Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The day the icons died (June 25, 2009)

We've all heard that old saying about deaths coming in threes, but rarely do two of the three happen on the same day.

One of the world's best-known sidekicks (and sweepstakes spokesmen), Ed McMahon, passed away at the beginning of last week. On Thursday, former poster girl Farrah Fawcett died of cancer after weeks of deathbed vigil by her long-time partner, Ryan O'Neal. And only a few hours after word got out about Farrah, the world was stunned to hear of the sudden death of Michael Jackson, known to millions as the "King of Pop." I was never a huge fan of either of them, but they were both pop icons, and I feel an need to acknowledge that.

It's always befuddled me how, more than thirty years later, Farrah's best remembered as one of Charlie's original Angels, considering that she left the show after only one season. To be honest, she was never my favorite Angel either; I always thought Jaclyn Smith was prettier. I didn't really get Farrah's appeal, but then again, I was a girl in middle school in 1976, not a teenage boy (or boy of any age, really) - and they certainly got it. That poster sold zillions of copies (and it's been posted everywhere else already, which is why you're not seeing it here).

However, while she might have been at the peak of her pop-culture impact  during the late '70's, she did go on to have a pretty decent acting career, including several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her work in TV movies. When she first came to public attention, she was Farrah Fawcett-Majors, wife of TV's Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors, and rather progressive with that hyphenated name. But after their divorce in 1982, she became part of one of Hollywood's longest-running unmarried "marriages" with Ryan O'Neal, with whom she had her only child, Redmond. She was more than just a pretty face surrounded by famously fabulous hair - no one had seen a style like that before Farrah wore it, but for years afterward, women were trying to achieve some version of it.

Speaking of pretty faces...Michael started out with one. When he first appeared in the early '70's, singing with his brothers in the Jackson 5, he was a cute kid with vocal talent and dancing skills well beyond his years, and through his teens, he was growing into quite a handsome and gifted young man. Then something changed. And it changed some more, and some more...and after awhile it was hard to say exactly who (or what) he looked like. Over time, it seemed like a lot of things changed about Michael, and they mostly changed for the strange. If millions knew him as the King of Pop, plenty of them also knew him as "Wacko Jacko." I know it's not considered right to speak badly of the dead, but really...in recent years, his bizarre personal life got more attention than his music. And now, his death is getting more attention than any entertainer's I can think of since Elvis, and that's probably just about right. They had a comparable impact on society in general, and popular music in particular. (They also had a family connection, since Michael was married to Lisa Marie Presley for a few years.)

File:Off the wall.jpgNow the music is what will be left, and for most of a decade, almost no one's music was more popular worldwide. It reached across ages, cultural backgrounds, and genre preferences. It really didn't matter if you were black or white (or any other color, for that matter). But it wasn't just the music itself, although much of it would crawl into your brain and stick there, whether you wanted it to or not. Michael's biggest stardom coincided with the rise of music video, and he was one of the biggest contributors to the rise of music video. There was never anything like "Thriller" before he made it, and there's been nothing quite like it since (although there have been plenty of attempts). He originated the Moonwalk, and no one else ever looked quite right trying to do it. He's influenced a generation of musicians, and a few of "Weird Al" Yankovic's best parodies.

Michael's 1982 album Thriller was the biggest seller of all time, and many of the songs on it still hold up well and don't sound the least bit dated. But I like his prior album, Off the Wall, a little better, and I'll admit that part of the reason for that is because he still looked like himself at that time. As it turns out, "off the wall" was a good indication of where Michael Jackson was headed - off the wall, and off the charts.

On one day in June, the world lost two people who made indelible marks on the culture of their time.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Mom Alarm: It works long range, and it's never turned off

I probably should call it the "parent alarm," since I know plenty of dads who have it too (I've been married to two of them). It comes as a free gift with the arrival of your first child, it's always turned on and it works at any distance, and you don't even realize it's been installed until the first time it goes off. After nearly 25 years, mine is still functioning quite well.

-2 I spent an hour last Monday afternoon trying to locate my son. Since I live on the other side of the country and three time zones away from him, that can be tricky under ordinary circumstances. But since I was trying to find out whether he'd been involved in a train accident, it was particularly urgent and unsettling.

I saw the first mention in an e-mail: there had been a major crash in Washington, DC involving two commuter trains on the Red Line. I live three thousand miles away from DC, but my son, who will be 25 next month, has called the District home for two years. He works in Maryland, and he doesn't own a car; he makes his daily commute on the Red Line.

Like any well-connected desk jockey, I got online to seek out more news. I couldn't get much useful info right away, and much of what I found was streaming video; I wanted print bulletins. But when I discovered that the accident had occurred just around 5 PM local time - prime commuting hour - the story became personal. And when I attempted to call my son's cell phone and couldn't get through, the personal became just a bit frantic. And when the mom got a bit frantic, she got on Twitter: "DC Metro crash - trying to get info. My son commutes on the Red Line." Twitter is starting to make a place for itself in the breaking-news realm, and people were posting updates and links as quickly as they could obtain them.

When people are transmitting the news to one another, the personal aspect of the story seems so much clearer.

Read the rest of this story on the Los Angeles Moms Blog (but since the accident happened a week ago and I haven't mentioned it here until now, you can probably guess the outcome...).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Weekend Review, 6-27-09: This week across the blogiverse

Random updates

So, are you surprised to see this post today instead of yesterday? Me too! My internet at home went out on Friday evening and didn't come back till Saturday morning - we'd been having some issues with our connection signal, but we think (hope!) they're all fixed now.

Following up on one of the Bloggiesta mini-challenges: My blog grade per Website Grader is up above 90% this week (average 92%), from 87% last week. The uptick seems to be mainly due to two changes - I added metadata for keywords and description (once I figured out what the heck it is and how to do it - this article was helpful, as was this meta tag generator), and I renewed my domain registration. In related news, my Twitter grade is 97%, which is way better than when I last checked on it!

I won't be posting a Weekend Review next Saturday (or Sunday!) - taking the 4th of July holiday off!

