone online that she would like to read it along with me but this was a few months ago and I tried to check in with her to see if she is still interested. I know that she has some things going on this month that she could not have foreseen months ago and so I wait but I am not sure if this mean sure if her silence is due to her circumstances or because she is no longer interested. If it is the former, I should hear from her before month’s/year’s end. If not, I’ll not include this book in this year’s readings.

I don’t suppose there will be any other books that I am inspired to add to my morning reading pile but if another should present itself or be recommended to me then I will update this post before year's end.

As usual, anyone interested in joining me in reading any of the above is welcome to do so. Leave a comment with a note of your intention.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Sanditon and Other Stories by Jane Austen

Sanditon and Other Stories by Jane Austen is a collection of disparate writings by Austen gathering together her juvenilia, some unfinished works, and more.  Earlier this year I read the juvenilia before beginning Austen’s completed novels with the intention of returning to this book when I had finished those.  I am finally able to pick up my reading where I left off.

First, the unfinished novel ”Sanditon” which has actually been fleshed out by a contemporary author and sold as a complete novel.  Although we’ll never know for certain Austen’s intentions for the story, it is safe to assume there will be a happy ending for Charlotte, although it is interesting to note that the original title given to it by Austen herself is “The Brothers” so it is possible that the plot would have hinged upon the happy marriages of the brothers, with the assumption that Catherine would surely be one of the two brides.

Next, I read “The Watsons” with more delight than I did the previous unfinished novel.  The protagonist, Emma Watson, has returned to her father’s home after living with and being raised by her wealthy aunt.  Her manners are, as a result, more refined than those of her family and she has difficulty fitting in at first although familial bonds will eventually strengthen.  There is a footnote to this unfinished novel in which Austen’s sister describes how the author had intended for the rest of the story to go and Emma would have been happily married by the novel’s end.

At this point, I am reading this book for the sake of having completed my journey through Jane Austen’s oeuvre.  The last part includes some more writings including some poetry which will probably be more interesting than inspiring.  Who knows?  I may be mistaken and in for a big surprise but I suspect that the third part of the book will add little to my overall appreciation of Austen.  While I cannot say I adore all of her novels, I would rather read her romance novels than anyone else’s.  The fact that I typically loathe romance novels and can honestly say that I love Pride and Prejudice  and Persuasion is not something to be taken lightly.  If I were more fond of romance novels then I could not only appreciate another person being dismissive but I would appreciate it. Since I am not a fan of the genre, when I find one I like we should all consider it exceptional.  Austen is, among many other things, exceptional. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tina's Mouth by Keshni Kashyap (and illustrated by Mari Araki)

Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap and illustrated by Mari Araki is a graphic novel that allows the protagonist to be a teenager without falling into the clichéd stereotypes.  Tina is intelligent without being sarcastic at every turn, frustrated with her family without being overwrought with angst, and trying to survive the usual high-school problems, like being dumped by her best-friend, hoping the boy she is crushing on will be her first kiss, and recording her experiences in an existential journal cum school project.

I was hooked at the very beginning when Tina labels the various cliques within her school, all the while unwilling to narrowly define herself except as an outsider. If Tina is oblivious to the irony, the reader cannot help but notice that the labels begin to slip the more Tina writes in her journal.  Everyone from her former best-friend to her siblings don’t live up to Tina’s introduction of them and Tina herself changes, all the while trying to answer the question:  Who am I?

Araki’s illustrations are a perfect complement to Kashyap’s text.  Just sophisticated enough without being so highly stylized as to be obviously drawn by someone with decades of experience behind them. Instead the drawings look like something a talented but still inexperienced artist would draw.  This is an intelligent choice.

This coming-of-age novel also serves as a gentle introduction to Sartre and existentialism and even a quick sample of a story from the Hinduism tradition that serves as a metaphor.  That the writer and artist are able to layer so much and handle it all with so light a touch.  For this alone, this graphic novel works better and fulfills above and beyond all expectations.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Blue Nights by Joan Didion is another memoir about loss and grieving from a writer who has not only walked this path before but did so masterfully.  Her book on her husband’s death, The Year of Magical Thinking, remains the only book I’ve read about loss that made emotional sense to me, raw and complex.  He died of a heart attack while their daughter, Quintana, was in a coma and, less than two years later, Quintana herself died.  She was criticized for writing about her daughter’s death in her first memoir, a criticism I frankly find vulgar and offensive.  I am grateful that Didion was able to dig within, to face the darkness of her experience. 

