Friday, April 29, 2011

Tales from Moominvalley by Tove Jansson

Tales from Moominvalley by Tove Jansson is my first foray into the world of the Moomins.  I’d never heard of them until Saila mentioned them.  They are apparently hugely popular over in Europe, or Finland anyway.  When she gave me a gift card, I thought I’d use it to buy something I felt she would truly buy for me.  So I bought three Moomin books.

This one is the sixth in the series, something that is not mentioned anywhere I could find and I swear it wasn’t until last night as I was reshelving it that I saw there’s a six on the spine.  (Not unlike Rob’s buying me the fourth Harry Potter book even though I hadn’t read 1-3.)  As the title implies, it is a collection of short stories filled with characters who’ve been introduced in the previous five Moomin books.  You do not, however, have to have read any of the previous five to enjoy this book because I obviously hadn’t read any of the other books and I really enjoyed this little book very much.

There are nine stories and I especially liked “The Spring Tune” and “The Last Dragon in the World.”  Because Snufkin, a vagabond musician, plays a role in both, I assumed I would also very much like “Cedric” but that proved to be my least favorite.  I also enjoy “The Fir Tree” which is the last story in this collection.  And I really liked “The Hemulen Who Loved Silence.”  I liked the rest enough to be smiling even as I type this.

The book is full of quirky and charming characters that pretty much defy easy description.  Human looking ones have paws so I am guessing they are not human after all.  And everyone is described as quite small so I found myself imagining a world within a world scenarios where teeny tiny creatures exist just beyond our ability to perceive.

Although the stories are filled with these characters, these are not stories for little children.  In fact, I would suggest that they belong with tweenagers who are perhaps still wanting to feel safe with cute and fuzzy things but beginning to question their reality, their beliefs, their values, etc.  When Snufkin is seeking solitude because he feels inspired to compose music but is interrupted from his revery, his frustration is something a child who is old enough to appreciate the pleasures of solitude will find empathetic.  But a younger child might find it alarming that Moominpappa, bored with life in Moominvalley, decides to just leave his family.  Older reader,s however, may find it helpful to read about a father leaving the family especially if they, themselves, are struggling with divorce or separation, whether within their own family or a friend’s.

In other words, don’t let the cuteness of the titles, the characters, or the simplicity of the drawings fool you into thinking these are stories for a little child.  They truly are perfect for a child who is on the verge of adolescence but still snuggling up with a stuffed animal at night.

The correct order for the books, for those who are interested, is as follows:

Comet in Moominland
Finn Family Moomintroll
Moominpappa’s Memoirs
Moominsummer Madness
Moominland Midwinter
Tales from Moominvalley
Moominpappa at Sea
Moominvalley in November

Monday, April 25, 2011

Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss by Suzanne Deason

Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss:  Safe, Natural Methods to Help Achieve and Maintain Your Ideal Weight by Suzanne Deason is the text that accompanies her excellent yoga dvd in which she has herself and three others going through a lovely 45 minute yoga practice using modifications—blocks, straps, blankets.  A practitioner of Iyengar yoga, Deason does a wonderful job of communicating the mechanics of each asana both on the dvd and on the page.

This book is more than just the practice, however, and the reader is invited to learn more about yoga as a way of life and more than simply a form of physical activity.  As with the practice she designs, there is not a lot here that will challenge but anyone who is prepared to move deeper into a yoga practice, to move it off the mat as it were, this book is a very elementary introduction for how yoga can inform all aspects of one’s life.

For anyone who is already practicing meditation, who has read the yoga sutras in one or more translations, who has gone on a yoga retreat or considered vegetarianism, this book may be too simple, too introductory without any real depth.  This should be considered before reaching for a copy.  Like Deason’s dvd, knowing where you are in your own yoga practice will allow you to choose consciously what props you need.  You may want and even need to read this book if you have never explored yoga except on dvd but if you have already done more, you can probably skip this book altogether because you won’t be missing much.

The dvd is great.  This book is merely good.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner

The Dance of Anger:  A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner PhD is a look at relationships, with a slightly feminist slant, and how women use anger, whether overtly or through passive-aggressive manipulation to maintain relationships.  Lerner doesn’t limit her exploration to the family and/or romantic relationships but also covers professional interactions along with personal friendships.

