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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I really don't think this is what the vow means

I've joked on several occasions that since neither of us wants to go through a divorce again, my second marriage is going to be "till death do us part - one way or another." I think I'm going to stop saying that, though - some people actually mean it.

Our Bodies Our Blog mentions an article from the Boston Globe Magazine about men who kill their wives instead of divorcing them. The article notes that it's rarely women who do this, but
...(s)ometimes men - and let's be clear here, it is almost always men - decide to murder their wives simply as a way to end a rocky, unhappy marriage and avoid a divorce that could ruin their bank accounts or trash their reputations or spoil a dream life they have concocted for themselves.
It recaps several Massachusetts cases where this has happened, including two that are going to trial this fall, and interviews a Cambridge psychologist who has interviewed prisoners to research their reasons for killing their partners. His findings turned up the expected - jealousy, drugs, career criminality, and depression - and a new one he calls "the materially motivated."

Men in this last category lack emotional involvement, remorse, and a conscience...They're preoccupied with money and status, and they typically live in suburban homes separated from others by fertilized lawns and manicured hedges, where neighbors can't easily overhear fights (and hence are inevitably surprised when the wives turn up dead).
In the suburbs...the murder cases often take on a different twist and become "more bizarre." The men involved often have something to lose: fine cars, nice homes, reputations they've carefully crafted, or lives that others consider perfect. Yet, those lives are never as perfect as they appear...these men are keeping secrets - secrets they will do almost anything to protect.
The article suggests that men who are capable of this are narcissists who actually come to believe they can get away with murder.

While this sounds a bit like a Lifetime movie premise, it's real, fascinating, and very unsettling reading. I can't imagine thinking this way - and that's probably a very good thing. Going through divorce is a lousy experience, but I would think that killing someone - not to mention going to jail - has to be a much worse one.

Ten on Tuesday: 10 Countries You'd Like to Visit





In no particular order:
  1. Canada - I've been to different parts briefly a couple of times, but I'd like to go back with more time to explore (just not in the winter!)
  2. England/the U.K. - for many reasons, not including the food
  3. Australia - again, this would require some time...
  4. New Zealand - where the hobbits come from! Just kidding :-)
  5. Italy - going back to my family's roots
  6. Spain - because the people I know who've visited have spoken so well of it
  7. France - mostly for the food, unlike Great Britain
  8. China - novels about its culture have always fascinated me
  9. Mexico - I should visit our neighbors on both sides, right?
  10. Tahiti - oh, why not?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Seen this weekend: "The Simpsons Movie"

There was a slight question about whether we'd see The Simpsons Movie during its opening weekend or wait a week; the kids were with us this weekend, and we had to make sure the PG-13 rating wasn't too much for a 7-year-old. The 7-year-old's 23-year-old stepbrother saw it on Saturday night and gave us a heads-up on some profanity and one instance of cartoon nudity, and we were not deterred. We figure the TV show would probably be rated the equivalent of PG-13 anyway, so we were off to the first show on Sunday morning, because when we would see it really had been the only question - there was no "if." How could there be, when we had this on the top of our wedding cake?

Anyway...I really wanted to be able to start this off with "BEST. MOVIE. EVER." but I honestly can't. It's a heck of a good time, though.

The basic plot framework is that which has been pretty well established over 18 years - Homer screws up, and then he has to fix it, but the stakes are higher this time. Lake Springfield has nearly become a toxic-waste dump, which spurs environmental activist Lisa Simpson into action and leads to a dumping ban. Of course, Homer's the one who violates it (but for a good cause - pursuit of free donuts!) and causes the EPA to quarantine the entire town under a glass dome. The good citizens of Springfield drive the Simpsons out of town when they learn who's to blame for the dome. Eventually, though, they have to return to save the town from complete destruction. A side plot has Bart Simpson finding and bonding with an unexpected father figure - Ned Flanders.

The Simpsons Movie is definitely funny and clear enough for a Springfield newbie to enjoy, but it offers even more to reward the longtime fan. There are plenty of laughs, and while it does slow down in a few spots, it does not feel like an overly drawn-out (no pun intended) episode of the TV show. The characters are themselves as we've come to know them (well, Itchy and Scratchy are actually less violent than usual, so the PG-13 rating isn't their fault), and nearly every recognizable citizen of Springfield has his or her moment, but the focus is unquestionably on the Simpson family, as it should be. The animation isn't Pixar quality, but it's worthy of the big screen. Stay through the end credits (and by the way, that's not Maggie's first word). Even though you can see this on TV for free, it's worth buying a ticket for The Simpsons Movie. And if you are a longtime fan, plan on buying this one on DVD so you can pick it apart for in-jokes later.

Just finished: "Nineteen Minutes"

Nineteen Minutes
Jodi Picoult

Nineteen minutes is the amount of time it takes Peter Houghton to kill ten people and wound 19 more on one March morning at Sterling High School. Nineteen Minutes is also the title of Jodi Picoult's latest novel, the story of a high-school shooting spree similar to Columbine and others, but with one major difference - the shooter is found just in time to be prevented from turning his gun on himself, so the aftermath of this event includes a trial.

I think I've read every one of Jodi Picoult's books, and in some ways she's like the Law and Order of novelists; most of her plots have that "ripped-from-the headlines" urgency, and she's very topical. Her stories generally have a pattern - open with the major crisis, then flashback to the events that led up to it (rather like the "72 hours earlier" bit that became familiar to Alias fans), and then pick up again with the consequences of the crisis, which will nearly always include a trial. She researches her topics well, and narrates through multiple characters, sometimes with several first-person narrators (but not here). For my money, this is her best book since Perfect Match.

The scenario is probably one of the most common nightmares of modern parents (my son was a high-school freshman in a very similar school and community at the time of Columbine, so don't think it wasn't mine), and Picoult not only sees it from the viewpoint of a victim's mother - Judge Alex Cormier, who will also be the one to hear the case in court - but also that of the shooter's parents. Alex's daughter Josie and Peter, the shooter himself, are also major characters, and Picoult has a really good handle on the cliques and personas of high-school life...good enough to make most readers glad to have it behind them, and worry about their kids heading into it. Other major characters are making repeat appearances from other Picoult novels (since she tends to place her stories in small New England towns, characters do recur at times) - detective Patrick Ducharne from Perfect Match and defense attorney Jordan McAfee from The Pact and Salem Falls. The plot unfolds well, and the characters are distinct and memorable. There's plenty of suspense, and I didn't see the twist at the end (she always has one) very far in advance, which is satisfying to me (and one of the things I didn't like so much about her last novel, The Tenth Circle.)

Picoult has done some experimenting in her last few novels - ghost stories and graphic novels - but I think she's back in her element with this one. The subject matter might be too unsettling or controversial for some readers, but I think that might be exactly why someone should read it. There are uncomfortable truths here about the cruelty of kids to each other, the social strata of high school, and how teenagers can become strangers to their parents without the parents even seeing it - and this might help open some eyes, lest we forget what a challenging job parenting can be even under the best of circumstances.