In this new memoir, Didion writes about her daughter’s death as well as her life, from how she came to be adopted through moments of her childhood, moving in and out of time, weaving together the past memories with the present grief.  Although some of the short chapters read more like snapshots initially, in Didion’s hands each becomes a piece of an intricate collage where metaphors gradually build to tell a cohesive story of a woman who is falling apart under the weight of tremendous loss.

This memoir lacks the imperative tone of the former, feels sometimes more removed as the author writes about the trivial realities of getting older and being unable to wear heels and, in nearly the same breath, recalling the shoes her daughter wore on her wedding day.  If this book feels less emotionally distraught, can there be any blame?  How does a mother write the reality of what it means to lose a child?  But there will probably be those who read this memoir and criticize it for being less.  Less raw.  Less painful.  It even has fewer pages.  And yet, had Didion tried to show how very deeply these emotional wounds cut, I don’t think anyone could read what she had to say because anyone who marries does so with an awareness than one or the other will die and the surviving partner will be left behind to grieve.  But no mother gives birth to a child and expects to outlive her. 

That Didion had the courage to write about this at all should be enough.  More than enough.  And so it is.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J K Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J K Rowling was the first book in the series that I liked when I read through the books for the first time.  You know, back when there were only four published books.

I know that the reason this is the novel that took off for me is that I could see, or at least hope, that the books were becoming more sophisticated.  More characters are introduced, ones that will become pivotal in upcoming volumes. 

I enjoyed this book more than any of the others the first time I read it (until I read the fourth one, that is).  So what did I think this time?  Well, I really wish someone would take Rowling’s computer and remove its ability to make ellipses . . .  and dashes—and let’s set it up to self-edit by replacing half the exclamation marks with periods.  If I were her editor, I would have insisted that she revise these so that they wouldn’t be so ubiquitous.  I would accuse any other author of laziness if they were to be so frivolous with their punctuation.  (Not to mention the abundance of adverbials.)

And yet, having read the entire series I know that the story is worth suffering through her punctuation.  The Whomping Willow introduced in book two has a greater significance in this book and the Marauder’s Map, along with other things, comes into the story.  It will be used again.  Most significant is Professor McGonagall’s status as an animagus.  What seemed a trite character affection, this ability takes on greater relevance as well.

As I’ve said before, it is Rowling’s ability to layer smaller plot points into greater ones as the novels progress that I can’t help but admire.  She stays solidly within the oeuvre while offering surprises.  Too often a typically formulaic genre rarely transcends itself but each book moves slightly above and beyond the previous one. 

Needless to say, I’m eager to reread the fourth book because that is the one that sealed the entire series for me. 

Sooooo . .  . the rankings at this point are:

That’s right.  I’ve flipped and I prefer the first book to the third.  There’s still room for another upset in the rankings and I’m honestly trying to read each book with an openness as I measure it first on its own merit before comparing it with the others and then weighing it as part of the series over all.  I must really like this series to reread it from beginning to end just because I may finally get to see the last two movies on dvd.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Finding Water by Julia Cameron

Finding Water by Julia Cameron is the third of what she calls “The Artist’s Way Trilogy.”  I have not read the second book, Walking in the World, but I have read, more than once, The Artist’s WayMy mother gave me this book after we read the seminal first book but I’ve never read the second.  I mention this because this review will only be a comparison between the two books.

In The Artist’s Way, Cameron described a few basic artistic practices, including daily Morning Pages, weekly Artist’s Dates, and walking.  Each chapter ended with a reflection on the week’s practices (assessing whether or not you did each and how often, etc.).  Each chapter also ended with a list of other tasks, so many that one could not reasonably do them in the single week’s time that each chapter is supposed to cover.  For this reason, The Artist’s Way invited the reader to read the book more than once, to return to those tasks that were left undone,  to live with the book beyond the twelve weeks and twelve chapters.

In Finding Water, there are once again twelve chapters to be read over a period of twelve weeks.  There are a few journaling exercises in which you make lists or write something similarly simple, not affording room for much reflection unless you yourself choose to write more and longer.  The book also encourages the reader to reach out to other artists, friends who can offer support to your creative path. 