Newbies in my Google Reader
Nan's Corner of the Web

Dispatches from across the blogiverse

Essential link of the week: why mammograms are important, even without a "family history"

This link will be essential if you ever find a bat in your house (and I don't mean kind you play baseball with)

Father's Day, Dr.-Seuss-style; giving your kids a normal life

More BlogHer'09 preparation advice

My husband already knew a bit about how to woo a nerdy girl (obviously!), but here are some suggestions for the less fortunate

Bookmarks: Reading-related reading

If you're really having trouble deciding read next, Lifehacker mentions a few book-recommendation sites you may want to check out.

Book blogs may influence what you want to read, but how about what you want to buy?

Mojo Mom's Summer Reading List looks a lot like mine (but I think I'll need more time than summer...)

"New" novelist doesn't necessarily equal "young" novelist

Hope you're enjoying your weekend!
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Friday, June 26, 2009

TBIF: Thank book/blog it's Friday! This week's bookishness

BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

Reviews posted this week: The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist
Next review scheduled: Certain Girls, by Jennifer Weiner (RYOB Challenge)

New additions to my "to be read" collection in LibraryThing:
The Widows of Eastwick, by John Updike (a belated sequel to The Witches of...)
Wife of the Gods: A Novel, by Kwei Quartey (for an upcoming TLC Book Tour)
Nothing but Ghosts and Undercover, both by Beth Kephart ++
Pasadena: A Novel, by David Ebershoff **

Thanks for the Reviews! Books I noticed on the blogs this week:
The Local News, by Miriam Gershow

++Have you heard that My Friend Amy and Presenting Lenore have joined forces to promote Beth Kephart's newest novel, Nothing But Ghosts? Lenore reviews the book and interviews Beth, and Amy's hosting a book party and author chat next Tuesday. They're also trying to get as many as 200 copies of the book sold by then - I couldn't resist. I love Beth's blog and look forward to reading her books for the first time.

** Did you read my post about meeting him this week? That's when I bought this book, and here's proof that it happened:

(L-R: Amy from My Friend Amy, me, David Ebershoff - photo by Lisa of Books on the Brain)

Tuesday Thingers, hosted at Wendi's Book Corner: "Confusion"

Wendi says:

(On Monday), we had a small blogger/author/publicist get-together here in the Seattle area, and it was lots of fun! We talked about our blogs and a few of the sites we frequently use, Library Thing was there too!

One thing that came up was how confusing Library Thing can be. I was actually surprised to hear that, as it is the first book/review site I go to when I update my reviews.

Questions: What areas of Library Thing do you find confusing or frustrating? The team at LT seem to be continually updating things at the site. Is there anything in particular that you would like to see updated or changed?

My Answer: For the most part, I find LT pretty easy to use, and it seems to keep getting better. I have had some frustration in the past with the import/export functions, but my way of getting around that has been to add books a few at a time, as I acquire them. I've had issues when I've tried to export my LT library and import it into GoodReads, which is supposed to be possible (although not directly - it's converted to an Excel-style spreadsheet first), but I don't know whether LT or GoodReads is more at fault for that. However, that's probably one reason that my GoodReads account doesn't get nearly as much use as LT does.

I agree with Wendi's own comment about the challenges of finding people on LT; GoodReads has LT beat on the "social" side of social networking, I believe. However, since I use LT primarily for keeping information about my books and consider the social part a mostly a nice bonus, I haven't been too aggravated by that. Still, if you're on LT and you'd like to be friends there, here's my profile - come and visit!

Booking Through Thursday: "Hot!"

btt button

Now that summer is here (in the northern hemisphere, anyway), what is the most “Summery” book you can think of? The one that captures the essence of summer for you?
(I’m not asking for you to list your ideal “beach reading,” you understand, but the book that you can read at any time of year but that evokes “summer.”)

I can come up with songs, movies, and even foods that seem associated with summer for me - but books? Not much. I think that may be because, for me, that evocation of a particular time or place is more of a visceral, sensory thing, and reading engages my brain more than my senses, if you follow. In a lot of cases, prior to this blog, I'm not even entirely sure of when I read things, especially since I haven't followed an academic calendar for well over twenty years, and that's when summer tended to stand out a lot more.

But having said that, the first book I thought of is one that I know I read in the summer - more than once, actually, but nearly always in the summer: The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCulloch. Those summers were mostly during high school, though, which backs up my point about the academic calendar. Between that and the fact that I've lived good chunks of my life in places where the seasons tend to blend into each other, summer doesn't really seem to stand out much any more.

Friday Fill-ins #130


Graphic courtesy of Tonya!

1. She had a great collection of potholders.

2. A book (if I'm lucky, a good one) is by my side, always.

3. I know this: I either don't have enough time, or I don't make the best choices about how to use the time I have.

4. The traffic stands still.

5. These words apply to me: life is short, and so am I.

6. It's been a few mornings since the sun was shining (we're actually having some "June Gloom" this year).

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to a quiet evening, tomorrow my plans include taking my mother-in-law out for a birthday dinner and Sunday, I want to enjoy lunch with the kids before we send them off to spend a week at Grandma's!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thursday Book Talk: "The Unit," by Ninni Holmqvist

Disclosure: I received an Advance Reader's Copy of this book for review through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program.

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
The Unit: A Novel
Ninni Holmqvist (translated from Swedish by Marlaine Delargy)
Other Press, 2009 (paperback original) (ISBN 1590513134 / 9781590513132)
Fiction, 272 pages

First sentence: It was more comfortable than I could have imagined.

Book description: One day in early spring, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. She is promised a nicely furnished apartment inside the Unit, where she will make new friends, enjoy the state of the art recreation facilities, and live the few remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her. Here, women over the age of fifty and men over sixty–single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries–are sequestered for their final few years; they are considered outsiders. In the Unit they are expected to contribute themselves for drug and psychological testing, and ultimately donate their organs, little by little, until the final donation. Despite the ruthless nature of this practice, the ethos of this near-future society and the Unit is to take care of others, and Dorrit finds herself living under very pleasant conditions: well-housed, well-fed, and well-attended. She is resigned to her fate and discovers her days there to be rather consoling and peaceful. But when she meets a man inside the Unit and falls in love, the extraordinary becomes a reality and life suddenly turns unbearable. Dorrit is faced with compliance or escape, and…well, then what?