Rating: 4.25/5

Other bloggers' reviews:
Mrs. S - 50 Book Challenge
Maw Books Blog
My Own Little Reading Room

If you've posted a review of this, please e-mail me the link at 3.rsblog AT gmail DOT com, or leave a comment here!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Secrets and spoilers and Harry, oh my!

Don't check this out if you're still reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!

J.K. Rowling did a two-part interview with the Today show this Thursday and Friday, and Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch blog has helpfully summarized her answers to some "burning questions" about things she didn't mention in 759 pages. On Thursday, she answered:
  • What jobs do our heroes have "19 years later?"
  • Now that we know Snape's motivation, how does that change things?
  • What character was she unable to kill off, despite her original plans to do so? (This one makes sense if you think back to OotP.)
Thanks to MojoMom for linking to a supplemental item on MSNBC.com, tied to the Today appearance, that gives even more details about what happened with our favorites during the period leading up to the Epilogue - which was a lot longer as Rowling originally wrote it.

Dear Job, it's not you, it's me (mostly)

My work has been quite the butt-kicker this year. My company's fiscal year ends on December 31, so the first couple of months of the new year are usually focused on closing the books and getting prepared for the annual visit from the auditors. In addition to that, we changed our payroll processor and our accounting software at the beginning of this year, and neither went glitch-free - we still have kinks we're working out from both. When I took a week off to travel east at the beginning of May - for my son's college graduation and 7-months-delayed honeymoon, both non-negotiable - I was already behind. A week after my return, we were down two people - one planned, one a big shock - and we still are; it's felt like crisis mode ever since. I made a list of the projects I need to make priorities for the next few days before I left the office this afternoon, and that helped me get some focus. But I feel like I probably don't even know everything that's fallen through the cracks, on top of the plenty of things I do know about. I think the word for it is "overwhelmed," and I don't know when it will stop, but I'm trying to figure it out.

My guilty secret in the midst of all this is that I've added a complication that's no one's fault but mine, and that's this thing right here. A few months ago I started taking my blogging seriously, both as a writer and a reader/commenter on other blogs. The blog is listed (and cross-posted) on BlogHer, and claimed on Technorati. I also began submitting articles online (lucky for me that Work It, Mom! came along, and that members drive its content - it's been a perfect opportunity). And I really like it. Writing engages my thought processes in a way that numbers don't - "creative" and "accounting" aren't supposed to go together (no good can come of that) - and it's just fun. I'm not a professional writer - but I hope I'm not a hack - and I don't know if this will ever turn into much more than it is, but I'm really glad I'm doing it and I want to keep going.

But I recognize that another reason I'm jumping into the writing and blogging with such enthusiasm is because it's a refuge and a respite from the work stress - which is good, up to a point, and I'm afraid I may have gone beyond that point.

I think I need to work on learning another balancing act. It's not going to be an even split by any means, but both of these things matter to me. I want to do well at the work I'm paid to do, and I know I'm capable. I also know my heart's not in it right now, but sometimes "being a professional" means that really doesn't matter and you just have to get things done. But when I'm there, I need to be there, and remind myself that there is plenty of time to be here. I have a great boss, one who knows the quality of work I can produce and is pretty flexible as long as the work gets done, and I've been riding on that...even though if I'm honest, I have to admit the situation right now doesn't exactly warrant it. The "grandmother of blogging" made some good points about work/blog balance in this post - if you've been there and have any ideas to share, please do so - leave a comment!

iPod Random 10 - Friday 7/27

"In Repair," John Mayer
"Heading for the Light," The Traveling Wilburys
"(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding, " Elvis Costello
"Brian Wilson," Barenaked Ladies
"Real Man," Todd Rundgren
"Smuggler's Blues," Glenn Frey
"The Thunder Rolls," Garth Brooks
"Stay Up Late," Talking Heads
"Cherchez La Femme," Gloria Estefan
"Desire," U2

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Marriage - a team sport or solo event?

There's some discussion on the Work It, Mom! blog over the concept of the "single married mom." From Nataly's post on Tuesday 7/24:

I had an interesting conversation recently with a mom...She is a successful marketing professional and her husband is a high-powered attorney. They have two kids, ages 3 and 7. Very early into our conversation this mom said something that made me stop and think:

“I relate really well to single moms. Yes, I have a husband, but he is never here. He works from 7am until 9-10pm every night, and when he gets home, he is exhausted and is asleep within an hour. On weekends he has client dinner or golf outings, and when he doesn’t, he tries to catch up on sleep. I know he loves the kids but he works so much that he is not there for them.”

A single married mom - now there’s a term I’ve not seen much in the media (wait, we’ll have a new mommy war soon, Single Moms vs. Single Married Moms or some other silliness.) I thought about my own family and the trade-off we’ve made where my husband works at a more flexible, less demanding job that allows him to be with me and our daughter more...We sometimes talk about whether he should find a different job where he would make more and work more and we usually get back to the conclusion that time together is more valuable...

...Does your husband work long hours? How do you split up your responsibilities at home? Do you feel like a single working mom at times?

The controversy is cropping up in the comments, which include responses from women who are, or have been, single working moms and seem to feel that this idea breezes over the real challenges that they have to deal with when a partner or spouse isn't in the picture at all. It's not quite the new "mommy wars" variation that Nataly suggests, but there do seem to be some issues being aired.

I've been in both places, and as I said in my own comments to the post, there were many times in my first marriage when things felt out of balance, especially when my son was younger. First Husband often gave me the impression that his time was more valuable than mine, and that even though he did take some domestic responsibilities, they were on top of 60+ hours a week devoted to his work, and I should always be aware of how busy he was. And while he was definitely in favor of our being a two-career family, he was rather a traditionalist as far as housekeeping and meals went, and since I had "more" time and it was "less" valuable, most of the regular cleaning, cooking, chauffeuring, errand-running, etc. was up to me. And when he did things with our son, it was almost like it was booked into his schedule. From one perspective, you could say he was really good at time management, and you wouldn't be wrong. And in reality, there was some degree of flexibility about who did what, but no room for slacking off.

At the same time, I can understand why it would rankle to hear a married woman call herself a "single parent," just like it's always bugged me when fathers say they're "babysitting" for their own children. When you're single, it's all up to you or it doesn't get done, and one of the things I missed the most during the first couple of years after my divorce was that extra set of hands around to help out if I was sick, or just overwhelmed. I had a very hard time learning to cut myself enough slack so that I'd really feel like it was OK when something didn't get done (and honestly, I'm still working on believing it). On the other hand, I did learn that I could handle much more on my own than I would have thought, and that was very empowering and a confidence boost.

As far as the "parent" side of that phrase goes, I had a son in college and living on campus 2000 miles away at that point. While long-distance parenting has its unique challenges, they don't involve after-school child care, and when the kids are sick, all you can do is nag them to go to the student health center (and worry, of course - worrying is what we do when we can't control the action). And while I'm aware that another thing that can rankle is equating kids and pets, I did tend to describe myself as a "single parent to my dog" during those years. No matter how long my workday was or how I was feeling, there was no one but me to feed and walk her twice a day (at least), play with her, and clean up any messes she made. I didn't go anywhere overnight without her for almost four years (that's 28 years to you and me, as Lorne Greene used to say).