In both books, Cameron steeps her ideas in spiritual rhetoric.  However, the former is perhaps more vague.  Or it may be my own memory of the text that is vague.  In Twelve-Step programs, the third step refers to a Higher Power, a “god as we understood him” in vague terms.  In the second book, any ambiguity seems to be gone and Cameron speaks of God, not the Divine or Spirit or other abstractions.  I’ve read accusations in reviews for the former book where readers were offended because it was too “New Age,” typically from Christians who saw the word “spiritual” in the title and hoped for something different and I’ve read reviews from others saying that the book is “too Christian.”  I never felt either way—that the book was “too New Age” or “too Christian.”  This book, on the others hand, feels far more Christian because only the rare euphemism used for God, who is also specifically engendered as masculine.   

If the more strongly Christian rhetoric was unexpected, the 12-step rhetoric is not.  Maybe it is just as endemic in both books.  After all, each is divided into twelve chapters and I’ve no doubt that this is intentional.  Whether it is truly more prevalent or not, I found it more tedious this time, a monotone note that is reiterated so frequently that one wonders whether there is anything new on these pages.  Perhaps if I had read this third book first, I’d have found one this more inspiring.  But why would anyone choose to read the third book before reading the first?  Odds are, nobody would, and in the end this book adds nothing to the first.  It’s good but not nearly as good and in setting her own bar so high with The Artist’s Way, Cameron simply fails to measure up in any of the books I’ve read that followed.

As for her rhetorical style in general, I offer the following paragraph as an example:
The tree beneath my writing-room window is a mystery to me.  It has four-cornered leaves and large yellow flowers that are gold to the swarm of yellow jackets that feed and cruise and feed again amid its branches.  This is the first summer that I have stayed on in New York rather than going on out to Taos, New Mexico.  It is the first season when the tree has become a part of my story. I write at an IMB Selectric typewriter set on a small Chinese desk, up against a large window.  The bees come to the window.  They are large yellow jackets and they soar menacingly close.  I remind myself that there is a pane of glass between them and me. I am grateful for the window.   (212)
Let me just say it:  I loathe this paragraph.  The prose is ponderous, tedious, and dull.  Previously in the book she mentions her decision to stay home in New York rather than take her usual trip to New Mexico, a decision she obviously thinks the reader won’t remember from one week to the next because she repeats this sacrifice over and over again.  It’s not only that.  There’s something so clunky about this paragraph.  Or at least so it seems in my eyes.  I can’t imagine that I would have read, let alone reread more than once, The Artist’s Way if her prose were this mind-numbing to read.  One would assume a writer’s talent would grow over time.  I suppose there are exceptions to every rule.

I can honestly say, after reading this third book, I have no desire to read the second book.  It would take someone I love urging me to read it to make me even consider the possibility.  Even then, he or she would have to assure me they would read it with me.  And even then, I would want to make sure that they had not read The Artist’s Way already because I wouldn’t want to experience the disappointment and let-down multiplied through the shared experience. 
As I said before, I’d only recommend this book to someone who has never read The Artist’s Way but even then I’d really urge them to just read the other book and skip this one altogether.  As it is, now I have to decide if I want to bother reading The Vein of Gold or just forego it.  I’ve had it for a while, considered reading it ages and ages ago, was prepared to add it to my Fifteen in 2012 list.  But how many more times do I have to give Cameron a second chance before I give up altogether?  

This is one of the Fifteen in 2011 books and also a Book I Should Have Read by Now.  Only two more days to vote in the poll to help me choose of the books I'll be adding to the Fifteen in 2012 list.  A special thank you to those who have taken the time to vote.  I truly appreciate it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Check It Out, Over There Please

Most of you already know I have another blog (where I post my quotes). Right now there's a poll there for help choosing one  of the Fifteen in 2012 books. There are five books on writing and I realized that maybe some of you here would like to vote over there.

So here's the post about the poll and you'll see the poll easily from there.

Thanks in advance for chiming in with your choice.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Rules for the Dance by Mary Oliver

Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Poetry by Mary Oliver is a companion to her Poetry Handbook.  In this book she looks at formal poetry, whereas in the other she looks at poetry in general.  Because of this focus, her examples in Rules for the Dance are more traditional and less contemporary.

