Thursday, September 30, 2010

Play it Again! Songs that never wear out their welcome

There are songs I've heard enough times to last a lifetime, and they could go away tomorrow...but that's actually tomorrow's topic. Today, I'm thinking about "songs that never wear out their welcome" - songs that I'll almost never change stations on or skip over on the iPod. These are songs I never get tired of hearing, no matter how many times I have. I thought I'd done a post on a related topic at some point - "songs that always make me smile" or something like that - but I can't find it in my archives. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, just that I can't remember what I called it or locate it if it does. I've just past 1300 posts on this blog, people. You'll have to cut me a little slack every now and then.

What follows is a certain-to-be-incomplete list of songs I haven't yet tired of...and at this point, I really doubt I ever will. Some are fairly recent, and others have been around for most of my life. They're not necessarily songs that describe me or my life, but they're clearly a big part of it.

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" by The Beatles: This isn't my favorite Beatles song. I cannot possibly choose ONE favorite Beatles song, but I do want to limit it to just one on this list, and this is definitely in my top 5. Despite the fact that it is, literally, as old as I am - part of the first wave of "Beatlemania" in the USA, which arrived just a couple of months before I was born - it always sounds fresh to me. It sounds hopeful, and happy, and I love it.

"American Girl" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: One of their first singles, this song has a sound to the guitars that reminds me a bit of early Beatles. (Hmm...)

"Surrender," by Cheap Trick: We just seem a little weird, but we're all all right.

"Up the Junction," by Squeeze: I'm kind of a sucker for cheery-sounding songs with not-so-cheery subjects.

(Tangent: When I was in New York City during our family vacation in June, I saw that Squeeze and Cheap Trick were scheduled to play a double bill at Radio City Music Hall a couple of weeks later. I wish I'd been able to go back for that show!)

"I Wanna Be Sedated," by the Ramones: I secretly believe the Ramones only did one song, ever, over and over, but if that's true, this is my favorite version of it.

"(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace. Love, and Understanding," by Elvis Costello: Limiting myself to just one Elvis C. song wasn't quite the task it was with the Beatles, but it was a challenge all the same - and this is the one I had to go with. I knew someone who once called this "the greatest song ever" - I don't totally agree, but it's up there.

"The Galaxy Song," versions by Monty Python and Clint Black: If you ever need reassurance about where you stand in the scheme of things...well, you probably won't get it from this song.

"Spiderwebs" by No Doubt: I'm really not a huge fan of this band in general, but I love the energy of this song. I always thought the chorus belongs on an answering machine.

"Designs on You," by Old 97's: I don't always know what song makes me first fall in love with a band, but in this case, not-so-secretly, I do.

"Red Dragon Tattoo," by Fountains of Wayne: There are quite a few FoW songs I never get tired of hearing, in all honesty, but this is near the top of the list. And I'm going to cheat and throw in another one of theirs: "The Girl I Can't Forget" is one of their lesser-known songs, but it's been one I can't forget since I first heard it. Oh, and one more: "Stacy's Mom," the 21st-century's own "Mrs. Robinson," but a little more fun.

"How to Save a Life" by The Fray: Granted, it's partly because I just love the piano on this, but when a song has gotten as much exposure as this one has over the last few years and I'm still listening every time it comes on, it's a keeper.

"Starlight" by Muse: I really need to get to know more of this band's music...and I think I know some people who can give me some suggestions, which brings me to the next part of this post.

I was curious about what songs other people might feel this way about, and I'd like to thank everyone who filled out the little survey I had posted here for about a week. Y'all knew I'd be sharing your responses, right? I love audience participation! And I enjoyed reading everyone's choices here, since there were quite a few I didn't know (which means you may be spared any commentary about them from me!).

Carrie @ Books and Movies: "Bubbly" by Colbie Caillat

Harriet M. Welsch @ Spynotes: "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers

Bermudaonion (Kathy): "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, & Nash (& Young? I can never remember, and I'm not bothering to look it up!)