THE UNIT explores a society in the throes of an experiment, in which the “dispensable” ones are convinced under gentle coercion of the importance of sacrificing for the “necessary” ones.

Comments: When I requested this book through LibraryThing, I was intrigued by the concept, which reminded me in some ways of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. I read that one a few months ago and found the ideas in it fascinating, but just didn't connect with it; The Unit seemed to offer another chance to explore some of those themes, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

There are similarities in the two books, which I plan to explore more in another post, but they're very different as well, and so was my reaction to them. I made that connection with The Unit, and it resonated emotionally as well as intellectually with me in ways that Never Let Me Go didn't.

The Unit takes place in a modern society where, if you make it to the age of fifty (if you're a woman - it's sixty for men) without becoming a parent and/or pursuing a socially-beneficial profession, you are considered "dispensable." You're not "needed" - relationships with spouses, siblings, and even pets don't count, nor do many jobs. However, there are still a few things you can do for "the community;" the Unit will make all the arrangements for them, and they'll make your life quite comfortable in the bargain.

Dorrit Weger arrives in the Unit at her appointed time, and it doesn't take long for her to acclimate to its odd little world. After all, nearly everything its residents need is readily provided for them, and not much is required of them other than participation in various scientific studies. She and the other residents have much in common, and she forms some deep and rewarding friendships...but the progress of one of those relationships is a stark reminder that relationships within the Unit don't count, either. Dorrit's life takes some unantcipated turns which force her to make some decisions, while other decisions are forced on her.

The Unit was originally published in Sweden in 2006. In translation, the language is uncomplicated and direct, and the story it tells is compelling, chilling in spots, and at times heartbreaking. I thought Dorrit was a fully-realized, all-too-human character. Holmqvist is as interested in exploring Dorrit's inner life as she is in her outer circumstances; her story grabbed me, and I don't think it could have ended any other way.

I found The Unit to be unsettling and thought-provoking, and well worth reading unless you require warm fuzzies from your books - it delivers a lot, but not those.

Rating: 4/5

If you have read and reviewed this book, please leave a link in comments or e-mail it to me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com, and I'll edit this review to include it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An author comes home - and meets the book bloggers!

Although he lives in New York City now, author David Ebershoff grew up in Pasadena, California, and every one of his novels has some connection to his hometown. Even his most recent book, The 19th Wife, which is primarily set in southern Utah, started out there; a critical character enters the story via a scene in the Pasadena Public Library.

The 19th Wife is just out in paperback, and the author is making an old-fashioned book tour to promote it - and at the same time, the book has been making a virtual tour on the book blogs. TLC Book Tours, the blog-tour organizer, sought out book bloggers in or near the cities that the real-life tour would visit to try to tie it all together.

On Monday night, June 22, David Ebershoff came home to his local independent bookstore, the venerable Vroman's, to read from and talk about The 19th Wife. Pasadena is close enough to my home and work that I wasn't going to pass up the chance to see him, and from what I could see, the turnout was quite respectable, especially for a Monday night. The crowd was a mix of ages, more women than men, and the author's parents were there too. I was sitting a few rows behind them, with Lisa from Books on the Brain, Sheri of A Novel Menagerie, and our friend Amy of My Friend Amy.

Before I went up to the events area of the bookstore, I stopped in at the coffee bar to grab a snack, and saw someone who looked familiar at one of the tables. In fact, I suspected that he was the person I was at Vroman's to see...and I was right. I had the chance to eavesdrop on part of an informal interview that David was giving to a younger writer. (I've met him, he's signed books for me - we're on a first-name basis now.) I didn't want to be obvious, though, so I didn't take notes and I really can't remember much of what they said - but I did remember to tell my book-blogging friends that I'd witnessed it!

Being part of the blog tour meant that I already knew a bit about how the book came together, but it was interesting to hear David explain and provide background for the passages he chose to read. He's a good reader, too. After the reading, he answered questions about The 19th Wife and his research for it, his writing process (someone had to ask that, of course), and what he's writing now (he told us just a little bit about that - he's trying to figure out the Pasadena angle to this novel). I had brought the hardcover copy of The 19th Wife that I reviewed with me, hoping that the store didn't have a strict policy that only books purchased at the time could be signed (they don't - thanks,Vroman's!), but while I waited for my turn, I grabbed a copy of David's previous novel, Pasadena, as well - how could I not?

David was very friendly and took a few minutes to chat with each person as he signed their books. I introduced myself as one of the tour bloggers. He asked me about where I lived, where I worked, and what I did for a living - and then looked at me and asked "How do you find time to blog?" (But we both already knew the answer - I just can't help myself.) He took a minute away from the signing table so Lisa could snap a photo of him with Amy and me. I hope none of the people behind us in line minded too much that we were taking up extra time, but bloggers have to document! Lisa invited David to join us in the coffee bar after the signing, but he couldn't make it, so we don't have quite as good a meeting story as Trish from Hey Lady! does. But even without him, we had a great time talking about all sorts of bookish and bloggy things.

(L-R) Lisa, Sheri, me, Amy - thanks to Lisa's brother Bill for taking the photo!

This was my first visit to Vroman's - but it won't be my last! It was also my first time at an author event like this, but I certainly hope there will be more of them in my future. And it was my first time meeting Sheri, who hadn't been able to make it to the Festival of Books in April - and yes, she's just like she is on her blog! It was not my first time meeting Lisa and Amy, and it was great seeing them again. Attending book events with book bloggers just makes them even more fun.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Flights of fantasy and (science) fiction

You may have heard that today has been (somewhat) officially declared Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day by author Sharon Lee:
In my Official Capacity as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I hereby proclaim June 23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day! A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.
This was the topic of last week's Booking Through Thursday question, which I answered by saying that I don't read much of either genre. However, that hasn't always been true, and even now it's not completely correct. I look for a good story, period, and if that story has elements of fantasy and/or science fiction in it, I won't necessarily reject it out of hand. In fact, I've found that some themes are explored more effectively in those genres than in more "realistic" fiction.