Now I'm married again, and it is great to have that extra set of hands around once more, although they belong to a different person this time around. (That's not the only thing that's great and/or different, either, of course!) We have pretty similar outlooks on domestic division of labor, although there's very little specific assignment other than he runs the vacuum and I clean the bathrooms. It usually works out that each of us tends to be primary caretaker of what we brought into the marriage - Tall Paul for the kids on their days with us, and me for the dog every day (although either of us can and will step in for the other whenever necessary). We both work in full-time, responsible positions, and we're flexible domestically when the job life gets more demanding, but we try to leave work at work (other than the venting about snafus, office politics, and the like - another thing I missed a lot when I was single was someone to discuss the day with).

As the saying goes, "there's no 'I' in 'team'," and maybe that's the issue."Married single moms" may feel that way because they expected that they'd be operating as part of a balanced team, with their husbands, and it's not working out that way - in the worst imbalances, they've got all the home-and-child responsibilities they'd be carrying if they were SAHMs, plus they're working for pay at least part-time and probably more. Aside from their working, they are in a much more traditional-roles arrangement than they probably intended. That may be why they feel like they're having to do it on their own - but an actual single mom will point out that they really don't, because that other adult actually is available if he's really needed, and he's contributing financially even if he's not doing much more domestically. But aside from the family-management concerns - although there's no shortage of those - the bigger issues are what's lost, and what can grow in the space left open, when one spouse is just not really there on an ongoing basis due to long work hours, travel, etc.

My own experience is that while it's not necessarily true that "it takes two, baby," at least not all the time, it can be a lot easier when it does, as long as the two are able to meet somewhere close to the middle.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wiki Wednesday 7-25-07

Time to learn something!

1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. Click on "Random article" in the left-hand sidebar box.
3. Post it!

Today's random article was definitely not something I'd have heard about anywhere else - a German "progressive dark metal" band called the Dark Suns.
Dark Suns was formed in 1997 by Tobias Gommlich and Niko Knappe (two very well known players of the local metal scene in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany)...The first album Swanlike, which was finally released in 2002, contains music, as some describe...Death Metal combined with several other influences: Pink Floyd like psychedelic passages, rhythm changes and acoustic parts... The band is influenced by progressive rock and possess penchants for switching back and forth between light and heavy moments. The band used to call it 'progressive dark metal'...
Sorry, but this isn't quite my thing and I don't think I'll be looking them up on iTunes any time soon.

(Karen's the one who got me started on this meme, which is her own invention - here's what she got this week.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Just finished: "Altared"

Altared: Bridezillas, Bewilderment, Big Love, Breakups, and What Women Really Think About Contemporary Weddings
Edited by Colleen Curran

This book of essays was what I chose to read in between Water for Elephants and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - I figured it was something I could drop at a moment's notice if I had to, since it's not a narrative. It was a good choice in that respect.

It's also an enjoyable read for any woman who has planned a wedding, or thinks that she probably will at some point. It's not practical advice, but it is thoughtful, reflective, amusing, and honest writing by women who've been through it. Some fought the wedding industry all the way along, and others intended to, but got sidetracked and sucked in anyway. And others really wanted The Modern American Wedding, whether or not that's what they got. A few ended up not having the wedding after all, and others support the truth that the wedding itself isn't an omen for the marriage that follows, one way or another. A couple of the contributors aren't even married (yet) - Curtis Sittenfeld and Megham Daum have included pieces about being single wedding guests.

Being an essay anthology, I liked some of the selections better than others; besides the ones I mentioned above, I also particularly liked the essays by Jennifer Armstrong and Carina Chocano (planning), Amy Sohn and Gina Zucker (family), and Ruth Davis Konigsberg and Julie Powell (ceremonies and, for Powell, reception food).

Rating: 3.25/5

Family/business...

A few notes on a favorite subject:

I was really impressed by Dustin Wax's recent post on Lifehack.org, "Becoming a Great Step-Dad."The lessons he's learned in that role so far are equally applicable to step-moms, and the post is a quick overview of the basics every stepparent should know:
  1. The natural parent has more authority over the kids than the stepparent, so take your cues from, and consult with, him or her
  2. If the kids still have both parents (you're a stepparent due to divorce rather than death of the previous spouse), understand that you're not replacing anyone...
  3. ...but act in an appropriately parental manner anyway
  4. Spend time with each of your stepchildren one on one (I've been better about this with my stepdaughter)
  5. Listen and share
  6. Don't try to buy them off!
I was a parent for a long time before I became a stepparent, but there are definitely some differences in the job description.
----------------------------------------------------
When you work anywhere other than your own business where you're the only employee, you probably spend more of your waking hours with your co-workers than you do with your family or your friends, and they become another "family" in their own way. (You didn't choose this family? Well, for the most part, we don't choose our relatives either.) I've yet to work anywhere that the office crowd has become the basis for my social life as well - the kind of thing frequently seen in ensemble, workplace-set TV shows - and I don't really know anyone else who has either. (Maybe it's just that none of us have ever worked in a setting suitable for a TV show, with a bunch of other young, single, TV-style people?) Kathy Howe's recent post on her Work It, Mom! blog talks about her own experiences with this, and some good reasons why we might want to leave the work "family" at work.
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I wasn't sure I'd enter an essay for this week's Speak Your Mind contest at Work It, Mom! - not necessarily because of the topic itself, but more that I'm really not that interested in the prize. I don't know if it's for one or both of these reasons, or some other entirely, but not many site members seem to be contributing their thoughts on the subject of "how you maintain your marriage/relationship as you juggle work, kids, and other responsibilities," and I decided I might have something to say about that after all. The key factor - sense of humor! (But I'm still not likely to use a 6-month subscription to the Sittercity.com database.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Just finished: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
J. K. Rowling

The major event of this weekend's Harry Potter Extravaganza was reading the grand finale of this saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. As I've done since ...Order of the Phoenix, I pre-ordered the book from Amazon.com as soon as they started taking orders, but this time I bought two copies - Tall Paul wanted his own. The package landed at our front door at around 1 PM Saturday, and since we didn't have the kids this weekend, we each grabbed a copy and staked out a comfortable seat in the living room to hunker down for the next 759 pages. I read faster than Tall Paul does, but I also took more breaks from reading (just to get up and have change of scenery, or do some chores, or some other reason), so he got ahead of me and ended up finishing the book about an hour before I did. It was a great way to spend the weekend, and I'm glad we're both done so we can actually discuss this topic around the house now!

I'm not really sure I want to discuss it in too much detail right here, though, since I wouldn't want to spoil it for anyone. I stayed away from reading blog posts about the book until after I'd finished reading it, and I suggest that approach for anyone (unless you don't plan to read it anyway - and honestly, then why would you read the blog posts either?). But having said that, here's the framework...