Throughout the book, the author suggests that all relationships have certain patterns (dances) that maintain the status quo of interaction.  These patterns are typically learned in the family of origin and carried over into other relationships but some can be picked up along the way as well.  Over-functioning and under-functioning serve to keep roles defined so that the less emotional man allows the more emotional woman to do the feeling for the both of them and the nurturing mother leaves room for the distant father to withdraw.  Of course, these are not inevitable ways of interacting and they change and shift.  It is when these changes occur that things can often become frightening for both parties.  Or even for all three, where there is triangulation in a family–such as when there is a “black sheep” towards whom everyone can point a finger of blame without necessarily looking in the mirror to see the role the self plays in maintaining the relationship balance within the family.

I first read this book when I was in counseling during college.  I was going through a divorce and overwhelmed with everything happening in my life.  The book was an eye-opener for me at the time and I remember not only devouring it but calling my counselor in tears, absolutely convinced that I didn’t have the ability to change the unhealthy relationship patterns I saw on the page, the ones in which I clearly recognized myself.

Upon rereading it I realize that I have learned a lot.  One of the things Lerner says is that these patterns are normal.  She is not suggesting that every relationship interaction needs to be changed to something else.  After all, someone who is grieving a loss is likely be to under-functioning and if their partner can and will step up and take over some of the responsibilities for the time being, is there really any harm in that?  But she does invite and encourage the reader to take time to look at the various relationships and how we move through our daily life, recognize the dance for what it is, and decide what is and is not working for us on an individual level.  If there is a need for change, then we can commit to making changes. Otherwise, just knowing how the relationship functions, an awareness of the conscious and unconscious choices we make, is enough.

A very good book.  I see now why it had such an impact upon me the first time I read it.  I also see why I bought a copy for my friend Jorin and hoped we would read it together because this is a book I would have loved to discuss with someone else, someone whom I thought would be open to really thinking about the ideas presented.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if she ever received it, although I believe I finally asked and she said yes she did but she couldn’t find it or something, and then it just never came up again.  I sometimes wonder if she read it and thought I was trying to tell her something and maybe didn’t realize that I simply wanted to share a book I really liked enough to want to talk about it with someone I thought would appreciate it the way I did. *shrug*

Oddly enough, I haven’t recommended the book to anyone else as a result although I can think of a couple of people I feel would enjoy reading it and might even benefit from doing so as much as I.  It’s a really good book and if you think you might want to read it or even need to read it then you should.  I do recommend it.  Highly even.  I just don’t dare particularize to whom I would recommend it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fragments by Marilyn Monroe edited by Stanley Buchtal and Bernard Comment

Fragments:  Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe  is a poorly executed yet vaguely interesting idea.  Of course, one could debate the necessity or even rationale for delving into someone’s personal effects but this is not the first time such things have been published and no doubt it won’t be the last.

For me the most interesting part, oddly enough, was a collection of images at the end of the book, covers from the books Marilyn Monroe had on her bookshelves.  Interesting that so few of them were written by women.  What does this suggest?  What does this say about her?  Thankfully, the editors did not pass any judgment or make any suggestions as to the books and their personal relevance.

And it is the editorial content I found most annoying.  I get the distinct impression that they were invited to do this because they either know someone who knows someone or because they claim to know more than they do about Marilyn Monroe.  Just because one is familiar with her life and/or a fan of her body and/or her body of work doesn’t qualify them for editorial efforts on her behalf.  The quality of the comments is insulting to the reader’s intelligence.  Some notes highlight that Monroe is quoting from a script.  I concede that this may be necessary for some readers because not everyone who is a Monroe fan will have seen every movie she’s been in.  However, there is one glaring script quote that has no editorial comment (found on pages 166 & 167) and I had to wonder if they editors were either too lazy or too ignorant to recognize that the words are from Bus Stop.

Either way, I found myself balking at the suppositions and suggestions that the editors used throughout to contextualize everything they included in this book.  It’s hard to say what merit these choices have over all.  I can understand having to footnote names to explain who is being referenced but why bother pointing out that something is a quote from a movie if you aren’t going to consistently do so throughout the book?  Inconsistency is bad enough but I don’t really care for conjecture and speculation about the relevance or meaning of a text should be left to op-ed piece, not the editorial notes and the editors should have known better than to opine on things about which they cannot be definitive.