Jen @ The Introverted Reader: "Drops of Jupiter" by Train

Amused (Leah) @ Amused by Books: "Put a Candle in the Window" by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Word Lily (Hannah): "Theme from Dragnet"

Literary Feline (Wendy) @ Musings of a Bookish Kitty: "She's Got Her Ticket" by Tracy Chapman

@RamsesTMagnum: "Theme from Shaft" by Isaac Hayes (which would totally be his karaoke song if it had more lyrics)

Anna @ Diary of an Eccentric: "Without You Here" by the Goo Goo Dolls

Molly @ My Cozy Book Nook: "Fix You" by Coldplay

Sassymonkey: "Hallelujah," versions by Leonard Cohen or Jeff Buckley "but NOT KD Lang" (Jeff Buckley's version is one of my all-time favorites, and I could have included it in my own list, come to think of it...)

Michelle @ That's What She Read: Any song by Muse (ah, here's my Muse Song Suggester #1!)

Jeanne @ Necromancy Never Pays: "I'm Very Very Busy," sung by Kevin Kline on Philadelphia Chickens (I have never even heard of this before, but I'm rather intrigued...)

Mike @ Everything Under the Sun: "The Spirit of Radio" by Rush (I'm not tired of this one, either!)

Suey @ It's All About Books: "Knights of Cydonia" by Muse (Muse Song Suggester #2!)

@coffeelvnmom: "Voices" by Matt Wertz

@PopandIce: "Magnet and Steel," by Walter Egan (oh, I'm glad someone else remembers this one!)

Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness: "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey (unofficial anthem of my senior year in high school)

The survey's not up any more, but I'm still curious: what song(s) are you always glad to hear, even after hundreds of times (or more)? Tomorrow: songs I never need to hear again.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Talk: *The Lonely Polygamist*, by Brady Udall

The Lonely Polygamist: A Novel
Brady Udall
W. W. Norton & Company (2010), Hardcover (ISBN 0393062627 / 9780393062625)
Fiction, 608 pages
Source: ARC received from publisher (via review program) - pub date May 2010
Reason for Reading: Review for LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Opening Lines: "To put it as simply as possible: this is the story of a polygamist who has an affair. But there is much more to it than that, of course; the life of any polygamist, even when not complicated by lies and secrets and in´Čüdelity, is anything but simple. Take, for example, the Friday night in early spring when Golden Richards returned to Big House—one of three houses he called home—after a week away on the job. It should have been the sweetest, most wholesome of domestic scenes: a father arrives home to the loving attentions of his wives and children. But what was about to happen inside that house, Golden realized as he pulled up into the long gravel drive, would not be wholesome or sweet, or anything close to it."

Book Description: Golden Richards, husband to four wives, father to twenty-eight children, is having the mother of all midlife crises. His construction business is failing, his family has grown into an overpopulated mini-dukedom beset with insurrection and rivalry, and he is done in with grief: due to the accidental death of a daughter and the stillbirth of a son, he has come to doubt the capacity of his own heart. Brady Udall, one of our finest American fiction writers, tells a tragicomic story of a deeply faithful man who, crippled by grief and the demands of work and family, becomes entangled in an affair that threatens to destroy his family’s future. Like John Irving and Richard Yates, Udall creates characters that engage us to the fullest as they grapple with the nature of need, love, and belonging.

Comments: I've read books about polygamy before - both fiction and nonfiction - and I continue to find it a fascinating subject. Brady Udall's novel The Lonely Polygamist takes a perspective on polygamy that I haven't encountered before, though; that of the husband to multiple wives. And in a family with three houses, four wives, and twenty-six living children, it turns out to be surprisingly easy to feel alone. Golden Richards is adrift.

Golden Richards strikes me as one of those people that life just happens to; he's not terribly in control of much of it, but he's trying to manage it. Growing up in Louisiana with a mother who never got over the departure of his father, Golden - barely educated and strangely innocent - would probably have never imagined he'd end up in a fundamentalist-Mormon church in a small Utah town, but when he eventually meets up with his father again, that's where Royal Richards' wandering life has taken him. Golden marries his first wife, Beverly - who was Royal's last girlfriend - after his father's death; Beverly orchestrates Golden's next marriages, to sisters Nola and Rose-of-Sharon and then to young single mother Trish. Power struggles among the wives, rivalry among the many living children and grief over one lost one, and financial struggles in his construction business lead Golden to immerse himself in an out-of-state building job...and to take an all-too-absorbing interest in a woman he encounters there. If he thought his life was out of control before, he hasn't seen anything yet.