This would have been Year 7 at Hogwarts, but Harry Potter is making good on his vow at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - after the death of Albus Dumbledore (no spoiler - last book!), he declared his intention to leave school. He has a final mission from Dumbledore - to search for the remaining Horcruxes created by Lord Voldemort, and destroy them. As of his seventeenth birthday, which opens the book, Harry is officially "of age" as a wizard and can legally practice magic off school grounds, as can his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, who won't let Harry undertake this task without them. (The idea that Hermione, probably Hogwarts' finest student, would voluntarily not return to school for her final year is one of the more minor shockers, but Harry and Ron are very fortunate to have this book-smart witch accompanying them.) They undertake this mission without much direction, and Harry frequently finds himself frustrated by what Dumbledore never told him. They're also operating under increasingly dangerous conditions, as Lord Voldemort and his followers have gained power in the Ministry of Magic and in other institutions of the wizarding world, including Hogwarts itself. It's hard to know who to trust, and Voldemort's own mission to find and kill Harry in order to save himself has become more urgent, as Harry knows through his scar and its connection to the Dark Lord.
While there are light moments and episodes scattered throughout the book - a wedding, reunions with old friends - the overall mood here is definitely tense and dark. And rightly so, since there are literally matters of life and death at stake here, and lives are indeed lost. The general sense of oppression in a world where the bad guys seem to be winning feels very modern and uncomfortably familiar.

There are some elements in this book that are less familiar, though, particularly the lack of structure around the school year. We do eventually make it Hogwarts, but it's only in the last quarter of the book that we encounter old favorite characters like Professor Minerva McGonagall and Neville Longbottom - but it's worth the wait. Some old non-favorite characters reappear too (hello, Dolores Umbridge!), and of course we meet others that are new or previously mentioned mainly in passing, such as Albus Dumbledore's younger brother Aberforth. And even those we know best - Harry and his closest friends - are growing and changing through the course of this quest.

While most of the Potterphiles I know are adults, there are a few things that I like about Rowling's writing that relate to the fact that these are "officially" considered children's books. She's very strong at physical descriptions of people, places, and objects, which kids often want to know so they can picture the story in their minds as they read. She also does well with recapping information from previous books in a way that doesn't interfere with the narrative, since there are probably things that the reader has forgotten by now. Because kids do tend to want and need to be given answers and have things explained for them, she does that - you just have to be patient and wait till she's ready. And perhaps most importantly here, she not only writes a fantastic plot (in more than one sense of the word), she tells it through characters you truly engage with. This is one heck of a page-turner, and there are plenty of surprises.

For some of the deeper aspects, there's an excellent discussion of the themes and morality of the book on Bub and Pie's blog.

I think this was a very satisfying finale, and that Rowling has done a remarkable job of answering the many questions raised over seven books - I can't think of any major loose ends left untied. I teared up over some of the characters who didn't make it to the end, and cheered the outcomes for others. I think I need to make time for a re-reading of the entire series pretty soon (or at least everything from ...Prisoner of Azkaban forward, since the first two really do feel more like kids' books to me at this point). And I know I'm going to miss Harry, the Weasleys, Hermione, and Hogwarts very much.

Rating: 4.5/5

Seen this weekend: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

This weekend was a Harry Potter extravaganza at our house. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was delivered to our door around 1 PM on Saturday (2 copies - one for Tall Paul, one for me, and we both finished on Sunday night - book post to come!), and we took a break from our reading on Sunday morning to go and see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

OotP
is my favorite of the HP books, and one of the very few books I've ever re-read almost immediately after finishing it. Because of that, it's the one whose translation to film has made me the most nervous about them "getting it right." I'm glad to say that, for the most part, they have.

I'm not going to discuss too much about the plot here - if you've read the book, you know it, and if not, I don't want to spoil it for you too much (and please explain why you haven't, and would want to see the movie anyway). It's fifth year at Hogwarts, and Voldemort has returned, but the magical establishment wants to deny it. As part of their campaign to do so, the Ministry of Magic installs a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts, Dolores Umbridge, who creates an atmosphere of harshness and paranoia within the school. Inspired by the efforts of the secret Order of the Phoenix to combat the uprising of Dark forces, and encouraged as ever by his best friends Ron and Hermione, Harry begins training a small group of other Hogwarts students in practical defensive magic. Meanwhile, Harry tries to fight against his psychic connection with the returned Voldemort, which leads him, his friends, and members of the Order to battle against the Death Eaters in the Ministry of Magic itself - a battle in which, once again, Harry loses a parental figure.

I know the book is 800+ pages, and there were things that had to go in order to keep the movie from being six hours long. For the most part, I don't really have issues with what was trimmed, and the movie is very well-paced with nary a slow patch. There's no Quidditch, so we don't get to see Ron's athletic career commence when Harry and the Weasley twins are banned from the team by Professor Umbridge ("Weasley is Our King!"). A bigger concern is that there's really very little in the movie about the titular Order of the Phoenix itself, and that's disappointing. Other than Umbridge and Dumbledore, there's not much time with the Hogwarts professors - Professor McGonagall particularly is a glorified cameo, and again, that's just disappointing. The critical story elements are there, though, and the climactic battle in particular is conveyed successfully - parts of it that were hard for me to visualize when reading the book were very well translated to film, I thought. And the funniest scene in the book is here too - go Fred and George!

The major reason this is my favorite book, though, is the character development and its emotional resonance - Harry Potter as the angry teenager felt totally right to me (I've lived with an angry 15-year-old boy), and that was actually the part of the book-into-movie translation that made me the most anxious. When OotP was published four years ago, the movies had only made it through Chamber of Secrets, and I really hoped that Daniel Radcliffe's acting chops would be up to the task when the time came. Fortunately, they seem to be...all the young actors have developed well (and the changes in directors have probably helped that along).

I'm satisfied with this conversion of the book to a movie, but now I want to find time to read the book again!

Friday, July 20, 2007

...by any other name...

Sometimes, there's a convergence between what other blogs are posting and what I'm already thinking about, but during the last week or so it's been almost scary. There have been discussions in several places concerning how you use names on your blog, including two that cropped up just yesterday. Kathy Howe's blog at Work It, Mom! suggests some rules to follow if you're blogging as your "side job," particularly being discreet and not forgetting that what you write can be traced back to you, especially if you're using your real name. Penelope Trunk gives a few good reasons why you should blog under your real name, and her perspective is interesting considering that her name wasn't always "Penelope Trunk."

Jenn Satterwhite is posting an excellent "mommy blogger primer" series at BlogHer (even if you're conflicted about that particular label, it's got good content generally), and the topic of names comes up in Part 3 - not just whether you'll blog under your own name, but what about using the names of your family members and other people in your personal life when you're writing about them?

I thought about coming up with a clever pseudonym for this effort but it really wasn't worth it, so this blog is brought to you under the name my parents gave me (it was my grandmother's first, and my mother's choice; I was born on Mom's birthday, so Dad gave her the naming rights). I only use my first name here, but I submit articles under my full name, because I just think that comes across more seriously than first-name-only - and since I've linked to all those articles here, I guess I officially have a "public Internet presence." (Yikes.)