If this book hadn’t been a gift, I’d not have bothered to read it.  I don’t recommend it to anyone although I did find the look at her bookshelf to be of particular interest.  However, that’s just how I am.  When I go to people’s homes, I inevitably explore the bookshelves. I find them endlessly fascinating a great source of insight into other people’s interests.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Self-Compassion Diet by Jean Fain

The Self-Compassion Diet:  A Step-by-Step Program to Lose Weight by Jean Fain is a unique book to help with weight-loss and maintenance.  What makes this book different from so many other diet books is Fain’s commitment to making changes on the inside that will support a healthier lifestyle.  Instead of suggesting meal plans or exercise programs, the approach outlined in this book uses four essential tools: compassion, meditation, hypnosis, and community.

The bottom line, of course, when reading a book about weight-loss is whether the reader successfully lost weight while applying the methods outlined in the book.  I’ll get to my bottom-line in a bit.

I would recommend that anyone wanting to read this book begin by taking the four quizzes.  These measure where the reader is before even beginning to apply the principles Fain will outline.  It doesn’t take much imagination to appreciate the significance of how these assessments will help the individual.  By measuring one’s self-compassion, the likelihood of beating up on one’s self is contextualized.  Someone with a high self-compassion is obviously not going to beat herself up as frequently as someone with low self-compassion.  The same goes for the mindful eating quiz and the community support quiz.  Knowing where you are now will help you in the long run.

The thing is, if you already score very well on the quizzes then you probably already put into practice most, if not all, of her other suggestions.  If you’re interested in exploring hypnosis, there is an audio cd set that one can buy which includes the meditations and hypnosis components.  Otherwise, the tools recommended are not remarkable nor unique–food diary, journaling, weighing yourself only weekly, etc.

And yet, so many diet books never get to the heart of the matter.  A self-loathing person is not likely going to make healthier choices from day-to-day.  Learning new ways of thinking and feeling about one’s self are bound to create new and better habits.  This is why I think the quizzes are a great beginning point.  I downloaded the power tools on Jean Fain’s website and was disappointed.  Some people may find these useful but I really think that a reader could create their own resources, using the suggestions in the book, which are simply more useful.

So to the bottom line: Did I lose weight?

No.  I gained.  For one thing, I already use a hypnosis cd so that wasn’t something new.  I do a daily metta meditation which emphasizes compassion, beginning with the self.  I scored very well on all of the quizzes.  I could be the poster child for where most people want to be not that I scored perfectly but having room for improvement is different from having an area of weakness.

For me, weighing once a week has never worked.  And I have tried to figure out how to keep a found journal for a while, a method that works for me.  I finally have a method that works for me and I can incorporate Fain’s suggestions for a food log into what I am already doing but, over the years I’ve realized that I am not an emotional eater.  I prefer to cook for myself and enjoy eating mindfully.  (My family will tell you that I definitely taste my food as I often moan or say something along the lines of how much I love food, it’s so yummy, etc.)

Don’t get me wrong.  I think this is a great book and invaluable.  I would just encourage anyone to begin with the quizzes.  If you come out especially weak in one or more area then this is where you should begin.  If you come out strong across the board then you are probably not going to find any new ideas or resources here to help you lose weight although reading the book may still give you some insight into why the things you are already doing actually do work.  But if you score high and you’re not losing weight doing the things that Fain suggests then you may need to look elsewhere.  I was already doing most of what the author says will work and I am not going to stop meditating or eating mindfully or trying to keep a food log, etc.  Why?  Because the advice in this book is good, even excellent, and I can see why it is absolutely essential for everyone to at least recognize where they are in order to get where they want to be.

(To find the quizzes, look through the table of contents.  The Power Tools and Quizzes, although spread out throughout the text, are listed clearly in the table of contents.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Winter Book by Tove Jansson

A Winter Book:  Selected Stories by Tove Jansson is so hard to pigeon-hole.  On the surface, it is a collection of short stories.  If I could just leave it there, that would be an adequate description of this book that begins with stories written mostly from a child’s perspective and which later turns into the reflections and experiences of an older woman.  However, there is so much more going on in these stories.