When I was younger, I was more likely to read straight-up fantasy and sci-fi than I am now; I even took an elective English class in Fantasy Literature in high school. (One of the optional readings in that class was The Princess Bride, which was the first I'd ever heard of it - and I didn't choose to read it then. It was high school - what more can I tell you? Not so much with the good judgment back then.) These are a few of my fantasy and science-fiction favorites from my middle-school through college years:
  • The Time Trilogy, by Madeleine L'Engle (it wasn't a Quartet yet back then!): I still think every kid needs to read A Wrinkle in Time. And I'll never forget that when I encountered mitochondria in a cell-biology class, it wasn't the first time, thanks to A Wind in the Door.
  • The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkein: I've said for the record that I prefer The Lord of the Rings on film, but I loved Bilbo Baggins' book. We'll see if the upcoming movie adaptation changes my mind...
  • The Dragonriders of Pern series and the Harper Hall trilogy, by Anne McCaffrey: My mom was actually more interested in reading fantasy than I was, and I took a lot of her recommendations. I know there have been many more of the Pern books since I stopped reading them, and that McCaffrey has been involved in a lot of collaborations as well, but I particularly liked the musically-themed Harper Hall books.
  • The Merlin trilogy (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment), by Mary Stewart, and The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley: Again, reading these was instigated by my mom, but I loved their re-interpretations of the Arthurian stories (which at times made King Arthur a rather minor character, oddly enough). I think I read the Merlin books two or three times, and I'm pretty sure I've read The Mists of Avalon twice.
  • Dune, by Frank Herbert: This is another of the "optional" books I didn't read during my Fantasy Lit class, but I caught up with it, and the rest of the original trilogy, during college. Hated the movie, though.
L'Engle's books may be what set the tone for my fantasy/sci-fi preferences as an adult - they largely take place in the recognizable, "real" world, and I think I need that bit of familiarity in my fiction to keep anchored. I've also become more aware of the the social, political, and philosophical themes that underlie a lot of this fiction, and wonder if the genre elements help make them more reader-friendly. Still, it's the story and its telling that make them worth reading, and these are some that have left their mark on me in recent years:
  • The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling: I forget that these books are sold in the children's section. I forget that they're fantasy. But the books are impossible to forget - a seven-book epic tale of good and evil that traces the growth of its characters and their writer.

  • The His Dark Materials trilogy, by Phillip Pullman: For me, the second book in this series, The Subtle Knife, was the most compelling, and that's probably because it starts out in Will's real-world Oxford rather than Lyra's parallel-universe one, but I plan to re-read the whole thing at some point.
  • The Sparrow and Children of God, by Mary Doria Russell: I really wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up these two companion books, which blend science fiction, fantasy, religion and philosophy in a riveting story unlike much else I've ever read. What I found was fascinating, thought-provoking and memorable, and I look forward to reading them both again one day.
Of course, I'd have to get out from TBR Purgatory before I could re-read any of these, and I'm not sure whether that qualifies as science fiction or fantasy.

I'm not reading anything thematically appropriate today, but it looks like fantasy and science-fiction reading may have affected me more than I've realized. What about you? Have you read any of these books? Are there others you love and would recommend? Comments, please!

Monday, June 22, 2009

A summer snapshot, starring my town (Weekend Assignments #271/272)

I didn't intend to blow off last week's Weekend Assignment from Professor Karen at Outpost Mâvarin, but I did have some trouble getting a handle on it...until now. It's being worked into this week's Assignment. I hope that it will be accepted as my make-up exam!

Weekend Assignment #271: No matter where you live, the daily sights you take for granted are bound to seem exotic to someone who lives in very different surroundings. Describe your home town, city or whatever to that theoretical someone, entirely in words. You don't have to write the proverbial "thousand words," but do not post a photo to aid you in conveying a sense of what the place is like.

Extra Credit: Summarize your description Twitter-style, in 140 characters or fewer.

Weekend Assignment #272: What are your plans for the summer months? Do things get busier for you this time of year, or slow down? Do you go on vacation, or stick close to home?

Extra Credit: Do you do much summer TV viewing? Is there anything in particular you're looking forward to watching?

Freeway-close to LA, but with suburban comforts. Warm and breezy in summer, but not far from the beaches. Our valley is a family town.

Driving west on the 118 Freeway, north of Los Angeles proper, one leaves the San Fernando Valley through the Santa Susana Pass in the Santa Monica Mountains. This is the northeast gateway to Ventura County, California, and the county line is also the eastern limit of the city of Simi Valley. Simi Valley is one of the three largest cities in the county, although "large" is a relative term here - most towns either have a population between 100,000 and 150,000, or one somewhere under 40,000. Large parts of Ventura County are still rural and agricultural, but Simi is a thriving suburb. Route 118 passes all the way through town, east to west, and when traffic is favorable (yes, sometimes that actually happens) parts of L.A. are well within a forty-five-minute drive.

Many Simi residents are commuters, but there are some large employers in town too. The central part of the city is fairly compact, bordered by north-south streets Kuehner Drive on the east and Madera Road on the west, and the main streets across town, Los Angeles Avenue and Cochran Street, run parallel to the freeway. The houses and businesses in this area are on the small side, but the edges of town contain the business parks and the subdivisions. The fastest-growing areas are on the southern and western sides of the city, and that's where the bigger, newer houses are. Because both land and water are in a premium in this desert-bordering climate, yards tend to be small, but the city is generously dotted with parks of various sizes, and the local parks district runs a wide range of recreational programs and classes.Simi Valley is also the home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and given the predominant political leanings of the city, it's an appropriate location (but I will note that there are some blue and purple pockets in this rather red town).

School is out for the summer now, and families will be looking for ways to keep the kids busy until it starts back up again a week or so before Labor Day. My family is no exception. The summer days in Simi Valley can get very hot and dry, but thanks to low humidity, the nights are usually pretty comfortable. However, my husband doesn't have a high tolerance for the heat, despite having lived in Southern California all of his life, so we tend to seek out air-conditioned indoor activities during the day. We'll be going to the movies a lot, or staying in to watch DVDs. This year, we want to try to make one or two trips to the beach - the nearest one is only about thirty miles away - and to use the neighborhood swimming pool. Simi Valley Town Center is an outdoor mall, so if we have shopping to do on really warm days, we'll probably go to the indoor mall in neighboring Thousand Oaks.

