Friday, April 30, 2010

Week-End Review - FoB Hangover edition

I missed the tweet originally, but my friend Mike fixed that situation with a DM:
Mjfrig: Pamie linked to your blog. You're famous! :) 
Wait, what? A quick Twitter search turned up what he was talking about:
pamelaribon: Photographic proof I was at Nerd Fest. (And this girl does have a name like a beautiful nemesis.) http://tinyurl.com/34tu5st #LATFOB
Never underestimate the power of the linkage, folks - or of Twitter, for that matter. Oh, and having blog business cards.

When I met authors to ask them to sign their books at the Festival of Books last weekend, I'd stick one of my blog business cards in at the title page - my little way of letting them know I'm a book blogger, and of making it easy for them to spell my name correctly. Pamela Ribon noticed: "That's a great name! With a name like that, you should be infamous!"

I left my card on the table; I don't know if she kept it, but I do know she found my FoB recap post, which mentions her rather prominently. And when she tweeted a link to it, she contributed to building my infamy - thanks, Pamie!

Thanks largely to that Twitter link, in less than a week that post has become my most-viewed post of 2010, with more than twice the views of the previous first-place holder. I was floored. I had almost 300 visitors the day that posted, and for me, that's enormous, and highly unusual. I'm sure that this was a one-time stop for most of them, but that doesn't mean I appreciate them any less.

That's why I do these link round-ups - this one, and the more book-focused "Bookmarks" links in the Sunday Salon. If I'm linking to your post, you'll usually find out one way or another, and even if I didn't comment on it, that tells you I liked it. But even more, it tells other people that I liked it and think they should check it out. I hope that at least some of them do. I can't promise a traffic bump from my links anywhere near the size of the one Pamie gave me, but I hope some new readers are finding you via the Weekend Review...and that it's pointing you to some good, new-to-you reading as well!

Dispatches: Links from Across the Blogiverse this Week

A message to the married from a single friend; a message to parents about how (not) to raise narcissistic children

When social networking creates true connections in crisis (and redeems itself for its time-sucking tendencies); when your friends know what you're up to (because of your blog), but you never talk any more. Semi-related: don't worry about working the room - truly meeting just one person is networking, too

Replies, debates, and other questions of commenting etiquette; do you have certain criteria for choosing who gets that precious space in your Google Reader? Also: you don't have to be balancing blogging and grad school to benefit from a few of Kim's suggestion

If it's edible, Southerners can find a way to fry it (and, unfortunately for our health, clothing, and scales, make it delicious!). Speaking of health and food, a new study suggests that depressed people eat more chocolate...and get more depressed. Beth isn't buying that - what do you think?

A closet full of nerdiness; speaking of closets, which are where we keep our clothes - will you be wearing shorts this summer?

Blogthings Quiz of the Week

You Need Some Structure in Your Life

You're the type of person who makes a plan but doesn't necessarily stick to it.
You like to have things roughly organized. However, you always are open to new experiences and change.

You don't like too much chaos, but you also don't like to be stuck in a rut. You like to strike a happy medium.
Whenever things get too routine you like to shake it up a little, even if it means stepping outside of your comfort zone.
Blogthings: Free Quizzes for Everyone

This one's got me pegged pretty well - what about you?

Vocabulary Lessons, via Not Always Right

Restaurant | Houston, TX, USA
(I’ve just asked a customer if they would like a new carafe of water.)
Customer: “What’s a ‘carafe’?”
Me: “In layman’s terms, its basically a water pitcher.”
Customer: “What’s ‘layman’s terms’?”
Me: “It’s like…dumbing down.”
Customer: “What’s ‘dumbing down’?”

Honestly, I kind of hope this conversation didn't actually happen. If you have to ask, you'll never get it.

Friday Fill-ins #174

pink and blue

1. I was walking in here to do something - now what was it again?
2. I was running late to get to my appointment and I left my book on the counter - where I also left my cell phone!
3. Why do I bother getting up so early when I can't beat the traffic anyway?
4. Work stuff, and more work stuff was in my thoughts today.
5. One of my father's favorite sayings was "I don't get no respect." (No, my dad isn't Rodney Dangerfield...but he DID meet him on the Staten Island Ferry once.)
6. Too many books, too little time--I know that feeling!
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to relaxing, tomorrow my plans include coffee in the morning and a party at night and Sunday, I want to spend some time reading and enjoying not being so busy this weekend!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Book Talk: *This One is Mine*, by Maria Semple

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in order to participate in an online book club today, hosted at Everyday I Write the Book. *Purchasing links in this review will generate referral fees through my Amazon Associates account.

This One Is Mine: A Novel by
 Maria Semple
This One Is Mine: A Novel
Maria Semple
Back Bay Books (2010), Paperback (ISBN 031603133X / 9780316031332)
Fiction, 320 pages
Opening Lines: "David stood at the sink, a pine forest to his left, the Pacific Ocean to his right, and cursed the morning sun. It beat through the skylight and smashed into the mirror, making it all but impossible to shave without squinting. He had lived in Los Angeles long enough to lose track of the seasons, so it took glancing up at CBNC and seeing live images of people snowshoeing down Madison Avenue for it to register: it was the middle of winter."
Book Description: Violet Parry is living the quintessential life of luxury in the Hollywood Hills with David, her rock-and-roll manager husband, and her darling toddler, Dot. She has the perfect life--except that she's deeply unhappy. David expects the world of Violet but gives little of himself in return. When she meets Teddy, a roguish small-time bass player, Violet comes alive, and soon she's risking everything for the chance to find herself again. Also in the picture are David's hilariously high-strung sister, Sally, on the prowl for a successful husband, and Jeremy, the ESPN sportscaster savant who falls into her trap. For all their recklessness, Violet and Sally will discover that David and Jeremy have a few surprises of their own.