But just because I'm out there in the blogozone, that doesn't mean everyone associated with me needs to be. My son has his own Internet presence, so I don't have a problem mentioning him by name here (but he really hasn't been keeping it up very much since the big move and the new job - come back soon, Chris!) My husband was protected by an alias in earlier posts, but I asked him recently if he minded if I "unveiled" him - and since he said he was OK with it, I've given him the hybrid blog name of "Tall Paul." (It's accurate, and it's what my girlfriends in my book club call him anyway.) And even though there's enough information associated with me out there to piece together his full identity, and those of other family members if someone was so motivated - hopefully that's not going to happen! - I will be keeping the names of his children, our extended family members, and our respective exes under wraps here. I also won't be identifying my employer or any of my co-workers, because Kathy is totally correct about that discretion thing. On the other hand, the dog's identity has been public for quite a while now.

The online world is a wonderful community, and at the same time a big scary place, and wanting people to know you vs. wanting to protect yourself and your real life is yet another one of those "balancing acts."

iPod Random 10 7-20-07

"Least Complicated," Indigo Girls
"Great Heart," Jimmy Buffett
"I Got You Babe," Sonny and Cher
"Queen of My Double-wide Trailer," Sammy Kershaw
"Favorite Year," Dixie Chicks
"Love Is a Losing Game," Amy Winehouse
"When My Ship Comes In," Clint Black
"Good to Go to Mexico," Toby Keith
"West Texas Teardrops," Old 97's
"A Thousand Miles From Nowhere," Dwight Yoakam

Looks like the ol' shuffler is in a country rut right now...
And, confession time: This isn't a totally random 10 - I skipped over a few songs because I really didn't want to list Jimmy Buffett more than once :-).

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Just Wild About Harry!

btt button

Booking Through Thursday

This week's questions are a special Harry Potter edition:
  1. Okay, love him or loathe him, you’d have to live under a rock not to know that J.K. Rowling’s final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, comes out on Saturday… Are you going to read it?
  2. If so, right away? Or just, you know, eventually, when you get around to it? Are you attending any of the midnight parties?
  3. If you’re not going to read it, why not?
  4. And, for the record… what do you think? Will Harry survive the series? What are you most looking forward to?
  1. Are you kidding?! I had it on pre-order from Amazon as soon as they made it available! In fact, I'm getting two copies, so my husband and I can read it at the same time (and I read faster, so I'll have to wait for him to finish before I can talk about it...grrrr!)
  2. I think I answered that in #1. :-) We won't be going to any of the midnight parties, but at least one of us will be sticking around the house on Saturday until the delivery guy shows up, since Amazon will require a signed receipt for the package. This is my third time with this routine, so I know the drill by now. We're hoping it doesn't come too late in the day, though, since we haven't seen Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix yet, and we want to do that this weekend too. I am currently reading a book of essays that can be put aside quickly if I haven't finished it by the time Harry arrives, and that's the plan. It's going to be DEAR time (this was what my son's "Drop Everything and Read" period in the fourth grade was called).
  3. N/A, obviously
  4. I'm actually not speculating much on the outcome. I'd like to have the questions about which side Snape is really on answered, though, and see Hermione and Ron finally get together. I hope that however it ends, it feels satisfying and right, and I think we just need to trust JKR on that - but I also really hope the good guys win. I'd like to see something bad happen to Draco Malfoy, and I don't really care what it is. I hope Hogwarts reopens, and I'd like things to wrap up with some idea of where these characters will be going in the future, even if we're not going to see them again (sigh).
I'm actually approaching this one with mixed emotions, since it is the last one. I really want to try not to read it too fast, and that will be a definite challenge. And I feel sorry for my sister; she has a copy reserved at Borders, but she's going on a cruise this weekend and won't be able to get it till she returns, and then she'll have to hide for awhile to avoid spoilers because of the late start. I'll have to be very careful to hold my tongue till she's done ;-).

EDITED for a related follow-up: There's a "Book Club" discussion on Slate regarding hopes and expectations for Deathly Hallows, and one of the things I noted is a feeling that no matter how good it is, it won't make everyone happy, and that's probably true. Their discussion will continue into next week once the participants have read the book, and it warns of spoilers, so it might be wise to stay away until after you finish reading it yourself. I'm already trying to figure out how I'm going to approach that issue when I post my own review here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wiki Wednesday 7-18-07

Time to learn something!

1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. Click on "Random article" in the left-hand sidebar box.
3. Post it!

And in "news you have no use for at all," MTV continues its campaign of world domination as MTV Ukraine debuts this summer:

MTV Ukraine... will be an English-Ukrainian language music channel...available to the whole country of Ukraine... Along with MTV Russia, MTV Polska, MTV Romania, MTV Adria and MTV Turkey, MTV Ukraine will be among the channels released by MTV Networks Europe specifically aimed at an eastern European territory.

The channel will be targeting PG-13 to PG-18 by featuring a broad mix of music videos by famous national musicians like Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, slavic musicians like Neisha and international musicians like Shakira...MTV Ukraine will also broadcast some trademark MTV US productions such as Pimp My Ride and Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County.

What, no My Super Sweet 16? I'm thinking I may just be too old for this now, in any language.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Just finished: "Lost and Found"

reviewed for the Mother-talk.com Blog Tour
(due to be posted on Wednesday 7/18, but I'm done early!)

Lost and Found
Carolyn Parkhurst (author's website)

Lost and Found revolves around a reality TV show of the same name that features a dozen teams competing in a worldwide scavenger hunt with a million-dollar prize. Like The Amazing Race (TAR), each of the teams is made up of two people with a pre-existing relationship. The book starts about halfway through the race, so some teams have already been eliminated, and like on Survivor, the teams are about to be shaken up.

Each chapter is narrated by a different character; in some cases, both members of a team will get to talk, so you get two perspectives on their experience of the game, and in other cases, one or both of the team members are primarily supporting, non-narrating characters. The last six teams in the game are:

Laura and Cassie: a widowed mother and her teenage daughter, who have recently been through a crisis that has stirred things up between them, and have a lot that they need to talk about - but aren't

Carl and Jeff: brothers from Boston, both divorced, one with a class-clown personality and one with a sickly three-year-old son back home

Abby and Justin: married, fundamentalist Christians, both "ex-gays" trying to make it work on the other side (OK, I'll say it - they're "going straight")

Juliet and Dallas: both former child TV stars trying to get back in the limelight

Riley and Trent: best friends and millionaire entrepreneurs, they're not in it for the money

Betsy and Jason: former high-school sweethearts, recently reunited

Of course, each team was chosen with the producers' eye on the potential for personal drama as well as a good competition, and they have chosen well. Teenage Cassie has recently given up a baby for adoption, after a pregnancy that somehow completely eluded her mother's notice, and that's not the only thing she hasn't told Laura about. Justin and Abby are well aware of the public scrutiny they are under as recent "converts" from the gay and lesbian life - can they really change their orientations? can they make a marriage work with all that baggage? - but they both have private issues that need to be looked at a little closer too. Juliet is as self-involved, manipulative, and insecure as one might expect of a former child actress hoping to turn this TV exposure into a comeback, Carl's a nice guy without much of an agenda, and both of them are challenged by their less-than-brilliant teammates.