I love to read books that try to explain scansion because I always hold some modicum of hope that this time it will make sense to me.  (If you, dear reader, are one of my former students, the truth is out.  I know nothing about scansion and whatever I taught you was right but I don’t know why.  They say that those who can do, and those who can’t teach.  I am the poster child for that cliché when it comes to scansion.)  Unfortunately, I can honestly say that I am still unsure about scansion.  I just don’t get it and no matter who explains it, I can’t seem to make sense of any of it.  I read the rules and they just slip through my fingers. Not like sand, because it isn’t about my trying to hold them. They slip through like air, insubstantial, meaningless.  Even Oliver’s explanation did not shed any light on my ignorance.

I just don’t get it.

But that’s me.  In spite of my ongoing incomprehension, I recommend this book with enthusiasm. Oliver accomplishes, in few pages, what many others take two or three times more to try to teach:  explaining the different forms, the ways rhyme, alliteration, and sound are all used to create poetry, the “how” of reading and writing metrical verse.  That the author manages to condense so much content in so few pages does not surprise me.  In her previous book, she managed to do so much and in this book she proves once again her facility for making her point.  What’s more, the book also includes a brief anthology, a collection of poems from which she quotes, allowing the reader to explore the ideas she’s taught.  Everything from assonance to consonance, from end rhyme to feminine rhyme, is touched upon and reflected both in the text and in the collected poems.

The truth is, with these two books by Mary Oliver, anyone who wants to better appreciate poetry can learn all that needs to be known.  The poet seeking to improve and the reader aspiring to appreciate can both do no better than to begin and end here.  As for me, I may never understand scansion but if that should change, I’ll be sure to give praise where praise is due.

I read The Poetry Handbook way back in 1999 and have wanted to read this book ever since.  So this book is another of the Books I Should Have Read By Now Challenge.  I'm about to finish another which will round out November with 3 books read for the challenge.  Yes, I didn't add any to October but I had read four and even five (if memory serves) in previous months so I'm still on target with my personal goal.  Yaaaaaaay!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman is a first novel from an author who is not afraid to challenge her readers by using a non-traditional narrative style that includes reports from social worker’s files, fractured story-telling, and even mathematical story problems that serve as metaphors, layering more meaning into what is being told than a simpler narrative style could possibly achieve.  Even chapters that on the surface seem irrelevant work as metaphors that give the primary story a subtext so that nothing is wasted.

Ambitious throughout, the story of Rory Dawn reads like a prose poem; but a brutal one, lyrical in the way that a well-phrased rap song can be, infused with anger and brutality and a raw honesty that bleeds on every page.  Although it is a compelling story and I found myself aching for the protagonist, I also found myself putting this book down easily, too emotionally exhausted by what I was reading to read even another chapter.  And most of the chapters are very short so it wasn’t the length that daunted me.  Hassman doesn’t need a lot of pages to say a lot and so much can happen in very few pages that to not put the book down was simply impossible.  

At no point does the author pander to her audience although she does have an agenda.  However, she is light handed with her “lesson” and creates a solid enough narrative that the moral of the story never feels shoved into the story.  Nor does she provide a convenient or trite ending to the story—unlike another novel I reviewed some time past. 

Masterfully told, this novel is nonetheless relentless and so I highly recommend it but with caution.  In some ways, this is a disturbing novel, as well it should be.  To dismiss this is to denigrate the protagonist’s experience which, while told through an intelligently formed fiction, is rooted in too much honesty to not be honored.  And Hassman is nothing if not honest in the story she has chosen to tell and the manner in which she has created to tell it.   

Monday, November 21, 2011

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver is a young adult (middle grades) novel with three protagonists—an orphan girl locked in an attic, an orphan boy who serves as an apprentice to an alchemist, and a ghost whose stories are inexorably bound together as circumstances converge to a conclusion that is gratifying even if it is, let’s face it, oh so predictable.

Liesl is the little girl in the attic and it is her artistic ability that draws (no pun intended) a ghost to cross over from the other side.  Liesl’s drawings come into play later in the story.  In the meantime, Will, who is running errands for his abusive alchemist master, makes a mistake in his exhaustion that has a domino effect.  Each piece in the puzzle falls into place and the disparate characters—the alchemist, the archetypical evil-stepmother, and others—all come together at the end.

The entire time I was reading this novel I could easily see it being translated to film, one of those “fun for the entire family” type films that has a boy, a girl, and even a gender neutral ghost to appeal to all younger audience members.  If handled well, it would very likely be a hit and if the children who see the movie then chose to read the book, it would truly be a winner all around. 