Comments: This One is Mine is a Los Angeles story - that is, it's a story of what many people who don't live in LA think LA is like. And while LA life probably is like this for some people, they're not people I come across too often. Granted, I live in the suburbs and have a job unrelated to the entertainment industry, but I'm more typical of LA than you'd think. However, the stories of LA people like me aren't nearly as interesting.

Maria Semple, a former scriptwriter, shifts the narrative of her first novel between two women who have one man in common. Violet Parry (also a former scriptwriter) is the wife of music impresario David Parry, and dance teacher Sally Parry is his sister. Violet gave up her career when her young daughter was born, and has all the leisure and material security she could possibly want, but she's lost her sense of herself. Sally wants at least some of what Violet has, and she's out to get it the old-fashioned way - marrying into it. She's set her sights on an up-and-coming sportscaster.

Violet never used to be a woman who looked to a man to define herself, but when she meets Teddy - musician, golfer, recovering (?) addict - in a museum restroom, he's so unlike anyone she knows - and seems to be so drawn to her, which she doesn't seem to feel from her husband lately - that she's completely energized; worlds have collided, and it's enough to make her consider completely revamping her life. Sally, on the other hand, is so ready to be defined by a husband that she sees her own plans more clearly than she sees Jeremy, the man she believes will fulfill them.

Semple lured me into the novel, gradually building it into something deeper by slowly revealing her characters. I found Violet mostly likable all the way along, although I certainly questioned some of her choices. I didn't immediately warm to Sally, but I kept hoping there was more to her and I'd get the chance to revise my opinion. Semple's writing served the story well; she kept me anxious to see what would go wrong next and surprised me at times. At the same time, she infused the novel with humor, although there were a few scenes that seemed like self-consciously comedic set pieces to me.

Semple's humor also comes across as she pokes fun at some of the more superficial, status-conscious behavior of LA life - which totally deserves it - but the satirical elements of This One is Mine aren't especially biting. For me, what comes across more strongly are themes of projection and insecurity - seeing what you need to see in other people in order to see a reflection of yourself, and being so focused on the roles you need other people to play in your own personal narrative that you lose sight of who those people actually are. I don't think that's a uniquely LA thin

g, but it probably is something that's stands out here, where egocentric behavior by deeply insecure people makes the news (or the gossip websites, at least).

I've seen some strong reviews of this novel and it's been on my wish list for awhile. I expected to like it a bit more than I did, which is never a great feeling, but I'm glad I read it. However, I liked the cover of the hardcover better, and I suspect that may have influenced my interest in reading it (in addition to the reviews, of course). Now there's some shallow LA behavior for you!

Rating: 3.25/5

Other bloggers' reviews (find more via the Book Blogs Search Engine):

Buy This One Is Mine: A Novel at Amazon.com

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"That's How I (will) Blog" - next Tuesday! Come and join me on Blog Talk Radio

I'm getting nervous! Next Tuesday evening, I'll be making my debut on Internet radio as the guest of Nicole from Linus's Blanket on her Blog Talk Radio show, "That's How I Blog!"  - where book bloggers meet to talk books, blogging, and whatever else comes up! Please plan to listen in...

The show will air live at 9 PM EST on Tuesday, May 4, and will be archived for streaming and/or downloading as a podcast later. After general conversation, we'll have a Twenty-Minute (more or less) Book Club, discussing the novel American Rust by Philipp Meyer (which I reviewed in February of this year). If you've read it yourself - or even if you haven't, but you're not spoiler-phobic - please join us!

Nicole provided me with a list of some of the questions she might ask so I could prepare, but I'm sure she'll have some surprises for me. And she may not be the only one who does...audience participation is strongly encouraged! If you have a question you'd like Nicole to ask me, you can e-mail it to her before the show at nicole AT linussblanket DOT com. You're also invited to call in during the live show - the number is (646) 381-4606 - and ask your questions yourself! A chat room will be open on the Blog Talk Radio site during the  show, but you have to be registered on the site to ask questions there. 

Nicole started the show about six months ago, and it's been a rousing success - I will be her 28th guest. Please plan to check out the show, and if you can, call in or send questions so I don't make Nicole sorry she invited me on! Otherwise, it'll be up to my family to call and tell embarrassing stories...which might actually be more entertaining, but let's not go there.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Festival of Books Report, 2010 edition

Disclosure: I attended this event on my own behalf and received no compensation for going or writing about it. I spent my own money on parking, refreshments, and merchandise - the event itself did not charge admission. I brought several books from home to obtain author signatures; two of those were furnished to me for review, which I disclosed in those review posts (linked below), and the rest were purchased.

The major event on California book-lovers' calendars took place this past weekend, and once again, I was there! The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the West Los Angeles campus every year during the last weekend of April, and although I could only attend for one of the two days, I wasn't about to miss it.

Last year, the Festival of Books was the place where several book bloggers met in person for the very first time, and we were eager to have that experience again this year. There were a few new faces in the group when we got together on Saturday morning for coffee and planning the day, and a couple missing from last year - Natasha from Maw Books couldn't make it out from Utah this time, and Wendy (Literary Feline) of Musings of a Bookish Kitty wasn't going to be able to come until the second day.