The mechanics of the competition will be familiar to reality-show viewers, especially fans of TAR - the clues, the tasks that need to be completed, the jockeying for tickets on the earliest flights and seats in the fastest driver's taxicab, the strategizing - all the elements we see when we tune in. But there's plenty of the behind-the-scenes stuff we wonder about too, as very little of the contestants' lives during the course of the game takes place without a cameraman and sound tech right alongside, and every contestant is aware that all of this footage will be edited and re-shaped by the program's producers to create the story and characters that they want to show...but sometimes they forget to think about what they might end up looking like on TV and just have to be themselves.
The twists and turns of a reality-TV competition are a great plot framework and provide built-in suspense. Parkhurst uses that framework very well as a vehicle for revealing and developing her characters. She's also successful in creating individual voices and viewpoints for each of her seven narrators, of whom I found Cassie the most honest, Laura the most relatable (and somewhat exasperating), and Justin the most irritating and least self-aware (and not a good match for Abby, who is pretty much the opposite).

Parkhurst, who also authored The Dogs of Babel, has a high level of pop-cultural literacy, and her advisors and resources in researching this book include past winners of both TAR (Zach Behr) and Survivor (Shii Ann Huang) (I read the acknowledgements, too)...and if you're going to use reality TV as the basis for a novel, those two shows are the best source material you can find. I've been a dedicated TAR fan for several years, and the parallels in this book have made me eager to read it since the original reviews of it came out. I don't think you have to be a reality-TV viewer to read and like this book, but I think it would help and contribute to your appreciation of it. I was drawn into and held by the story, I liked the writing, and I'll be recommending this one to friends, whether they're Survivor/TAR fans or not.

"Cherann" rating: 4.5/5

Ten on Tuesday - 10 Favorite Movies From Childhood


Ten on Tuesday

Can we allow "childhood" to go up to about age 14 for this purpose? OK, I vote yes. Some are older than I am and I saw them on TV (with commercials, in the pre-cable days). And this list is not ranked in order - it's just 10 I remember well from that time period.
  1. The Wizard of Oz
  2. The Music Man
  3. Oklahoma!
  4. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
  5. Star Wars (now known as "Episode IV")
  6. Grease
  7. My Fair Lady
  8. Gone With the Wind
  9. Lady and the Tramp
  10. The Apple Dumpling Gang
It was actually a stretch to come up with 10 - how sad is that? (Don't answer...) I think I was more into TV than movies as a kid, and reading more than either one.

And in a nod to one of my 10 favorite post-childhood movies, it's coming up on the 20th anniversary of The Princess Bride! Prepare to celebrate! And have fun storming the castle!

Too old, too young, just right?

One of the bloggers on Work It, Mom! is a working dad, and he recently posted an interesting entry on being a younger-than-average parent. I know a little about that...

By almost every objective measure, I was too young for parenthood at 20. I was still in college, living with my parents, not working, not married (although that last was remedied pretty quickly)...but things can and do happen, and in so many ways it turned out much better than those objective measures would have predicted. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I had a kindergartener, a college degree, a start on my career, and a husband working on a Ph.D. I think there are some significant things that happen when you have a child young - in many ways you grow up a lot faster, and in others you grow up right along with the child. And in still other ways, your redirecting of your energies to your child and family before you're really ready for that causes some of your own growth to stall - but I didn't really understand that last one till quite a few years later.

I have rarely had friends in my own age group with kids at the same stage as mine, since I got such a head start on everyone. When my son was getting into his teens and peers were just becoming mothers, I heard a lot of "You're lucky you were so young when you had him - he'll be in college by the time you're 40, and I'll still have preschoolers." It sounded like a tradeoff was in the offing - my husband and I hadn't had much "couple time" together before we became parents, but we'd have it later when we'd have more time (and money) to enjoy it. As it turned out, the tradeoff, at least for me, ended up yielding "alone time," since we divorced a few months before our son graduated from high school. I did have a kid in college before I turned 40, though - and I was starting to understand that I had to work on doing some growing of my own, the part that had stalled and been redirected...and that I was reminded of when I watched the character of Lorelai on Gilmore Girls (an even younger mother than I was).

I've accomplished some of that growth and work on myself over the last few years. Now I'm married again and involved in raising two more children, and I feel like I'm at the "just right" age for that now, especially for the older one, my stepdaughter. I've got lots of parenting experience this time around, but I've also got more life experience generally, and more knowledge and understanding of who I am.

When I was finally ready to start dating again after my divorce, I really wasn't that interested in anyone who hadn't been married before himself, or at least in a long-term relationship - it was important to me that there be some "life experience" on both sides. With that expectation, it seemed pretty likely that there would be kids somewhere in the picture on his side - and that since I've never been a fan of big age differences between the members of a couple (3 to 5 years is quite enough for me), his kids probably would be younger than mine. If a relationship developed and got serious, this man's children would also be more of an ongoing factor in it than mine would be, since he'd gone away to college - before I was 40 - and was closer to being on his own, at least chronologically.

As it turned out, those were all pretty realistic expectations - Tall Paul is 17 months older than I am, my stepchildren are 12 and 7, and my son just turned 23 and has gotten his adult life underway on the east coast. And one of the things we agreed on well before we got married was that the kids we brought into our relationship were going to be the only ones we had. We've got ten years till my stepson is out of high school, and at that point we'll still be a few years shy of 60, and we want to be done (as much as parents ever are, really, which is never - the details of the job description just change). We are "too old" to want to start back at the beginning now, and despite the occasional joking comments to each other that "We should have a baby, honey!," we're not sorry it would be a physical challenge at this point if we did want it anyway.

But there is one thing I'm still too young for, and my son has been warned about making me a grandmother too long before I'm 50. Fortunately, I'm pretty sure he still feels like he's going to be too young for that for quite a few more years.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Keeping things in balance...

...is much easier said than done

...has a different meaning for everyone

...is one of the basic principles of my profession (debits=credits, "the balance sheet," "the accounting equation: assets=liabilities + equity" - accounting vocabulary 101)

...is one of the things writing and reading helps me with, after working with numbers all day

...is the theme of my most recent article on Work It, Mom!, which concerns the concept as it relates to work and family. The article is freely accessible, but you have to be registered on the site to leave a comment there. (But you could leave one here if you want.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Just finished: "Water for Elephants"

Water for Elephants
Sara Gruen

This was picked for my book club's meeting this past week, but the meeting didn't happen - too many people couldn't make it, and most of those that could be there were behind on their reading and didn't think they could finish by Friday (myself included). We'll be deferring our discussion till our August meeting, where this will be double-featured with The Kite Runner.