My husband and his ex-wife alternate years for vacations with the kids, and she gets first priority this year. Each of the kids will get a week at their grandmother's during the summer, and I'll be going to Chicago next month for theBlogHer'09 conference, but we really haven't planned anything big together - I think this summer will be a "family staycation " year by default. And while we're sticking around the house, we'll probably be watching some TV. My husband and kids are glad that Wipeout is back on for the summer, and I'm watching Burn Notice every week with him and my stepdaughter. At 14, she's old enough to watch some shows with us that we're not exposing her 9-year-old brother to yet, and that includes our Buffy-on-DVD sessions; we're up to Season 4 now.

When the weather's not too hot for outdoor activities, it's rarely necessary to make a backup plan in case of rain. While some mornings may be overcast, the clouds will usually clear by afternoon - and those overcast mornings help keep the temperatures down a bit. By late summer, though, most days are sunny all day long, the winds change, and we start looking anxiously at the dry brown brush on the hills surrounding our valley - it's fire season, just in time for the kids to head back to school and the freeways to get crowded again.

Welcome to summer in my suburban corner of SoCal.

**I'm attending an author event in SoCal tonight, and you can win a copy of the author's book by entering my giveaway of The 19th Wife. The book review and entry instructions are posted here - entries are open until Friday, June 26.**

Sunday, June 21, 2009

BLOGGIESTA "Done/not done" list

I posted my Bloggiesta to-do list on Friday morning. It wasn't very long, but it was pretty heavy on time-intensive post-writing, so even as I put it together I wasn't sure I'd be able to accomplish it all. And then Natasha had to mention the mini-challenges, and I thought about trying out a few of those too - hey, they were mini-challenges, right? How much time could they take?

Some of them took longer than others. I spent about 8 hours on Bloggiesta this weekend; I was at work all day Friday and out of the house on Saturday morning, and my family actually wanted to see me for some time this weekend (go figure!), so I did have some limitations. I didn't get as much of the writing done as I intended, but diverting some of that time to mini-challenges was worth it, for other blog-related reasons.

I won't restate the whole original to-do list here - why dwell on all of the things I didn't get done? Let's just celebrate the Bloggiesta accomplishments!
  • Drafting my next two posts for the LA Moms Blog was actually my first priority, and I got that done on Friday night. I'm supposed to post there twice a month, so I now I'm set into July - plus, I've got ideas in the works for the next couple of posts after that! Momentum is good.
  • I set up drafts for six book reviews, which means I've actually planned my reading for the next few weeks - that never happens! I'll just need to write my discussions, rate the books, and add in links to other reviews. Head starts are good.
About half of my Bloggiesta time was spent on these two tasks. I still have a Weekend Assignment to write; that's probably not going to happen within the Bloggiesta time frame, but there's still some weekend left!

The mini-challenges weren't part of the original plan, but some were both irresistible and useful:
I found the Trends page in Google Reader. It turns out that one of the things it tracks is inactive feeds - thanks to that shortcut and individual inspection of the rest of my subscriptions, I deleted about 50 inactive and/or rarely-read feeds. I've used folders to sort my feeds for quite a while, but I reorganized some of them, and I edited the "blogroll" gadgets in my blog sidebar to reflect the changes. I just didn't have much time to read many blog posts on Saturday, and had to resort to the "mark all as read" button. Fresh starts can be good.
The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness associates with book blogs and mom blogs, but it's not entirely one or the other, and it's a little more than both. The content includes book reviews and discussion, personal essays, commentary on social issues and popular culture, and the occasional "stuff I (or my family, or my dog) did" post. Hopefully, you'll find something that interests you in a mix like that.
Well, they weren't exactly quick-click tasks for me, but within about an hour or so, I had created both a favicon for my blog and a gravatar to follow my profile around the Internet. And as far as I can tell, they both work! You'll probably be seeing them around. The favicon is, of course, very tiny, but it's the new logo my husband designed for my blog business cards - hopefully, it'll actually be on the blog itself soon!
It just takes a couple of minutes to generate the ratings and rankings. This blog got a grade of 87% - that's almost a B-plus, which isn't all that shabby - and a page rank of 4, which makes it "(a) popular site with a fair amount of inbound links." Popularity is good, isn't it? I don't have a lot of experience with it.

I don't have a lot of experience with these bloggy marathons, either - this was my first. I am amazed by the folks that can dedicate giant chunks of their weekends to these things! Even though we had a window twice as big as the 24-Hour Read-a-Thon, I couldn't devote a lot of hours to Bloggiesta. I work full-time, and there's only so much of my "normal" weekend stuff I can put on hold; and I have a feeling my family might not entirely appreciate my spending so much time with my MacBook and not with them. Given that, I probably should either avoid mini-challenges or decide to focus on them, with a much shorter to-do list for myself!

But having said all that, Bloggiesta was good! Thanks to Natasha for creating and hosting such a fun event, and I hope this won't be the first and last time! Hopefully, I'll be able to get more actual writing done the next time, though. 

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Weekend Review, 6/20/09: This week around the blogiverse

Bulletin Board - SoCal Local edition
*** Do something funny this summer! Comedian Amy Anderson will be conducting a six-week Stand-Up Comedy Workshop starting in July - click on that link for the details about the classes, and Amy's professional credits. No, I'm not taking the class, but I know Amy through the Los Angeles Moms Blog, and I promise you - she's very funny!***

*** I mentioned earlier this week in my review of The 19th Wife++ that author David Ebershoff is alsoThe 19th Wife: A Novel by David Ebershoff on a "real" book tour to promote its paperback release. He will be in the Los Angeles area on Monday, June 22, discussing and signing books at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. I'm excited about my first visit to this prominent indie bookstore and my first author signing! If you're planning to be there too, please let me know in comments here or @reply me on Twitter! (I'm going directly from work and will probably be in Pasadena early, looking for a place to grab something to eat.) Meanwhile, David talked about his favorite bookstores in a "Spotlight on Bookstores" guest post at She Is Too Fond of Books earlier this week.***

++Don't forget that I'm also running a giveaway of The 19th Wife - entries are open until Friday, June 26. See the review post for instructions on how to enter!