Off to begin our adventures among the books and authors!
(l - r: Mark from Random Ramblings from Sunny Southern CA, Danielle of There's a Book, Trish from Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?, Amy/My Friend Amy, yours truly, Jill/Softdrink of Fizzy Thoughts, Lisa from Books on the Brain with her older daughter, and Ti from Book Chatter)

Last year, many of us were interested in the same panels, but we were a bit more diffused this time. The scheduling seemed to be a little different this year; it seemed that more of the book-industry and media-related panels were scheduled for Sunday, while Saturday's panels were mostly literary, but across a variety of genres and categories. My first panel didn't start until noon, so I took the early opportunity to browse the exhibitor and vendor booths on my own. I did my duty to support our local independent booksellers, Vroman's and Book Soup (which is actually owned by Vroman's now), by purchasing an assortment of memoirs:

For You Mom, Finally, by Ruth Reichl (originally published as Not Becoming My Mother)
Books: A Memoir, by Larry McMurtry (it's been years since I read any McMurtry, but how could I NOT buy this?)
Not Now, Voyager, by Lynne Sharon Schwartz (a travel memoir)
I'm With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, by Pamela Des Barres (a minor classic of the celebrity-tell-all genre that I've wanted to read for years, although I suspect the sleaze factor is quite high)

My first panel was a fiction discussion titled "Lives Unraveling," which featured authors Michelle Huneven, Philipp Meyer, Joanna Smith Rakoff, and Christos Tsiolkas. The only one of them I've read is Philipp Meyer - I reviewed American Rust, which was awarded the LA Times Book Prize for First Fiction this weekend, a couple of months ago - but Michelle Huneven's Blame is on my wish list, and Joanna Rakoff's A Fortunate Age sounds intriguing (despite middling ratings on LibraryThing and Amazon). This panel was probably the one where the writers most engaged in conversation with each other, which I enjoy. I will be discussing American Rust for an online book club soon, so I took notes at that panel, and when I went over to the signing area after the panel to get Philipp to sign his book, I mentioned the upcoming discussion. He told me to e-mail him if I had any questions before then, which was a very nice offer.

My second panel was also a fiction discussion, "Forging Ahead." This was the "smart, funny women" panel, and all of their books shared the theme of lives in transition. I own books by every member of this panel - The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, Getting In by Karen Stabiner, and Going in Circles by Pamela Ribon - but haven't read any of them yet. The last of these writers was the big draw for me; now a novelist and screenwriter, I've been reading her since she was a recapper for Television Without Pity earlier in the decade, and she's been blogging at pamie.com since "blogs" were "online diaries." Her newest novel is an autobiographically-inspired story of divorce and roller derby, and she wrote in my copy that I had "the prettiest name (she'd) ever written here. You win!" (And you could win too, in a contest that could bring Pamie and roller derby to your book club!)

I went to my final panel of the day with Amy, a memoir discussion whose topic, "Keeping the Faith," is one of great interest to us both. The room was packed, so clearly we're not the only ones intrigued by the subject, and the panelists were an interesting group who came to the the question of faith from a variety of directions. I was most looking forward to hearing and meeting Hope Edelman, since her book The Possibility of Everything was the only one I've read already, but I want to read the books of every member of this panel: Devotion by Dani Shapiro, Losing My Religion by William Lobdell (a former religion writer for the LA Times), and Faith, Interrupted: A Spiritual Journey, by Eric Lax. The conversation was fascinating and could have easily gone on far longer. In the signing area after the panel, Hope noticed that the copy of The Possibility of Everything I asked her to sign was an ARC, and I explained about being a book blogger who had also participated in the Silicon Valley Moms Group book club for the memoir. She informed me that none of the mommy-blogger heat she's taken for the book came out of that group, which was rather reassuring. (If you read the book, and you know something about mommy blogs, you will not be too surprised that some have reacted rather fiercely.)


The book bloggers re-convened around 5 PM on the steps of the Student Union building, now joined by Leah from Amused by Books and Thea of The Book Smugglers, and headed to nearby Jerry's Deli for dinner, recaps of the day, and other bookish conversation.

(around the table, l - r: Mark, me, Thea, Lisa, Danielle and her husband Alan, Leah, Amy, Jill, Ti)

I didn't go back to the Festival on Sunday, but I'm sure it was just as much fun. The weather was gorgeous, the books were plentiful, and the company was excellent. I can't wait to do it all again next year!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Talk: *The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott*, by Kelly O'Connor McNees (TLC Book Tour)

Disclosure: I was provided with an Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) of this book by the publisher, via TLC Book Tours, for review purposes. The book is now available in bookstores. *Use of the purchasing links in this review will generate referral fees through my Amazon Associates account.

The Lost Summer Of Louisa May Alcott by 
Kelly O'Connor McNees

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
Kelly O'Connor McNees
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (2010), Hardcover (0399156526 / 9780399156526)
Fiction (historical), 352 pages

Opening Lines: "It didn't take long for the Alcott sisters to finish unpacking their clothes. Anna, Louisa, Lizzie, and May didn't have many dresses, both because they couldn't afford them and because their father, Bronson, believed a penchant for silk and lace revealed a weakness in one's character."

Book description: Millions of readers have fallen in love with Little Women. But how could Louisa May Alcott-who never had a romance-write so convincingly of love and heart-break without experiencing it herself?

Deftly mixing fact and fiction, Kelly O'Connor McNees imagines a love affair that would threaten Louisa's writing career-and inspire the story of Jo and Laurie in Little Women. Stuck in small-town New Hampshire in 1855, Louisa finds herself torn between a love that takes her by surprise and her dream of independence as a writer in Boston. The choice she must make comes with a steep price that she will pay for the rest of her life.

**Author Kelly O'Connor McNees discusses what inspired The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott in a "Big Idea" guest post on John Scalzi's blog, Whatever.

Comments: While some other reviewers have mentioned that they knew little about the author of the classic Little Women before reading The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, she's been a favorite subject of mine for many years. Back in elementary school, I read every one of her books that I could get my hands on - several of them more than once - and sought out biographies of the author as well; I checked at least one of those, Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs, out of the library several times (and read it each time I checked it out, too). I fondly remember dragging my family to visit Orchard House, the Alcott family home in Concord, Massachusetts, during a trip to Boston. Currently, Harriet Reisen's recent biography, Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, occupies as spot on my wish list.