From the book cover:

As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.
My summary:
Jacob Jankowski is on the verge of completing his education at Cornell University's veterinary school and joining his father in practice when an unexpected change in circumstances finds him literally walking away from it all and joining the circus. It's 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression, and the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth is one of many circuses traveling the country by train. Jacob's veterinary training nabs him a place as caretaker to the menagerie animals, but it's a place that doesn't seem to fit well into the circus' stratified social structure of workers, performers, and bosses. He's given a place to sleep in a partitioned railroad car with the horses and a dwarf clown; he is unofficially "assigned" to share his meals at a table with August and Marlena, the equestrian director and his wife, who performs in the show with ten horses; and he forms friendships with roustabouts and security men.

The fortunes of most of these traveling circuses are uncertain, and when the Benzini Brothers show has the chance to pick up some of the discards of a failed competitor, it gets it first elephant, Rosie, and she brings Jacob, Marlena, and August together in some complicated ways. Jacob recollects this time in flashbacks from his present-day life as a 93-year-old nursing home resident.
Despite the raves this book has received, I was a bit ambivalent about reading it at first, but I'm glad Cherann made it her book-club selection, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to. Jacob has a distinctive narrative voice in both his old and younger selves, and even though there are definitely times you can guess where the story is going, it's a great ride getting there. The world of the circus and its people in 1931 is portrayed with both grit and glamour. There are some very memorable (and a few quite unlikable) characters here, not the least of which is Rosie the elephant, and some highly dramatic episodes, which come across as entirely appropriate to the setting. The present-day interludes work well in between the flashback telling of the primary story.

The book is st times simultaneously engaging and off-putting, it's hard to put down, and I found the ending quite satisfying. The photographs of circuses in that era placed throughout the book help in forming a mental picture to go with the story.

"Cherann" rating (not because she selected the book, but because she's asked me to start using a rating system in my review posts):

4/5


Other bloggers' reviews:
Maw Books Blog
Random Field Notes
Reading Adventures
The Bluestocking Society
So Many Books, So Little Time

Friday, July 13, 2007

This pun's for you - the lowest form of humor, but I don't care

My weakness for puns is well-known among people who know me. My uncle passed along this batch in an e-mail, and since it's Friday, they seemed worthwhile for an easy post.

1 A bicycle can't stand alone, it is two tyred.

2 A will is a dead giveaway

3 Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

4 A backward poet writes inverse.

5 In democracy, it's your vote that counts; in feudalism, it's your count that votes.

6 A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion.

7 If you don't pay your exorcist, you can get repossessed.

8 With her marriage she got a new name and a dress.

9 Show me a piano falling down a mine shaft and I will show you A flat miner

10 When a clock is hungry, it goes back four seconds.

11 The guy who fell into the upholstery machine was fully recovered.

12 A grenade fell onto a kitchen floor in France resulting in Linoleum Blownapart

13 You are stuck with your debt if you can't budge it

14 Local Area Network in Australia. The LAN downunder

15 He broke into song because he couldn't find the key

16 A calendar's days are numbered.

17 A lot of money is tainted:: 'taint yours, 'taint mine.

18 A boiled egg is hard to beat.

19 He had a photographic memory, which was never developed.

20 A plateau is a high form of flattery

21 A short fortune teller escaped from prison: a small medium at large.

22 Those who get too big for their breeches will be exposed in the end.

23 When you've seen one shopping center, you've seem a mall

24 If you jump off a Paris bridge, are you in Seine?

25 Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead to know basis

26 Accupuncture: a jab well done

27 Marathon runners with bad shoes suffer the agony of de feet.

28 It is better to have loved a short woman than never to have loved a tall.

iPod Random 10

"I Can't Give You Anything but Love," Diana Krall
"She's the One," Bruce Springsteen
"Amazing Grace," The Maverick Choir
"Take Another Road," Jimmy Buffett
"The Longest Time," Billy Joel
"Radio Free Europe," R.E.M.
"Badlands," Bruce Springsteen
"Book of Days," Enya
"Son of a Son of a Sailor," Jimmy Buffett
"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," U2

(This really is a "random" 10, but we have a lot of Springsteen and Jimmy in our playlists, so their odds of turning up often are pretty high.)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Books into Movies



This week's questions:

1. In your opinion, what is the best translation of a book to a movie?
2. The worst?
3. Had you read the book before seeing the movie, and did that make a difference? (Personally, all other things being equal, I usually prefer whichever I was introduced to first.)

And, by all means, expand this to as long a list as you like. I’m notoriously awful myself at narrowing down to one favorite ANYTHING. So, feel free to list as many “good” or “bad” movie-from-books as you like.

Now, this is a topic guaranteed to provoke debate!

1) My (probably) controversial pick: The Lord of the Rings - taking the trilogy as a whole, and the expanded DVD versions. I had read two of the three books in college, but never made it all the way through The Return of the King. I ended up finally finishing that one when I tackled all three as a reading project during the break between the second and third films. I know that some characters and incidents got dropped completely from the movies, some characters were expanded (Arwen), and some were cut back, but the overall story was faithfully conveyed. The movies stand on their own as great film-making, and I honestly didn't enjoy Tolkien's writing all that much (please don't hurt me!). It also seems to me that battle scenes are better conveyed visually, and I find the story more emotionally moving to watch than to read.

I frequently forget that my favorite movie, The Princess Bride, is also a book adaptation, and I think it's a very good one as well, even though the backstory is changed a lot. Since the screenwriter, William Goldman, was adapting his own novel, though, I think you have to respect his choices about what varies between the two versions.

One adaptation that I was nervous about was Wonder Boys, since I love Michael Chabon and think he's one of this generation's best writers, but I like it a lot. Again, some things were cut, and the ending is a lot cleaner in the movie, but the bittersweet humor of this story's "lost weekend" is conveyed very well, and the casting and acting are good.

2) As someone else mentioned, I try to block these from my mind, so right now I can't really come up with an answer to this one. But sometimes it seems to me that not-very-good books survive the translation into movies better, since the expectations are a lot lower - and my answers to #1 are exceptions to that, of course.

3) Most of the time I like the book better - The Lord of the Rings being an exception, again - and interestingly enough, that tends to be true for me even if I saw the movie first. I think that's because I like the glimpses into the internal lives of the characters and other parts of backstory that don't translate so well to film.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The soundtrack of my life, the music in my car...

It's been one of the rites of passage of cohabitating couplehood (married or not) for a few decades - the combining of music collections. The media may be different now - cassettes replaced records, then CDs came along, and now most of it's probably digital - but couples still learn a lot about each other through perusing each other's musical tastes, and eventually merging them (or choosing not to, which is telling in itself). It's an interesting process: finding out just how many duplicates have to be weeded out, how many gaps in each other's collections they can fill, and what provokes "I can't believe you actually own that!/Don't judge me!" responses. It can be more revealing, and more exposing, than sharing preferences in other areas, since music is often so closely associated with our memories and emotions, and it was actually one of more nervous-making experiences in my relationship with Tall Paul because of that.