I liked this book.  I didn’t love it but it was a much needed and pleasant distraction.  And now, I shall move it to the Bibi’s Future Box so that when she is older she can read and maybe she will like it or even love it.   

Friday, November 18, 2011

Praying for Sheetrock by Melissa Fay Greene

Praying for Sheetrock by Melissa Fay Greene is a nonfiction book that takes place in rural Georgia during the 1970s.  In McIntosh County, the Civil Rights Movement hasn’t had much of a ripple effect and the Sheriff still holds a lot of power, controlling the drugs, gambling, and even prostitution that moves through his county along with the northerners who drive through on their way to Florida or back from a vacation. 

But the media that does reach the community, telling about the events that are occurring beyond the borders of the county and one man begins to see that things are wrong.  And another man who returns home after serving in the military and on the New York City police force.  There are also young men and women, inspired by President John F Kennedy’s call to “ask what I can do for my country,” fresh out of law school and eager to make a difference in the world. 

Together, with other members, things begin to change and the African American community begins to confront the long standing issues that have allowed the status quo.  Each small step leads to another and yet another until the power is, if not shifted, at least no longer so single handed.

Unfortunately, with real life, happy endings are no guaranteed and heroes, even when they are successful, can be terribly, if not tragically, flawed.  One almost wishes that the Greene had chosen to stop the book after part two because what occurs in part three is disheartening.  Not terribly surprising but nonetheless saddening.

Greene's prose is almost as well-crafted, filled with metaphors and nearly poetic descriptions, as it is in her later books.  While I may not have enjoyed this book as much as I did The Temple Bombing, I do recommend it as an interesting and not often told story that gives some insight into just how deeply rooted racial issues were in our country long after Emancipation was supposed to fix things.  And an intelligent or insightful reader will realize that some things still haven’t changed.  Or haven’t changed enough.  But we have come, if not a long way, part of the way.

This book is part of the BISHRBN Challenge as well as one of my Fifteen in 2011.  And keep an eye out for me to be announcing a reading challenge of my own for 2012.  Oh boy!  

Monday, November 14, 2011

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling was tied for last place in the series, along with the first book which, as you all know, is now bumped up to really liked a lot, surprisingly better than I remembered it. So naturally I wondered if the second book would likewise improve upon a rereading and the answer is . . . nope.

There is nothing remarkably bad about the book or even inferior.  However, it is not uncommon in novel series for there to be one volume that is, by comparison, the weakest and for me this novel is the weakest in the series. It serves its purpose—introducing several characters and themes that will reappear in later volumes.  Also, the final conflict/confrontation is amped higher, warning the reader that there is more to come.  More danger.  More complications. 

So on that level, the book works.  Harry’s returning to the home of the Dursley’s and his feelings about being isolated from the magical world over the summer break, Dobby the house elf, Aragog (who becomes a critical turning point in a later volume), the Whomping Willow (which become crucial in the next volume), etc. 

Just as she did in the first book of the series, Rowling lays a foundation for the rest of the series in this book.  Where this book fails slightly by comparison to the first is that the first introduces us to characters we don’t know, establishes so many of the ideas and themes that will continue for the next six books but this book only brings minor things onto the “stage” and if the characters develop somewhat they do not surprise. 

And yet, there is the climax and something that doesn’t seem so significant happens that later is crucial beyond even any of the other things.  I also appreciate the fact that Rowling allowed things to be more intense in this novel.  It is because, I suppose, I love these books for that very reason, the way each story evolves into a darker place each volume, maturing with the reader.  I’ve “warned” parents that they should be careful with the upcoming books with their younger children.  When these books were being published, Rowling’s readership was growing and the pace at which the books hit the shelves left enough time for many readers to be mature enough to emotionally cope with what was inevitably coming in the later novels.

I say “inevitably” because there are certain heroic themes which are undeniably predictable.  So I can give Rowling some forgiveness, knowing that she is not the first to write a weaker novel in a longer series of very good novels.  And I can appreciate some of the things that emerge in this book which will become more significant as the stories continue to grow with the reader.

At this point, the rankings of the novels are:

It’s possible that as I continue to reread the series, one or more books will flip from one place to another.  But I’m guessing that what is now #1 will slip in the rankings and #2 will very likely be #7 when all is said and done.