While Alcott's most famous work, Little Women, is closely based on her own family, it's not memoir, and there are portions of the author's life that aren't well-documented or deeply explored in the various biographies. Kelly O'Connor McNees uses one of those gaps as the stage for her historical/speculative novel, suggesting what could have come to pass between Louisa Alcott and one young man in a small New Hampshire town during the summer and autumn of 1855.

I found McNees' writing compatible with the style of the period, but not so old-fashioned as to be challenging to a modern reader. Her story unfolds in a leisurely manner, rich in details, and I was fully absorbed by it. Her suggestion that Louisa loved and lost is plausible, and Joseph Singer is credible as the object of her affections. As befitting the era of the novel - a time when public behavior was very different - McNees effectively evokes the sense of attraction and tension resulting from eyes meeting and gloved fingers touching, and I particularly appreciated the way she accomplished that. She also describes quite well just how hard women worked back before women "went to work," particularly when their families were impoverished. Keeping house was a full-time task when all tasks were done by hand, and when the head of the household was reluctant to act as a provider - as was Louisa's father, Transcendentalist philosopher Bronson Alcott, who valued the life of the mind far more than money - there was an even greater need to "make do" at home, or else to humbly accept the assistance of family and friends.

Throughout the novel, Louisa Alcott struggles with her ideas about relationships and marriage, and weighs her concepts of them them against her strong drive to create, work hard, and be responsible to herself, concluding over and over again that she cannot have both and live the life she truly wants. The career/family debate is one of the issues at the core of feminism, and apparently it's been going on for a couple of centuries; and despite modern women's efforts to balance it all, it still seems to come down to one over the other all too often. I've considered Louisa May Alcott an early feminist icon for much of my life, but this novel makes me wonder how much more of an icon she might be if she had been able to have marriage and family alongside her writing career.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is an engaging debut novel with appeal for fans of domestic novels, historical fiction, and women's history.

Rating: 4/5

*Buy The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott at Amazon.com

Other stops on this TLC Book Tour:
Thursday, April 1st: S. Krishna’s Books
Monday, April 5th: Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Tuesday, April 6th: The Tome Traveller
Wednesday, April 7th: Snickollet
Thursday, April 8th: lit*chick
Friday, April 9th: This Dangerous Life
Monday, April 12th: Joyfully Retired
Wednesday, April 14th: Reading Series on Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?
Thursday, April 15th: Devourer of Books
Monday, April 19th: Book-a-rama
Tuesday, April 20th: Becky’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, April 21st: Lit and Life
Thursday, April 22nd: Life in the Thumb
Tuesday, April 27th: kerrianne
Wednesday, April 28th: Books Like Breathing
Thursday, April 29th: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Friday, April 30th: Mille Fiori Favoriti

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Salon 4/25: NOT the FoB Report

The Sunday 

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
Yes, I went yesterday. No, I haven't had time to write up my experiences yet - I'm planning to have that post (with pictures) up on Tuesday.

It's still going on today, so if you're a Southern California bibliophile and you haven't gotten over to UCLA for the Festival of Books yet, what are you waiting for? The weather is great, and admission is free (but parking is $10), so head over there!

BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

Book reviews posted since last report:
Get Lucky, by Katherine Center (TLC Book Tour)
In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey Into the Heart of the Episcopal Church, by Gina Welch (with additional discussion)

Next reviews scheduled:
*This One Is Mine: A Novel by Maria Semple (for the Everyday I Write the Book online book club, April 29)
*Currently reading

New additions to TBR Purgatory (not including books acquired at the Festival):
For me:
Honolulu, by Alan Brennert
First Comes Love, then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed My Life, by Eve Brown-Waite
For review:
The Summer We Read Gatsby: A Novel, by Danielle Ganek (via publicist Artemis Azima of Engelman & Company)

New to the Wishlist:
The Lake Shore Limited, by Sue Miller

BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading

Because sometimes we all need to remember why we're here, a Book Blogger Manifesto! (What's yours?). Also: personal and "opinion" blogging follow different rules - you may not be a "professional (paid) blogger," but that's no reason not to conduct your blogging professionally

Writing nonfiction, making up real-life stories

Advice offered to a first-time author on the eve of publication

A fantasy lover's fantasy: not having to answer these questions!

Nicholas Sparks is less cool than he thinks he is, and writes movies that could send your Miley Cyrus-loving kids into therapy. On the other hand, Shakespeare is cool even after 400 years, as he (and his drunk associate) are interviewed on the occasion of his birthday

Have a great reading week!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Week-End Review - with bonus Movie Review!

I couldn't come up with a Question of the Week this week, so I thought I'd tell you about something else we did this past weekend.

Mini Movie Review: Date Night

We saw Date Night last Sunday (in the afternoon, actually - ). The basic plot was kind of ridiculous, in my opinion. Unless a movie is clearly meant to be make-believe, I'm starting to lose patience with movies that have realistic trappings but premises that could only happen in movies. Suburban couple is mistaken for a pair of blackmailers and spend a whole night dodging crooked cops in New York City, ending up in a strip club? Sure, it happens every day!

Despite that rather large quibble, I enjoyed the movie, but it was mostly for the moments that didn't have much to do with that premise. I admit to being a fan of both lead actors, but I could totally buy Steve Carell and Tina Fey as the couple in question - Phil and Claire Foster, married working parents caught up in the routine, which includes the book club where people don't always read the books and the weekly date-night dinner at the local tavern. Their characters were likable, and the way they related to each other was convincing. I especially liked the way that they would create and tell each other stories about the other couples around them in the restaurant; what people-watcher hasn't done that?

Still, I can accept that Date Night has no especially profound themes or big messages; it was a fun couple of hours that made me laugh, so it did its job. Entertainment Weekly gave it a B, and I don't disagree.

If you've seen Date Night, what did you think?

Disclosure: We purchased our own tickets and refreshments for this movie, which earned points on my husband's Regal Crown Club membership.