My husband and I haven't mixed our physical CD collections. Both of us had been transferring our music to computers; his CDs have stayed in boxes since he ripped everything he wanted into iTunes, and mine haven't been unpacked from whatever containers they were in when we moved in together. We did set up a shared iTunes library on his computer, though, which was only slightly complicated by the fact we're a mixed marriage (he's a Mac, I'm a PC), and we both create playlists without paying attention to who added what tracks to the library. I tend to seek out new music more than he does, so most recent-vintage additions to the library tend to be from me, but it's turned out that he's liked at least some of them. He leans more heavily "classic rock" in some respects than I do, although we had some overlap in our collections there and many of the same "likes;" we both contributed Beatles tracks to the collection, but all the Pink Floyd comes from him. I have a weakness for power pop that I'm not sure he quite gets. (EDITED 7/12 - Yeah, he does, actually, so I promised him I'd change that part.) We're both still very attached to our high-school and college-era music (late 70's/early 80's pop-rock and New Wave, the "early MTV" years).

He still has a pre-video iPod; we bought my 30GB version last year to provide the music for our wedding and reception last fall (combined with the iPod HiFi, and I have to say it worked out great!), and I take it with me everywhere I can. For my last birthday I asked for a car adapter for it, and I got the kind that transmits through your radio on an FM frequency; we have so many radio signals floating around in the L.A. area that it's fairly useless in some places, but it's still better than not having it in the car at all. (Tall Paul has an adapter for his car that goes into his cassette deck, and it's better than mine because it doesn't use radio, but since my car came with a CD player instead of cassette it's not an option for me.)

One day a few weeks ago, I accidentally started my iPod off playing all of the music on it instead of a specific playlist, but I've found I really like how that turns out. I have playlists created by both of us on the iPod, and the total track count is currently at 3215 when it draws from all of those, so I never know what will come up. We've both built our "eclectic" playlists from the merged library, with titles like "Channel F" (mine), "KPSV" (his), and "Happy Music;" we have "smart" playlists of music just from soundtrack compilations and everything we've both purchased from iTunes; and there are some genre playlists like "country" (I made that one before our trip to Tennessee) and "Parrothead" (Tall Paul puts Jimmy Buffett in a class by himself).

The fact that I'm wandering down this path today is all Bruce Springsteen and "Rosalita's" fault. (For the record, both of us contributed music from "The Boss" to the library, but I think I came in with more, and neither of us had that particular song before even though we've both loved it for years.) Cranking the song up on my iPod on my way to work this morning, and listening to the storyteller begging his girlfriend Rosalita to defy her parents and "come out tonight" made me realize that I'm taking in the song on two levels, and I'm relating more to Rosalita's parents at this point in my life. My husband has an about-to-be teenage daughter, and I have no problem picturing him "lower(ing) the boom" and "lock(ing) (her) in (her) room" to keep her away from a boy he doesn't like or think is worthy, even though somewhere inside he's still that boy himself - which is probably why he'd be reacting that way in the first place. It is a different view from the other side of 40, and after awhile it's the kids' turn to be the kids.

But we get to decide what kind of adults we're going to be, and we get to refine and re-define that as we go along. I guess if you're going to accept that you never have to outgrow rock-and-roll - and thank heavens for that! - you have to understand that you may still come to approach it differently, and while it's OK, that part can be a bit of a shock. Staying connected to music we've loved helps us get back to who we were then, and reclaim parts of ourselves we'd like to hold on to and maybe haven't quite been able to, without actually having to go back and relive being fourteen, or nineteen, or twenty-six, or whatever. But if what we go back to doesn't really have a place in who and where we are now, it won't stick, and maybe it's not supposed to, since there's always something new to learn and explore, and suitable music to accompany it.

Wiki Wednesday 7-11-07

Time to learn something!

1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. Click on "Random article" in the left-hand sidebar box.
3. Post it!

Today it's a history lesson - a list of state leaders in 1562. The Western Hemisphere is conspicuous by its absence. The countries that wouldn't appear on a similar list in 2007, particularly in Europe, are also pretty interesting:
So Mary, Queen of Scots, was actually a king? Hmmm....

Monday, July 9, 2007

Got your books crossed? I'm giving it another shot

I signed up with BookCrossing in November 2002, when it was still a pretty new enterprise. The website has changed since then, and the membership and books numbers have grown enormously, but the basics are still the same:
Read a book! - Or not. Some members have been known to buy used books in bulk just to register and release them, without reading them all first.
Register it! - Enter the title and author info (or let their system look it up for you with the ISBN), get an ID number assigned, and record it somewhere in the book, usually inside the front cover. BC has some great labels that explain how it all works, with a space to write in the ID.
Release it! - Give it away in some manner- leave it somewhere random ("in the wild"), send it to a friend, donate it - and note what you did with it in the book's online record. The receiver/finder can enter the book's ID number to create a record of what happened to it next. Ideally, they'll pass it on, that activity will get recorded, and you can follow your book wherever it goes.
My participation in BC has definitely fluctuated over time. I registered books like crazy during my first couple of years (I'm at 266 counting 14 registered today, and - yikes! those are the first I've registered since September 2005!), released a few books "in the wild" (most of which are still there, as far as I know), and participated in an uncertain number of book releases by mail, some for trades but mostly just plain old giveaways - those were just easier for me after awhile than searching for likely trades on other people's bookshelves. I've fallen away for a few reasons, mostly having to do changes in my life over the last couple of years that ended up leaving me a lot less time for registering books, writing review comments and delivering them to the post office, and a move that's caused me to have a bunch of registered books I can't find! (I think they're in a big box in our storage unit...)

A private message from a BC member this weekend requesting one of the books I can't find prompted me to reconsider where I stand on BookCrossing in general. After writing back to the member to let her know I'm not sure where the book is so I can't send it to her, I did some thinking and decided on a few things:
  • First, I disabled private messaging. If I have registered books that I can't get my hands on, and I have trouble finding the time to get books mailed out, it's not fair to other members to encourage book requests, so I'm making myself difficult to contact.
  • Next, I rewrote my profile to state that my activity had been erratic and would probably remain so, and I added a link to my blog - if anyone's really determined to reach me, they can always leave a comment here somewhere...
  • Third, I realized that a big part of what had kept me away from the BC website for awhile wasn't really registering books, which takes about a minute - it was the journaling and commenting. But now my book reviews are here, so there goes that excuse! So when I register a new book, I can just enter "reviewed on my blog" in the comment space, which I did for 10 or 11 of the 14 books I registered this morning.
I've checked out some of the book-listing and -sharing websites that have cropped up in the interim, like LibraryThing, Shelfari, and GoodReads, but they're all fairly similar to BC as far as the bookshelf-building aspects, so why re-invent my wheel? The only significant differences are the ID number that BC assigns so that the book can be tracked, and the limits to tagging books.

As far as "releasing" goes, I'm still totally in favor of passing on my books after I read them. At my suggestion, my book club members now bring their recently-read books to our meetings for trades. And I just found the "release kit" supplies I bought a while ago, so I guess I should get started leaving those books around...keep your eyes peeled!

Got a few minutes? Feel free to visit my BookCrossing Bookshelf

Read and Release at BookCrossing.com...