Newbies in my Google Reader
Thursday Drive, via Wheels on the Bus
All of the following arrived via Twitter:
Ms. Bookish
Bailey's and Books
Yule Time Reading

Dispatches from across the blogiverse

The sum of all...wedding vows

Strength in diversity? Or unity (according to my high school's motto)? Or some of both?

Remembering when bloggers communicated with each other more than they pitched to each other

Doctors, nurses, and patients are all people first - lessons in "bedside manner"

Taking the day off leads to getting the day right

When you hear the whistle...
The pitfalls of teaching your kids honesty

So, I'll never be tall, but I can act like I am?

Things someone else learned from The Real Housewives of New Jersey (so I don't have to watch it now, thank goodness!)

Beware the naked statues (there are pictures!)

For those of you who don't have an in-house Apple guru like I do: switching over to Mac from Windows, and what you need to know about using your new machine

I'll Be Hiding in a Corner
(I'm not kidding. I chose this badge for a reason.)
Tips for the first-time BlogHer-goer (that would be me! how about you?) from one who knows the ropes

Rules are for other people, via Not Always Right
Retail | Staffordshire, England
(We have a 5-item max policy for our changing rooms. One lady walked out with arms full of stuff, then went back for more.)
Me: “Excuse me, it’s only 5 items in the changing rooms.”
Customer: “Well, it’s never been that before.”
Me: “Actually, we’ve been enforcing it for the last 18 months. See, there’s a sign.” *points at sign on wall*
Customer: “I don’t actually read signs.”
Me: “Well, at least you’ll know for next time.”
Customer: “Oh, I won’t read it next time, either.”

Bookmarks: Reading-related reading
You know you're a book blogger when...you have a Top 10 list (which I don't think is entirely exclusive to bloggers of the bookish kind, either!)

"Inspired by" another story, or books re-mixed (a post which gave me some insight as to why I didn't like A Family Daughter quite as much as Liars and Saints)

The Take A Chance Challenge, hosted by Jenners at Find Your Next Book Here, offers seven different ways to find books to read at random and expand your reading horizons. It's ongoing through November 30, and you can find the details and sign-up info on the challenge announcement post.

Enjoy your weekend - and Happy Father's Day to all the dads!

Friday, June 19, 2009


Bloggiesta commences this morning, and will continue for the next 48 hours! I am not sure how many hours I'll be devoting to it, but I do have a list of tasks that I'd like to accomplish during this marathon, which is aimed at developing blog content. Here's what I want to work on:
  • Draft two posts for the LA Moms Blog, and select pictures to go with them. Since I have a twice-a-month posting commitment there, this is actually my first priority, and I hope it helps that I have a couple of ideas in my folder to get me started.
  • Work on Blogging Quest posts - will probably be at least 2; goal is to have ready to post next week
  • Set up drafts for my next few book reviews, including necessary links, so all that's needed will be my comments and ratings once I finish the reading.
  • Write Weekend Assignment and Weekly Geeks posts for next week, once the topics are posted (note: task is dependent on whether I'm interested in the topics)
  • Start draft post re: common themes and concepts in The Unit and Never Let Me Go (BONUS: Prepare review of The Unit to post next week - dependent on finishing the book!)
I may not post many progress updates, since I'd rather actually work on this stuff. Updates may be on Twitter rather than here, and will be tagged #bloggiesta - but there will be a final update/wrap-up post here on Sunday.

TBIF: Thank book/blog it's Friday! This week in books, etc.

BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

Currently Reading: see "Next Review Scheduled"

Next in Line: Certain Girls, by Jennifer Weiner (a "read-along" with My Friend Amy) (RYOB Challenge)

Teaser: "My mom's screen saver was my most recent high school picture. In the upper right-hand corner, a dancing Thin Mint informed me that there were 243 days until Girl Scout cookies went on sale again." (page 283)

After That: Fool by Christopher Moore (RYOB Challenge, "my husband read it before I did" division...technically, I think this is actually his book); All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown (July selection for the Summer Reading Series)

Book reviews posted this week: The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff (TLC Book Tour); Escape, by Carolyn Jessop
Next review scheduled: The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist (LibraryThing Early Reviewers)

New additions to my "to be read" collection in LibraryThing:
The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel by Garth Stein1
What Happened to Anna K.: A Novel by Irina Reyn2
The Wednesday Sisters: A Novel by Meg Waite Clayton2
Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story by Isabel Gillies3

1 I purchased this, but now a review copy is on the way - perhaps an "extra" giveaway will be in order soon?
2 Purchased
3 Received from another blogger after I commented on her review - thank you, Darryle!

Thanks for the Reviews! Books I noticed on the blogs this week:
Last Night in Montreal, by Emily St. John Mandel
The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, by Sally Koslow
Real Life & Liars, by Kristina Riggle

After receiving another unsolicited ARC this week, I've edited my Book Review Policy to address them - but in summary, unsolicited books are NOT guaranteed reviews! However, if I don't want them for myself, I will try to pass them on to someone else who's more interested. If you'd like to review either last week's or this week's unsolicited ARCs, please e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com, and we'll work out the details.

Tuesday Thingers, hosted at Wendi's Book Corner: "Ready, Set, Start Your Collections!"

Some wonderful news from the Library Thing Blog!

You can now add books to different collections and then view just those collections! Some of the pre-designed collections include: Wishlist, Currently Reading, To Read, Read But Unowned, and Favorites. Then of course you can add your own collections too!

To begin classifying your books, go to your book shelf and you will see a little brown briefcase/box type icon on the right hand side. Simply click that and choose one of the collections!

Questions: Have you explored the new Collections feature? Do you plan to use the new Collections? Are you going to add any special collections? If so, what are they?