(image via MoviePoster.com)

Dispatches: Links from Across the Blogiverse this Week

In the blogiverse, whether we intend to or not, and no matter what niche we focus on, nearly all of us are engaging in some form of marketing - and this is not automatically a Bad Thing. Also: is Twitter not such a Good Thing for the blogging community?

Bloggers as a group have often been accused of narcissism - but you can evaluate that for yourself

Age isn't just a number...it's also a perception of the number. And at some age, puppies become cats, and parents reluctantly step back as it happens

The secret of "shopping mojo:" don't go out looking for something in particular, and that's when you'll find all the good stuff. Somewhat related: those shoes were ugly then, and they're ugly again

A longer-term perspective on Earth Day

Sometimes it really doesn't matter why; some things aren't tests of the strength of a friendship, but may be indicators of different strengths

It's a bumper sticker, not a theology textbook (also: e-mail is not authoritative)

The learning curve is flatlining, via Not Always Right

Bookstore | Massachusetts, USA
Customer: “Hey, can you help me find this book?”
Me: “Sure.”
(He holds up a piece of paper with the title and author of a book on it. I find it on the shelves and hand it to him.)
Customer: “Thanks! How’d you do that so fast?”
Me: “Well, I’ve worked here awhile, and the books are all in alphabetical order by author’s name.”
Customer: “What do you mean?”
Me: “Alphabetical order. Like the alphabet song? You know, A’s before B’s?”
(He looks confused, but then widens his eyes.)
Customer: “The letters actually go in that order? I thought that song was just to remember them all!”

Granted, Big Bird thought it was the most remarkable word he'd ever seen, but come on already!

Friday Fill-ins #173


1. Where are my reading glasses? No, not those reading glasses, the other reading glasses!
2. If wishes were horses they'd live in a big field and eat hay.
3. I'd like to see grandchildren...some day, no rush!
4. When I was a teen, I thought I'd never get asked out on a real date.
5. One of my mother's favorite sayings was "the nerve of some people's grandchildren!"
6. I'd have a hard time doing without my fast Internet connection!
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to pizza, maybe? tomorrow my plans include spending the day at the LA Times Festival of Books at UCLA with some blogging buddies(!) and Sunday, I want to recover from the Festival and spend some family time!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Talk (Part 2): On not believing what *Believers* believe

Reading In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church by Gina Welch, which I reviewed yesterday, gave me a lot to think about. Please keep in mind that this is my own subjective reaction based on my understanding of a set of beliefs that I don't personally embrace, and I may not have all the facts right. If you'd like to correct me on any of those, please do so respectfully, but understand that this is largely an expression of my opinions.

In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's 
Extraordinary Journey into
 the Heart of the Evangelical Church by Gina WelchSome of you know that I lived in Memphis, Tennessee for ten years. My son grew up there, and I still consider it my hometown - in some respects, but not all. Memphis has been called "the buckle of the Bible Belt," and the clasp on that buckle may be Bellevue Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist "mega-church" that less-reverent citizens have been known to refer to as "Six Flags Over Jesus." Living in that environment, I've known a few Evangelicals. I never set foot on Bellevue's grounds, but my ex-husband's sister was a member, and my son went to services with her a few times, just out of curiosity. I understand and share the curiosity, which is one reason I wanted to read Gina Welch's book, but I've never wanted to get that close to it. The beliefs and practices of Evangelicals - which aren't necessarily the same as Fundamentalists, as I learned from Susan Campbell's Dating Jesus last year - are very different from my own Catholic tradition, but there are other reasons I can't envision myself embracing them.

Evangelicals believe there's nothing you can do to earn your way into heaven. Good deeds and right behavior are expected, but ultimately don't have much of an effect on your destiny. As long as you say the "sinner's prayer" and accept Jesus as your personal savior, it almost doesn't seem to matter what you do after that. You've been "saved," and can't be unsaved - after you die, and when the Rapture comes, you will be with God. My issue with that is that a lot of "saved" people seem to behave and express opinions that don't seem terribly consistent with things Jesus preached to his followers, like charity and acceptance - and I think that really is supposed to matter. How you live out your faith should count more than it seems to. (Granted, Catholics do have the sacrament of "last rites" - confession and absolution of sins before dying - that ultimately does the same thing, but by definition, they won't be living much after that.)

Being "saved" means believing and accepting that Jesus died for your sins - therefore, he has taken your punishment for you, and thus saved you. There's a lot of emphasis in Evangelical teaching on Jesus' passion and death. I come from a church background that certainly acknowledges that, but places more importance on Jesus' resurrection after death. The forty days of Lent lead up to the celebration of the Easter miracle, not the solemnity of Good Friday, although that's not disregarded. The forty days (again!) between Easter and the holy day of Jesus' ascension lead up to the feast of Pentecost, observing the founding of the church. This goes back to the Evangelical focus on a "personal relationship with God" as compared to being part of an institutional Church. Some Evangelical churches have thousands of members, but there's not much of a structure connecting those churches to one another. (Then again, I'm not sure that's been such a good thing for the Church that traces its history back to that original founding...)

Evangelicals believe the Bible is literally true and correct, effectively dictated by God. I can believe that God inspired what's been written in the Bible, but I can't accept it as the literal "word of God." It's a work of literature in itself, and it has inspired many other works of literature. I think it was the work of many authors - some known, others not - and for that reason, it's not always internally consistent. I know that what's included in it was decided by human beings - there are books that were left out, and others that were moved around - and that shapes it in a particular direction; I also know that time and many translations have changed its language. I think that if the Bible is read symbolically rather than literally, the ideas of evolution and creationism don't have to be mutually exclusive. I believe that if your beliefs are genuinely "Christian," their Biblical basis should be drawn from the teachings of the New Testament - the books after and about Jesus - and not so much on the ideas of the Old Testament, which is by definition B.C.