And now, onto the next book.  Yay!

Monday, October 31, 2011

You Can Create an Exceptional Life by Louise Hay and Cheryl Richardson

I read this book in two ways.  The first, I tried to be objective, reading this book as if I were a fan of either Louise Hay or Cheryl Richardson or even both.  I wanted to write a review that someone who genuinely likes their teaching would read without taking offense. 

However, I also couldn’t help reading it from a subjective perspective, one that is frustrated with easy faith, even to the point of being angry by how hurtful these teachings can be. 

And so I offer both an objective and distanced review of this book and a subjective one in which I pretty much say what I really feel.

The Objective Review

You Can Create anExceptional Life by Louise Hay and Cheryl Richardson is a very short book in which these two teachers discuss the principles that both have taught for years—how our thoughts affect our reality.  When I read the description, I thought the book would be written as a dialogue, an engaging interaction between the two.  (Not unlike Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth.)  This is not the case.  Instead, it is written from Richardson’s perspective and she shares with the reader what Hay says to her during several scheduled meetings. 

It’s a good idea but the book fell flat for me. 

For one thing, Richardson’s narrative voice is not fully-fleshed.  There is a detached tone that never engaged me and, although she told me about her enthusiasm or curiosity, her voice never allowed me to feel what she was feeling.   Even when she tells the reader that she is feeling deeply sad, enough so to cry, I personally never felt drawn to sympathy.  Basically, she broke one of the number one rules of creative writing:  don’t tell, show; the entire book reads more like a pragmatic and prolonged interview one would find in a magazine than a book both inspired and inspiring.

One could argue, of course, that this is a nonfiction book and does not lend itself to creative writing the way a novel does.  However, I can’t help thinking that there have been nonfiction books about a dialogue between two people that are, if nothing else, emotionally driven.  (Tuesdays with Morrie immediately comes to mind although there have been others.) 

Perhaps because I expected more, my disappointment colored my appreciation.  I even set the book aside for a couple of days so I could approach it with acceptance.  So what if it was not what I expected and did not live up to my hopes.  Does this mean it isn’t a good book, even a great book?  A few days later I was prepared to find out. 

What I found is that most of the ideas shared in this book are pretty much a rehashing of what both teachers have said before in previously published books.  In other words, these are the same lessons/ideas/truths in a slightly different package.  There’s nothing especially wrong with that.  Many spiritual teachers return to the same things because this is their message, the truth they have found that works for them.  (Anyone who has read more than one book by Thich Nhat Hanh knows that he often returns to the same mindfulness practices time and again.)

While I may not understand why this book costs so much given how little it has to offer (both in new teaching and in length), I won’t say that this book is not a good one. Anyone familiar with the teachings of these two women will not be disappointed nor surprised.  And true admirers and followers may not even think that the price is a bit high.  So I guess my feelings are qualified.  If you like what Hay and Richardson have to teach and you want more of the same then you’ll probably enjoy this book.  It’s not going to challenge your expectations (unless you go into it thinking it will read more like a true dialogue which, if you’ve read this review, you won’t do).  If you don’t appreciate their teachings or even agree with them then you probably shouldn’t buy this book, let alone read it.  Of course, someone who doesn’t probably wouldn’t read this book anyway.  Right? 

Subjective Review


Clearly I read this book and believe you me, I am not who appreciates these teachings. 

There is an example of post hoc ergo propter hoc that pretty much summarizes how ridiculous I find most of these “law” of attraction teachings.  In the book, Richardson describes being in a supermarket looking at orchids and thinking about how nice it would be to bring one home.*see footnote  While standing there, she becomes distracted and does not buy herself an orchid.  The next day, however, she comes home from being out and what does she find but a flower delivery on her doorstep. 

Now I don’t know about where you shop, but when I see orchids in a supermarket it typically heralds my seeing orchids everywhere.  You can hardly turn around without seeing orchids on display.  Even big box stores will have orchids available for purchase.  So forgive me if I find it unremarkable that Richardson sees an orchid and someone she knows (implying that the person is aware she likes flowers) buys her a flower that is not only in season but ubiquitous. 

To be honest, I would have found this story better evidence if, let’s say, Richardson stood over an orchid and thought about how much she loves lilacs, how pleasant it would be to have some lilacs and then someone managed to send her lilacs.  This would have been remarkable because orchids and lilacs are not in season at the same time so for a friend to send her an out of season flower, one that is hard to find, is certainly noteworthy. 