With so many characters to choose from, Udall takes the perspective of three: Golden, Trish, and Rusty, the misfit son of Golden and Rose-of-Sharon (who is, in her way, as misfit as her son). Seeing the Richards family from these differing viewpoints allows their story to be told more fully, and I found it very effective, particularly since the author manages to make each of these characters sympathetic and appealing...more than I might have have expected from a novel with this particular subject matter.

The Lonely Polygamist, at well over 500 pages, wasn't a particularly fast read for me, but it was an absorbing one. The author truly brings this unusual family to life and renders them with compassion and frequent humor. There are some absurdly funny scenes throughout the novel, as well as some genuinely moving ones. The polygamist isn't the only one in his family who's lonely, and connections - made and missed, found and lost - are what propels this story. It took me a few months to get around to reading this novel. In part, to be honest, I was intimidated by the page count; however, that's really the only thing about the book that's intimidating at all. Rather than intimidating, The Lonely Polygamist was a strangely endearing novel, and well worth the time I spent with it.

Rating: 3.75/5

Other reviews, via the Book Blogs Search Engine:
Both Eyes Book Blog

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I'll be lurking for you! Are you lurking for me?

I can't hear the word "lurk" without thinking of the bad-pun catchphrase of Dr. Paul Bearer, the local host of Creature Feature when I was a kid: "I'll be lurking for you!" But I first came across the term "lurker" in an online context when I frequented the message boards at Television Without Pity a few years ago; as someone who read many of the discussion threads but rarely added to them, it pretty much described my activity over there.

In a post provocatively titled "If Someone Called You A LURKER In Real Life, Wouldn’t You Beat Them Up?", Nicole shared some thoughts about blogger/reader interaction that I just couldn't leave without some extended comments of my own. (If you missed her post, go read it now, and then come back - mine might make a little more sense that way. You can also read it on BlogHer.com, where it was syndicated - congratulations, Nicole!)

In fact, this variety of "comment" - referring back to someone else's post as a jumping-off point for one of your own - is one of the forms of interaction that Nicole cited, and it's one I use often. There's blog fodder everywhere, and the more blogs you read, the more readily you'll find it. But sometimes you just don't want to hijack someone's comment section with all the things their post has made you think about. You may want to share their information and insights with your own readers, along with what they inspired you to say about the topic. And as long as you're sure to give that inspiring post some link love, the original blogger will know where your inspiration came from (and unless their post inspired you to tear theirs down in your response, they'll usually appreciate the acknowledgment. I love being inspired by fellow bloggers, and I love seeing another blogger get inspired by a post I've written!). It's an indirect way of commenting, certainly, but it does let the blogger know they wrote something that you connected with.

One reason I do link roundups, and share items via Twitter and Google Reader, is that they're another form of indirect commenting. There are plenty of times when someone's post strikes a chord with me, but I may not have anything to add to the conversation about it. Other times, I just don't have time to go and comment on a post, whereas sharing a link to it just takes a click or two. In any case, I'd like to let others know that what that blogger said made an impact on me...and if they go check out that post, maybe they'll have more to say about it.

But when most of us think about commenting on blogs, we're not thinking about those indirect methods; we mean the remarks and feedback that readers leave directly on our posts, and that's not always something I do well. I suspect my reasons for not commenting more aren't much different from those of many other blog readers. I also think that reading blog posts via a feed reader (or Twitter, or Facebook) rather than on the blogs themselves probably creates a (minor) barrier to commenting. Nicole had some particularly resonant things to say on this subject:
"I think the term lurking and it being applied to blog READERS, says much more about certain styles of blogging, bloggers and our need for validation, and quite frankly…comments.  The term indicates to me that it’s much less about those who are taking the time to read our blogs.  Could we be projecting onto others a sketchy designation, even though we mostly do it 'lovingly', because we are not being fulfilled our need to be talked to, praised and patted on the back?  Is 'lurker' what we really want to call our faithful readers?