I don't really have a problem with anyone believing that God has inspired a particular idea or course of action for them, although I'm not so comfortable having them tell me about it; I'd rather just know that they gave it serious thought (if that included prayer, fine, but that's their business). But I don't believe God takes direct action to make one thing happen over another; whose prayers get precedence to be answered? And an idea can just be an idea - something that the human brain and human emotions considered, and given credit as such. "Leaving it all in God's hands" sounds like an excuse for inaction to me; I tend to subscribe to "the Lord helps those who help themselves."

Ultimately, I can't embrace that there's only one right way, but that's my thinking on any one religion compared to another, period. I see the appeal of the sense of certainty and reliance on absolute answers that make complex issues seem like simple questions, and how that can draw people to a particular set of religious beliefs. But I can't - and don't want to - dismiss or disregard scientific discoveries and philosophical debate and historical fact. I accept the randomness of life and that sometimes things just happen; it's human to want to ascribe meaning, but sometimes there just might not be any. I just don't think I can - or really want to - think the way Evangelicals seem to, although I think it's valuable to have gained a little understanding of those who do. That last sentence in itself strikes me as an illustration of my mindset, actually.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Book Talk (Part 1): *In the Land of Believers,* by Gina Welch

Disclosure: I received an Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) of this book via LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program. The book is now available for purchase. *Purchasing links in this review generate referrals through my Amazon Affiliates account.

the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into
 the Heart of the Evangelical Church by Gina Welch

In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church
Gina Welch
Metropolitan Books (2010), Hardcover (ISBN 0805083375 / 9780805083378)
Nonfiction/memoir, 352 pages

Opening Lines: "When I began at Thomas Road (Baptist Church) in the fall of 2005, I was more worried about telegraphing a plausibly conservative image than I was about the scruples of telegraphing at all. It wasn’t that I had zero misgivings about going undercover—I did meditate on the wrongness of lying and the string of betrayals my project would likely leave behind—it was that I sort of managed to balance the whole messy moral equation on an unsteady ball bearing of cliché: You have to break some eggs to make an omelette."
Book Description: Ever since evangelical Christians rose to national prominence, mainstream America has tracked their every move with a nervous eye. But in spite of this vigilance, our understanding hasn’t gone beyond the caricatures. Who are evangelicals, really? What are they like in private, and what do they want? Is it possible that beneath the differences in culture and language, church and party, we might share with them some common purpose?

To find out, Gina Welch, a young secular Jew from Berkeley, joined Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church. Over the course of nearly two years, Welch immersed herself in the life and language of the devout: she learned to interpret the world like an evangelical, weathered the death of Falwell, and embarked on a mission trip to Alaska intended to save one hundred souls. Alive to the meaning behind the music and the mind behind the slogans, Welch recognized the allure of evangelicalism, even for the godless, realizing that the congregation met needs and answered questions she didn’t know she had.

What emerges is a riveting account of a skeptic’s transformation from uninformed cynicism to compassionate understanding, and a rare view of how evangelicals see themselves. 

: The ideas Gina Welch brings up in In the Land of Believers have given me a lot to think about, but I'm going to do something different: I'm taking them to a separate post. This is a review of the book itself, and Gina Welch's story.

Trying to get a grasp of the forces driving much public opinion and political action during the last decade, Gina Welch decides to go to one of their sources: Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell. Welch understands that she won't learn much approaching as a reporter or an outsider, so she decides to go within, presenting her secular-Jewish self as a prospective church member. It's a little dicey at first, but as Gina becomes part of the church's young-adult ministry, she begins to learn Evangelical religious teachings and how they inform the worldview of their followers - and over time, is surprised to discover that some of it makes sense to her. And as she develops more connections within the TRBC community, she grows more anxious that they'll discover she isn't truly one of them. When she returns from a mission trip to Alaska with some members of the ministry, it all comes to a head.

I was fascinated by this memoir. The "will she be unmasked?" element added a bit of suspense, but I was absorbed by Gina's undercover journey, particularly as her ambivalence grew. I was interested in the information she conveyed about the workings of TRBC in particular and Evangelicals and their practices in general; as a former Southerner, I've known a few, and I feel that I have a little better understanding of them now - which isn't the same thing as agreeing with them (and is what I'll visit in my follow-up post). I think Welch reached similar conclusions. While she is honest about her skepticism, which doesn't ever really go away, her portrayal of the people she gets to know at TRBC is pretty even-handed, and at times even compassionate. She acknowledges the elements that provoke snark about Evangelicals among the less-reverent - including her non-church grad-school friends in Charlottesville - but rarely engages in it herself. Welch's writing doesn't call a lot of attention to itself, and my only real issue with it is that some of the church members she talked about didn't make individual impressions on me; I suspect that those were people she didn't get as close to in real life, though, and therefore wasn't as capable of differentiating them for the reader.

This could be seen as a "stunt" memoir - a project undertaken just to produce a book - but I don't think that's entirely correct or fair. Gina Welch's investigation was motivated by her own desire to learn and understand, although she did land a book contract after it was in progress. Her personal growth over the course of her two years in TRBC comes across in her story, and the perspective she gains is enlightening to both herself and her reader.

Rating: 4/5

This book counts for the Memorable Memoirs Challenge.

Other bloggers' reviews:
The Book Lady's Blog
My Friend Amy

Buy In the Land of Believers: An  Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical  Church at Amazon.com

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Book Talk: *Get Lucky*, by Katherine Center (TLC Book Tour)

Disclosure: I received an Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) of this book from the publisher, via TLC Book Tours, for the purposes of this review. The book is now available for purchase. *Purchasing links in this review are through my Amazon Affiliate account and will generate a small referral fee for me, if used.