For one thing, there is an element of memoir, implied by the fact that there are photographs sprinkled throughout, some of the author herself as a child and older woman.  There are even the occasional footnotes to say who the person is “in real life” and more.  So it is obvious that these stories are inspired by real life and that some of the people described formed a core in the author’s own experiences.

But then there is this magical quality to the stories, an almost mythic or even allegorical implication in some of the events.  A silver ball, a squirrel, the ocean itself . . . all take on a life of their own and have a meaning that elevates these stories from the purely memoir to something much more.

What that “much more” is I can’t quite put my finger on.  I rarely read a collection of stories that I immediately want to share, discuss, and reread but this book is so evocative without being definitive.  Not unlike that sentence . . . I really don’t know what to say except that I really like this book and I am going to pass it on to my mother and I am absolutely going to buy more books by Jansson because I am unable to get certain images from this one book out of my head.  Odds are, you’ll see more reviews from me on books by this author.  She’s delicious but probably an acquired taste and not lightly recommended although I adored what I read.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reading Women by Stephanie Staal

Reading Women:  How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life by Stephanie Staal is a book that intrigued me from the moment it was recommended to me but which I also hesitated to embrace.  I simply wasn’t prepared for another angry young feminist to shout at me about how far we have not come, baby, and how my generation an my mother’s generation and her mother’s generation failed this one author who feels she has a right to be very angry at all of us.

I am so glad that I didn’t avoid this book altogether.  Staal has written a lovely, lucid text in which she shares her experience of returning to her alma mater to revisit the feminist texts that excited and frustrated her before she graduated.  But now she comes to them with new eyes because she is a married mother, struggling to maintain her sense of self while still keeping up with the laundry and diapers.

I’ve been there. It isn’t easy.

What gives this book its remarkable sense of centeredness is Staal’s ability to reflect upon her initial response to the texts while sharing her honest reassessment of what the texts mean to her now that she is in a different time and place.  I recently started rereading Gone With the Wind with a book group and my feelings about the text were very different from what they had been when I first read the novel as a prepubescent girl.  It should be an obvious statement that when we reread a text it is bound to stir different responses from what it did the first time we read it and the author is able to not only share these conflicting approaches to the texts but she contextualizes them remarkably within in her own life.

In other words, she manages to take these theoretical and philosophical discussions about women and feminism and relates them directly to her relationships with her own mother, her father, her husband and, of course, with her own daughter.  I can’t imagine any mother reading this book and not having a similar response.  I found myself aching to create a reading group with my daughter and daughter-in-law and maybe a few other women of different ages, reading our way through the list that Staal shares at the end of the book.

I recommend this book with almost uncompromised enthusiasm.  Unfortunately, Staal does what so many seem to do and doesn’t cite her quotations.  Yes, I realize that this book is more memoir than academic study but I still find it tremendously frustrating to read still another book where the author/editor/publisher do not make the effort.  Clearly, this is something that is becoming the norm but I can list the many things that are becoming normal that irk me and this one will probably go with me as a pet peeve to my grave.

So love love love the book . . .

And now I am off to write an email to the lovely and beloved women in my life.  Maybe they will be more open to the idea of such a book group than I give them credit for being.  You never know . . .

Monday, April 4, 2011

Peace and Plenty by Sarah Ban Breathnach

Peace and Plenty:  Finding Your Path to Financial Serenity by Sarah Ban Breathnach has a great deal of promise and certain comes into publication at the right time.  Drawing on her own experience with affluence and loss, the author offers from her heart ways to face the fear that these economic times can stir up.

Promising or not, this book is a disappointment.  Writing from personal experience, Breathnach tries to cloak her reality in sympathetic terms but the sensitive reader will easily sense the anger and anxiety on every page.  She was hurt and her wounds are obviously still very raw but instead of licking them delicately in private, she throws all of her pain all over the place.  And if her purpose is to help her reader feel empowered in spite of circumstances, then it would have probably been a wiser choice to wait until she herself felt powerful.