I think I'm going to love Collections! They remind me a bit of the "shelves" feature in GoodReads, but seem to be a bit more flexible, and it looks like they can be used in combination with LT tags. I'm looking forward to playing around with both of those features and figuring out what blend of them works best for me. I was glad to see that you can place a book in multiple collections, too.

The first thing I did with Collections was to sort all of the books I had tagged as "to be read" into the "To Read" collection; I used the power-edit function and it took just a minute. It will take much longer to sort books into the "Favorites" collection, but I'd like to work on that as I find time.

I probably won't use the "standard" collections "Wishlist" and "Read but Unowned" much unless I change the way I use LT - I don't list any books I don't actually have in my possession. I have already created my first "custom" collection, though; "Wishlist Fulfilled," which is where I'll record books that were on my wishlist once I obtain them. I may also start a collection for "Used to Own," since I donate or give away most books after I read them, and that will make it easier to keep up with which books I don't have any more.

I have a feeling this is really going to enhance my use of LibraryThing.

Booking Through Thursday: "Fantasy and Sci-Fi"

btt button

Sci-fi author Sharon Lee has declared June 23rd Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Day. As she puts it:
So! In my Official Capacity as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I hereby proclaim June 23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day! A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.
So … what might you do on the 23rd to celebrate? Do you even read fantasy/sci-fi? Why? Why not?

Science fiction and fantasy are both genres that I seem to prefer viewing rather than reading - I'm pretty likely to watch them on TV or at the movies, but I don't really seek out books that fall into either category. I'll read more literary fiction with science-fiction or fantasy elements, and I often find that I like what they add to a story. But I rarely go full-out into the genre sections of the bookstore, although this recent book purchase was an exception, and if it weren't for the fact I read the author's blog faithfully, I don't know if I'd have made the leap. I used to read more of both genres, particularly fantasy, when I was younger, but eventually it just seemed to take too much of my scarce mental energy to sort out all the details of these imaginary worlds, let alone figure out how to pronounce the names!

I won't say that I never read sci-fi or fantasy, or that I never would - I just don't choose to read them very often. Therefore,  I doubt I'll be doing anything special to mark Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Day. Maybe you can pick up the slack for me?

Friday Fill-ins #129


This week's questions are from Tamy at 3sidesofcrazy.

1. All children alarm their parents, if only because you are forever expecting something to get broken (a plate, a lamp, an arm...).

2. Show me a good loser and I will show you a person who has had a lot of experience at not winning.

3. I don't know what is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs at one time (because I don't like that kind of candy and would never do such a thing).

4. Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy blogging and Twittering.

5. I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine sunscreen and moisturizer. (I expect to see my reflex response, "work" and "family," in someone else's Fill-ins, though.)

6. It is impossible to think of any good meal, no matter how plain or elegant, without dessert or great company in it (well, in the case of the latter, not literally!)

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to nothing but the end of the work week, tomorrow my plans include my Bloggiesta to-do list, and Sunday, I want to bake cookies with the kids to celebrate Father's Day (and if we're nice, maybe their dad will let us eat some of them)!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thursday Book Talk: "Escape," by Carolyn Jessop

Escape by Carolyn Jessop

Carolyn Jessop (with Laura Palmer)
Broadway Books, 2008 (ISBN 0767927575 / 9780767927574)
Nonfiction/memoir, 448 pages

First sentence: "Escape. The moment had come."

Random clip (page 91)
: "After several terrible years with Faunita, Audrey said, Merril was forced to marry Ruth. He resisted this marriage as well, until he was reprimanded by the prophet and forced to wed."

Book description: When she was eighteen years old, Carolyn Jessop was coerced into an arranged marriage with a total stranger: a man thirty-two years her senior. Merril Jessop already had three wives. But arranged plural marriages were an integral part of Carolyn’s heritage: she was born into and raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the radical offshoot of the Mormon Church that had settled in small communities along the Arizona-Utah border. Over the next fifteen years, Carolyn had eight children and withstood her husband’s psychological abuse and the watchful eyes of his other wives who were locked in a constant battle for supremacy.

Carolyn’s every move was dictated by her husband’s whims. He decided where she lived and how her children would be treated. He controlled the money she earned as a school teacher. He chose when they had sex; Carolyn could only refuse—at her peril. For in the FLDS, a wife’s compliance with her husband determined how much status both she and her children held in the family. Carolyn was miserable for years and wanted out, but she knew that if she tried to leave and got caught, her children would be taken away from her. No woman in the country had ever escaped from theFLDS and managed to get her children out, too. But in 2003, Carolyn chose freedom over fear and fled her home with her eight children. She had $20 to her name.

Escape exposes a world tantamount to a prison camp, created by religious fanatics who, in the name of God, deprive their followers the right to make choices, force women to be totally subservient to men, and brainwash children in church-run schools. Against this background, Carolyn Jessop’s flight takes on an extraordinary, inspiring power. Not only did she manage a daring escape from a brutal environment, she became the first woman ever granted full custody of her children in a contested suit involving theFLDS . And in 2006, her reports to the Utah attorney general on church abuses formed a crucial part of the case that led to the arrest of their notorious leader, Warren Jeffs.

Comments: I bought this book several months ago after seeing several bloggers' posts about it, and just after finishing The 19th Wife seemed like the appropriate time to read it. That was a fictionalized look at polygamy in history; Escape is a contemporary exploration of how it continues today, as experienced by Carolyn Jessop, her children, and her "sister wives."

Carolyn Blackmore's hometown of Colorado City, Arizona, was essentially a "company town" of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the FLDS), a group that had split from the original Mormon Church a century ago over the issue of "celestial marriage." The FLDS continued to believe in and practice polygamy; Carolyn's own father took a second wife when she was ten years old, as instructed by the FLDS ' leader, or "prophet," who was believed to speak for God and who assigned all marriage partners. At 18, Carolyn herself became the fourth wife of Merril Jessop, a business partner of her father's, as part of their settlement of a debt, but it was by mistake; Merril had wanted her younger, prettier sister Annette, but got the girls' names mixed up.