Get Lucky by Katherine Center
Get Lucky

Katherine Center
Ballantine Books (2010), Paperback original (ISBN 0345507916 / 9780345507914)
Fiction, 288 pages

Opening Lines: "First:  I got fired.  For emailing a website with hundreds of pictures of breasts to every single person in our company.  Even the CEO and chairman of the board. Even the summer interns. Looking back, I may have been ready to leave my job.  I’d like to give myself the benefit of the doubt.  Sometimes the crazy things I do are actually very sensible.  And sometimes, of course, they’re just crazy."

Book description: Sarah Harper isn’t sure if the stupid decisions she sometimes makes are good choices in disguise—or if they’re really just stupid. But either way, after forwarding an inappropriate email to her entire company, she suddenly finds herself out of a job.

          So she goes home to Houston—and her sister, Mackie—for Thanksgiving. But before Sarah can share her troubles with her sister, she learns that Mackie has some woes of her own: After years of trying, Mackie’s given up on having a baby—and plans to sell on eBay the entire nursery she’s set up. Which gives Sarah a brilliant idea—an idea that could fix everyone’s problems. An idea that gives Sarah the chance to take care of her big sister for once—instead of the other way around.

          But nothing worthwhile is ever easy. After a decade away, Sarah is forced to confront one ghost from her past after another: the father she’s lost touch with, the memories of her mother, the sweet guy she dumped horribly in high school. Soon everything that matters is on the line—and Sarah can only hope that by changing her life she has changed her luck, too.

Comments: I've been trying to get around to reading one of Katherine Center's novels for a while, and Get Lucky was a good place to start. The novel trods on some serious territory, but with a light touch, and features an appealing - if sometimes frustrating - leading character.

Sarah Harper is a woman who fully invests herself in whatever she's doing - one thing at a time. For the last several years, that singular focus has been applied to her New York City advertising career - most recently, to a bra campaign that looks like it could be her biggest triumph ever. Unfortunately, the triumph is dampened by her being fired the day the campaign is unveiled - even though the e-mail she sent the entire company the night before was vaguely related to the project, it was still highly inappropriate.

But Sarah does tend to act on impulse. Returning home to Houston for the holidays just after being fired, she learns that her sister Mackie has been forced to end her own singular-focus project - trying to get pregnant. It isn't long before Sarah comes up with an idea that will give her a new focus and benefit her sister, too. The project that the sisters undertake together probably isn't something that should be entered this impulsively, but it's certainly well-intentioned. And as that effort approaches its end, her impulsiveness and good intentions bring Sarah a new job...and the possibility of a very different future.

The story is told through Sarah's first-person narration several years after these events, and Sarah's reflection on them from that perspective is where much of the humor and insight in the novel comes through - looking back, she can see much more clearly how much she didn't see at the time. Many of the complications Sarah didn't foresee are rather obvious to the reader, though - they were to me, at any rate, but that didn't spoil my enjoyment, because I liked Sarah. I'd have liked her to be a bit more self-aware at the time she went through these experiences, but life doesn't necessarily work like that, so I can't really begrudge it even if I did find it frustrating at times.

The structure of the book reflects Sarah's "one thing at a time" focus, and I appreciated that the main objects of that focus were her work and her relationship...with her sister. Sisterhood is powerful and often complicated even under the best conditions, and while carrying a pregnancy for your sister is certainly an act of devotion and generosity, it's also pretty risky. I liked the way Center explored Sarah and Mackie's relationship.

Get Lucky was a quick read, one that made me chuckle, made me think a little, and drew me into the lives of its characters. I have another of Katherine Center's books buried in TBR Purgatory, and I'll be digging it out soon so I can read her again.

Rating: 3.5/5

This book counts toward the Blogging Authors Reading Project.

*Buy Get Lucky at Amazon.com

Other stops on this TLC Book Tour:
Thursday, April 1st:  Bermuda Onion
Friday, April 2nd:  Stephanie’s Written Word
Monday, April 5th:  Book Club Classics!
Tuesday, April 6th:  Thoughts of an Evil Overlord
Wednesday, April 7th:  Pop Culture Junkie
Thursday, April 8th:  Caribousmom
Friday, April 9th:  Write for a Reader
Monday, April 12th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, April 13th:  Luxury Reading
Wednesday, April 14th:  S. Krishna’s Books
Thursday, April 15th:  My Friend Amy
Friday, April 16th:  Lit and Life
Monday, April 19th:  Park City Girl
Wednesday, April 21st:  Jenn’s Bookshelves
Thursday, April 22nd:  Maw Books
Monday, April 26th:  Write Meg!
Tuesday, April 27th:  Rundpinne
Wednesday, April 28th:  Diary of an Eccentric

Monday, April 19, 2010

Comic Con: The Warm-Up Act - or, how we spent our 5th anniversary

Tall Paul and I observed our fifth anniversary - of our first date - this past weekend. We've usually commemorated it by returning to the place we met for lunch that day, but we just learned that it's closed. It was just as well, though, since we'd made other plans for that day.

I may have mentioned previously that we're planning to attend Comic Con International in San Diego this summer. Tall Paul went to a few science-fiction conventions during his college years, but it's been awhile and the events were smaller then. We've talked about going to Comic Con before this year, but we're actually going to do it this time. (Thank you, BlogHer, for moving this year's conference back two weeks and avoiding that potential conflict!) We made the decision too late to get tickets for all four days, so we'll only be there Thursday and Friday, but it's a start.

San Diego was going to be my very first Con, but now it won't be. We happened to find out about another one, sooner and closer to home, and we spent our anniversary day at the Wizard World Anaheim Comic Con. It's a smaller event not associated with the San Diego Con, but it was a nice way for us to get a sense of what to expect there.

Some of the sights were pretty much what you'd expect. Comic books and collectibles for sale, props and crafts on exhibit, artists sketching and signing their work, costumed superheroes and video-game characters posing for photos - there was a lot going on. We didn't attend any of the discussion sessions or screenings at this Con, but we did cruise the autograph area.