Instead, she is clearly wounded and the book limps along, poorly organized and familiar.  Familiar because she uses many of the same examples she’s used in previously published books.  This adds to the feeling one gets that she wrote not from a place of necessity, wanting to share her story, but of desperation, needing to share it.  I can understand her turning to publishing as a means to get her out of the financial distress she has gotten herself into.  After all, she is a best-selling author so this is something she does well.  And falling back on your own strengths in time of crisis is commendable.  But when she draws on past inspiration, rehashing the same stories, practically word-for-word, offering the same advice down to the same numbers lists of recommendation verbatim from previously published books one has to wonder why bother reading this one at all?  If she’s already said what she is saying in this book, what is the point of reading this one?

Frankly, none.  What little advice Breathnach gets around to offering her readers, after meandering endlessly about her own problems and revisiting the same stories and inspiration she shared in previous books, the advice she gives is simplistic and inadequate.  What’s more, it is disingenuous.  I said earlier that she was writing from a place of anger rather than power and this is no more evident than in her own advice to keep a secret bank account.  While many, if not all,  financial advisors, will encourage and even urge women to have a separate bank account, Breathnach actually encourages and urges her readers to stash away pin money, to create and keep a separate and secret bank account, etc.

It is not unlike going to a friend who has experienced infidelity in her marriage for relationship advice.  If it is too soon after her realizing that her husband has been dishonest, everything she sees in your relationship will be colored by her own painful experience.  And the author has been hurt, badly.  She takes responsibility for much of what has happened to her and does so, no doubt, to inspire compassion and even a sense of empathy from her readers but, more often than not, I found myself squirming uncomfortably.  Her confessions seemed more like something out of a Jerry Springer Show episode than a one-on-one with Oprah Winfrey, who is in part responsible for Breathnach’s previous success.

No doubt this book will sell very well simply because the author has a following.  And if her readers have little to no memory, they won’t recall that most of the stories she shares in this book are identical to ones she has shared in previous books.  Thankfully, I haven’t read all of her books but I’ve read enough to realize that there is nothing new here and any woman who really wants and needs financial advice for these challenging times would do well to invest her money in buying a book by some other author, even one less popular than this one.

PS: Once again, a book where there are plenty of wonderful quotes without paginated citations.  This is her eleventh book.  One would think by now someone might have asked her to put in some page numbers when referencing a book.  I certainly would appreciate it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Create with the Designers by Anna Griffin

Create with the Designers:  Designer Scrapbooks by Anna Griffin is a very pretty collection of scrapbook pages created by a woman who is known for her Victorian and textile inspired crafting products.  On the pages of the book, she shares her person story of how she became the doyen of stationery and scrapbooking, her materials found in crafting supply stores, on the pages of magazines, and even on cable shopping channels.

Naturally, most of the resources she uses to make the beautiful scrapbook pages are her own–papers, embellishments, etc., are almost all Anna Griffin products.  This is, needles to say, the weakest aspect of the text because, regardless of how inspiring these ideas may be, if one can no longer purchase each distinct piece then there is no way to replicate these pages and I’ve a feeling that most of the papers and such used to create the scrapbook pages are no longer available.

Nevertheless the pages are gorgeous.  I haven’t done any scrapbooking myself, although I’ve collected a lot of scrapbooking resources along the way.  I turned to this book because, unlike many other scrapbooking books, the pages are very classic.  I may like some trendy color combinations but, ten or twenty years from now, I want the look of the page to be something that doesn’t scream a particular time and place.  That is a personal preference, as I’ve never been fond of fashion trends.  It helps, also, that I love Victoriana so the lush floral prints and scrollwork of the pages resonates with what I had hoped to create in my own scrapbooking.

I opened this book, in particular, to find ideas for how to display and preserve the many lovely greeting cards my mother has sent to me throughout the years.  Anyone who has seen my mother’s penmanship can appreciate why this matters to me and, because she often writes on the back of cards, I cannot simply glue a card onto a piece of paper and be done with it.

So I am still left with my dilemma of how to scrapbook these lovely cards and continue to store these pretty scrapbook pages and ideas away.  I have other scrapbooking ideas in mind but I really want to figure out how to do this one idea before I start exploring others.  Googling “scrapbook” and “cards” or “greeting cards” results in a lot of suggestions on how to use scrapbooking supplies to create your own greeting cards.  Unfortunately, the last thing I need are more ideas on how to scrapbook.  I just need a few good ideas on how to specifically scrapbook these lovely cards I have stored in boxes.

But, gee . . . this book is so very pretty.
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