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 clich├ęd 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.  
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