The "celebrities" at events like this are sometimes defined pretty loosely, and not everyone there signing things for fans was associated with comics or science fiction: for example, we saw a couple of actresses from the sitcom Three's Company (OK, maybe that was fantasy in some respects), several stars from the WWE (granted, pro wrestling is make-believe), and Micky Dolenz of The Monkees (pictured in "then and now" versions).

But my husband had the chance to get autographs from several people he's admired for a long time, including one of his greatest personal heroes, William "Captain James T. Kirk" Shatner. (I married a major Trekker - and when it's major, you don't call them "Trekkies"). That might have been enough, but following that with meeting Adam "Batman" West made a great day even better for him.

SHATNER! (Pictured in the background are LeVar Burton and Brent Spiner from Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

There's a little irony in learning something new about your husband's past on your anniversary. I heard for the first time about his early teenage crush on Yvonne Craig, who co-starred with Adam West as Batgirl; we had a nice little chat with her when she signed a photo for him. She admired his Big Bang Theory T-shirt (she's also a fan!), which he told her was actually being sold by one of the vendors at the Con, although he'd worn his there.

I had known about his later teenage crush on actress Erin Gray, from the TV series Buck Rogers (those of you a bit younger than us may remember her better from the sitcom Silver Spoons), who we encountered a few minutes later; she was very nice to speak with as well, and now runs a company that actually contracts many of the celebrities who appear at events like the Con. When Tall Paul made a donation to a nonprofit she supports, she let me take their picture together.

My husband and one of my predecessors, and the BBT T-shirt Yvonne Craig liked

More of what you go to a Comic Con for:

I had more fun than I expected to at my first Con, and a lot of that was because I was there with Tall Paul. It was a joy for me to see my husband as happy as a kid at meeting some of his youthful heroes. (He'll tell you all about it himself on his blog - this was a big enough deal to inspire his first post in months!) Since I didn't know him when he actually was that young, I really enjoy seeing glimpses of that side of him. I enjoyed getting a feel for what awaits us in San Diego in July, too.

Have you ever been to a science fiction/comic fan convention? Got any advice for me?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Salon 4/18: Get your Festival of Books tickets!

The Sunday 

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

If you're planning to be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (at UCLA) next weekend, don't forget that tickets for the panels will be available at NOON TODAY! Tickets are $1.00 each (Ticketmaster processing fee), are limited to four per session/eight per person, and are required for the panel sessions on both Saturday and Sunday. Of course, there will also be plenty of exhibitors and vendors to visit too - what's a book festival if you can't buy books?

And what makes a book festival better than sharing it with other book bloggers? I recently e-mailed a list of regional bloggers about their FoB plans and interest in meeting up, and included a response form for ease of organization. If you didn't get that e-mail or haven't responded yet, you can go to that form now and reply (by this Wednesday, April 21, if at all possible, so we're not scrambling to get plans together at the last minute!). I'll only be there on Saturday, so if you're only going on Sunday, I'll miss you - but if you're there on Saturday, I really hope I'll get to hang out with you!

BTW, the Times' book blog, Jacket Copy, has been featuring some of the authors who will be speaking at the Festival.

BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

Book reviews posted since last report:
Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?: And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask, by Jancee Dunn

This One Is Mine: A Novel by Maria Semple (for the Everyday I Write the Book online book club, April 29)

New additions to TBR Purgatory:
None this week, but check back with me after the Festival next weekend!

New to the Wishlist:
The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak
Alexandra, Gone, by Anna McPartlin
Singled Out, by Virginia Nicholson
31 Bond Street, by Ellen Horan
A Fierce Radiance, by Lauren Belfer

BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading

Songs inspired by literature inspire a playlist to accompany reading; a review inspires someone to steal it (and it's happened more than once, which is, as Lenore says, "SO not cool")

Do certain locations seem more appropriate for certain types of books?

How do you refer to your favorite authors?

I've experienced this myself, and you probably have too: the order in which you choose what to read can affect your enjoyment of it

Would your TBR spreadsheet be easier to manage if you used a simple form to add books to it? Here's how to build one!

International Incident of the Week: I've read the (lengthy) discussion in (many) comments, and it actually started out fairly civil and open-minded, but what was intended as a compare-and-contrast post regarding  cultural differences between UK and US book bloggers stirred up a lot of rancor and provoked an apology from the blogger. If you decide to read the post, please take the time to read the comments as well and get the whole picture.
My take: There are differences in approach among bloggers, period. They may be culturally-based. They may have to do with individual personalities. I think as readers, we gravitate toward bloggers whose voices appeal to us, and whose interests are (mostly) similar to our own - in that order. I don't think, in general, we're particularly motivated to root for the home team - that is, bloggers from our own locality - if those other factors aren't there.
Somewhat related: are there certain "rules" you should be following if you call yourself a "book blogger"?

In closing, I usually include these bits in the Week-End Review on Fridays, but this one seemed to fit in better here:

"The Twilight Of Our Literacy" (via Not Always Right)

Bookstore | Exton, PA, USA
Me: “Hi, how can I help you today?”
Customer: “I’m going on a 25 hour plane ride, and I was just trying to find something to read.”
Me: “Okay, what kind of books do you read?”
Customer: “Young adult stuff, like romance stuff.  OH!  Or something with vampires.”
(I walk her over to the young adult section.  And show her a series with vampires. There are six books in the series and each book is quite small–not even 200 pages.)
Me: “Well, you might like this series. They’re easy books to read, but really good. I’ve read them.”
Customer: *flips through book* “It seems boring.”
Me: “Oh. Well, I can assure you it’s not.  They are quite action-packed.”
Customer: “I mean it looks wordy. Like, there’s a lot of words in it.”
Me: “Well, yeah…most books have words in them.”
Customer: “Hmm…I’ll think about it.”
(She ended up buying 3 teen magazines.)

Sigh. I'm glad to know not all teens are like this. Have a great reading week!