Although she was married and, before too long, a mother, Carolyn was granted the unusual privilege of continuing her education; she earned a college degree and became a second-grade teacher in Colorado City. Her education gave Carolyn a perspective that many of her neighbors and family didn't understand or share, and she began to question and doubt the ways of her religion. Her husband was abusive to her and most of his other wives, and uninterested in most of his children (of which 8 were with Carolyn). Husbands had full power over their wives and children as "priesthood heads," and demanded obedience and "harmony." This followed the decrees of the prophet, who controlled all details of their lives. Access to education was curtailed; girls were assigned in marriage at younger and younger ages to middle-aged and elderly men; wives and their children could be taken from one man and "reassigned" to another; and young men were being driven out of the community. As life in the FLDS grew more constrained and dangerous, Carolyn became determined to get herself and her children out of what she came to understand was a cult.

In a recent guest post by Tracy Wolff for My Friend Amy, the author discussed the difference between "writers" and "storytellers." I'm not sure I'd say Carolyn Jessop is a "writer;" Escape is co-credited to Laura Palmer, and to me, it reads a lot like oral history. Some of the other reviews I've seen of the book have suggested that it could have used better editing; I'm not sure I agree, but there is some repetition and inconsistency throughout. I'm not sure Jessop is a "storyteller" in a general sense either, but I believe the story she tells here - her own - is one that really matters. It's a rare inside view of a fringe culture that, under "freedom of religion," engages in a way of life that flouts the law and endangers the welfare of women and children while enriching a select few men, and perpetuating that culture by nurturing fear and cutting its believers off from information and input from the larger world around them. It's a world that's hard to wrap your head around if you've never lived that way, and it's unsettling to understand how it goes on today.

Escape is a book to be read for the content, not the writing - and I found the content absolutely riveting. It's enlightening, horrifying, suspenseful, and ultimately triumphant (not a spoiler - the title of the book is Escape, after all, so you know eventually it's going to happen). I can't say I loved it, but I do think it's an important story well worth reading.

Rating: 3.75/5

This is one of the books that inspired yesterday's discussion post about legalizing polygamy - did you see that one yet?

If you've read and reviewed this book, please leave your link in a comment here or e-mail it to me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com, and I'll edit this review to include it!

*** On a related note, I'm giving away a copy of The 19th Wife - it's open until June 26, and the details are here! ***

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Husband and wife...and wife...and wife...and wife...

This is turning out to be Polygamy Week around here, what with two book reviews related to the topic (one posted on Monday, the other will be up tomorrow) - and two books with common themes read in near-succession tend to get me thinking.

In a review of yet another novel about polygamy, Natasha of Maw Books Blog asked the question, "Should polygamy be legal?" and wondered if the answer might be less obvious than it seemed at first glance.

Here in California, we’re still fighting over the legal definition of “marriage” as “one man, one woman” - with the emphasis on the genders. Polygamy would seem to be a similar issue, but with the emphasis on the numbers instead. It's even been suggested that if same-sex marriage were to become legal on a broad scale (like in more than six relatively small states), multiple marriage would be the next issue to land on the table.

Marriage to more than one person at a time is illegal, and you can't get a license to partake in it. Polygamous "marriages" exist only within the framework of particular religious beliefs - but the fact that government and churches don't have to define marriage the same way has come up before. Although ministers and priests are legally authorized to perform marriages and sign licenses, the church ceremony is separate from the legal license to wed, and a wedding doesn't have to involve a church at all. And a church wedding ceremony without that properly executed "piece of paper" isn't going to be recognized by the law as producing a married couple (emphasis added).

So if I support granting gays the legal right to marry - which I do, and you may recall my talking about it here (and there) a few times already - must I also support granting the legal right to have multiple spouses at the same time? Wouldn’t that be consistent reasoning?

Well, then I’m inconsistent. I don’t think that healthy families thrive in polygamous households (while they can in homes with same-sex parents, and I've known a few myself), and think that the state would be wrong to permit such households to exist legally.

In a comment on my review of The 19th Wife, Dreamybee said:
I've heard people knock (polygamy) as being an unhealthy environment for kids to grow up in, but I actually think that aside from the practice of marrying young girls that you may be closely related to (okay, granted, that's a big aside!) kids would do quite well in this environment. They are constantly surrounded by their siblings and watched over by other family members-very much an "it takes a village" approach which I think is often lacking in today's society.
There probably are some polygamist families that work that way, but based on my limited reading on the topic, I suspect that they're exceptional. If the wives get competitive with one another, they're looking out for themselves and maybe their own kids, never mind anyone else's - and some of these families are huge, with dozens of children living in the same house. Chances are pretty good that quite a few of these kids are neglected more than nurtured.

But if these families didn't have to live outside the law, would the kids be better off? Perhaps legal recognition of plural marriage would change those conditions, but since its practitioners see it as a religious calling and, therefore, of higher value than secular law, I'm not sure how much they even care about whether it's legal or not - they're doing it anyway, and separation of church and state means that there's not much interference unless they're found breaking some other law.

As it is, since most of the mothers of these children are not legally married to their fathers, they're technically all single parents. And since many of them are not permitted - by church edicts and/or their husbands - to work and earn money, their single-parent status puts many of these women and their children in the welfare system. ("We don't follow your government's laws, but we'll take its money" - now that attitude irritates me.) The communities where polygamy exists are small and isolated, and unwelcoming to outsiders - and in order to keep things that way, education has to be strictly controlled and limited.

I could get into more discussion about how patriarchal and demeaning to women plural marriage can be (and it's nearly always men with multiple wives, not the other way around) and the dangers to young women and girls in an environment where men hold all the power, but I'm actually trying to stay focused on the child-welfare question here. As far as that goes, I think that polygamy should retain its current legal status - which is "not" - because I really don't think it's a good family structure. And I can only hope that over time, as its adherents grow even more isolated from mainstream society (and probably inbred, too - there won't be that many other options for them, will there?), more people will grow disillusioned and desert the culture, and eventually it will die out.

It may be inconsistent with some of my other beliefs about marriage, but so be it; I don't think it should include any more than two people, no matter who they are.