But really, how unremarkable and, unless you are determined to believe that this is not a coincidence, even an obvious one, you probably recognize why I mention the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc in this context. 

(Those interested in other arguments might consider researching spurious relationship and magical thinking as well.  The former is another logical argument problem and the latter is a long recognized psychological belief that is illogical and often results in superstitious beliefs.)

Unfortunately, few and far between are those who are familiar with logic and rational argument and thought.  This, however, doesn’t bother Richardson who says, “While science may ignore anecdotal evidence from people who experience the healing or creative power of thought, the stories are important” (31).  She believes and trusts her readers to do so, not bothering to offer more than her own experience as proof for the universal truth of her belief.   

Here is a longer quote, one where she reiterates how unnecessary science truly is:
It’s easy to get caught up in a debate about how this principle works, whether or not it works, or the validity of thoughts creating reality.  But debating these ideas is like expending precious energy arguing about how a radio works rather than simply turning on the station to enjoy your favorite program, or questioning the legitimacy of the Internet instead of using it to communicate or gain information.  At this point in time, using spiritual rather than intellectual tools requires faith and an open mind.  Spiritual tools make life easier and more rewarding.  (40)
Obviously, this quote is so pathetic as to be laughable because science can clearly explain how a radio works and my experience of turning one on and hearing my favorite program has nothing to do with my faith, my believes, or my thoughts.  And whatever Richardson may or may not herself believe, science can also explain the internet. 

Being dismissive of “intellectual tools” is not unique to Richardson, Hay, or anyone else teaching on the “law” of attraction.  The fact is, intellectual tools are rarely called upon where faith is concerned.  Many religious teachers and leaders, when confronted with scientific evidence, are disinclined to listen. 

But notice how casually she implies that if you do not agree with her experience, if you too do not believe, then you are not open minded.  Ironic that someone can be so closed-minded towards scientific evidence (*cough*magical thinking*cough*) should suggest that it is because she is so very open minded that she does not need science.  Is this even logical?

Nothing in that paragraph is logical and it smacks of manipulation. 

This is not to suggest that I don’t see a germ of merit in some of what Hay, Richardson, and their ilk teach.  Science has shown that our past experiences can affect our physical well-being in the present.  Traumatic experiences in childhood and possibly high levels of stress occurring over a long period of time can manifest as cancer.  Our emotions have a causal effect, releasing hormones or compromising the immune system. 

(And for some scientific and not merely experiential evidence I offer the following:

So I do believe that using affirmations can help.  Do affirmations affect the world in which we live?  To the extent that a positive person tends to have a more optimistic outlook on things, is more inclined to look for the silver lining than sink into utter despair, yes I see how our thoughts “create” our reality.  Science (and experience) has, however, proven that if you ask different people to describe the same thing, say a crime scene or a painting, you will receive different descriptions, some even contradicting one another.  Our perceptions create our reality but they do not define another person’s reality.

My perspective does not define Richardson’s reality no more than her experiences determine what I should or should not believe myself.  If her faith goes so far as to suggest that what she thinks can influence another person’s actions, inspiring them to give her flowers or be more kind where there was previously conflict, so be it.  And if I think and believe that such things are foolish and insulting to my intelligence, then so be it.  Obviously I believe that what I think doesn’t affect my world to such a degree that she, or any of the other teachers who believe these things, will suddenly change her way of thinking.  If my thoughts could, these stupid books wouldn’t be published, read, let alone believed.

* Oddly enough, I recently read a different person’s story that goes very much along the same lines. She is in a store admiring orchids when another shopper asks her a question.  In the time it takes to help this other shopper, she has forgotten about the orchids and continues on with her own shopping.  Moments later the interrupting shopper comes up and gives her some orchids.  The teacher said that this was a result of her own desire, that the “law” of attraction worked and her desire for an orchid, which she says she had completely forgotten was fulfilled through this surprising stranger.  Visualize me rolling my eyes as I type this because even when I read it my thought was 1) the stranger saw her looking at the orchids and 2) there are actually generous people in the world who do things like buy someone flowers as a way of saying thank you.  Yes, even strangers will do nice things for others.  The action (post hoc) did not have any relationship with the teacher’s action (propter hoc).
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