"A premise that drives me a little crazy is the one that measure comments as the sign of a blog’s worth. I think it contributes to this kind of crazy idea and resulting terminology where others are somehow actively doing something to me when they are 'lurking' about my blog and not entering into the community aspect that can exist in blogging.  The time constraints of life in general keep me in lurker mode for a great many things in life as a whole, and on far more blogs than I would like."
"The need for validation...to be talked to, praised, and patted on the back"? I'll own up to that, definitely. I love to receive comments here, and I respond to nearly all of them as a show of appreciation. I also like getting to know who's reading here, and if they never let me know they're reading via leaving a comment, I don't get the chance to do that. I'd have to say Nicole's got an uncomfortably accurate take on this: at some level, your comments are all about me.

"The premise...that measures comments as the sign of a blog's worth"? Yes, that one troubles me too, as I see very little correlation between the number of readers that my stats say this blog has (direct visitors and subscribers) and the number of comments it gets; by that standard, I'd have to conclude its "worth" isn't very high. It's frequently made me question my effectiveness and ability to engage people as a blogger.

If "lurking" on blogs is strictly defined as reading but not commenting, then like Nicole, I lurk on many, many blogs. And if I'm OK with that - which, for the most part, I am - then I should be OK with having "lurkers" here. And for the most part, despite my sometime whinery about comment counts, I'm OK with that too. I'm glad you're reading. I hope that when you do have something to say about something I've written, you'll say it - and even when you don't, I'll still be very glad you read it. I'm glad to have you lurking for me; the odds are pretty good that I'm lurking for you, too.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Changing Habits: Things I don't read any more

Woman with a magazine at a bookstore
I've always read almost everything I can get my hands on. I have a serious bookstore problem addiction habit due to my irrational fear of not having my next book at hand right away after I finish the current one. I became a daily newspaper reader at a pretty young age, and fleshed out the headlines with news magazines when I got older. Magazines were also there when I decided I actually might not want to start reading the next book right away after finishing the current one.

The magazines are rarely there any more, though. I used to subscribe to several entertainment-related magazines. I've only got one subscription left - partly because all the others have folded, but that's not my point. I keep the Entertainment Weekly subscription mainly because other members of my family read it. I get most of the content I want from it online these days.

After close to twenty years, my Newsweek subscription also became a casualty of my online-reading habits. I still get the newspaper delivered, but I don't have time to read it at breakfast before I leave for work like I used to, so I've cut it back to just weekends...and most weekends, I don't spend much time with it aside from getting the Sunday coupons. Those are the single biggest reason I continue to get the paper at home, to be honest; they pretty well offset the subscription cost. But since I am still a paid subscriber, I don't feel bad if I'm getting most of the news from their website instead.

I was never a big reader of women's magazines, but every now and then I'd latch on to one and stick with it for awhile. I discovered More magazine, "the magazine for women over 40," right around the time I hit that particular milestone, and kept my subscription for several years. But then my life changed a bit...and the magazine really didn't (although its tagline is now "for women of style & substance," who I guess don't have to be over 40). Has anyone else ever noticed that if you read magazines like this pretty regularly over a couple of years, they basically repeat themselves every few months? I might as well just find their subject matter online too.

One type of reading is bucking the trend, though. My book-buying habits are probably more active than ever - and while I do own an e-book reader (and like it a lot), I'm still killing plenty of trees. Online reading has primarily affected my book reading by chipping away at the time I have for it. Then again, it seems like online reading has chipped away at the time I have for reading almost everything else; the books are just the thing I most want to hold on to.

Not long ago, my husband pointed out an item he'd found on eBay that he'd thought of getting me as a (joke) Christmas gift: an issue of Tiger Beat magazine from 1977/78, with Shaun Cassidy, Scott Baio, and the stars of the original Battlestar Galactica on the cover. He decided not to buy it (starting bid of $15! seriously!?), but I'm not disappointed - that's one magazine I stopped reading a very long time ago...although I think I may have had that particular issue.

Cross-posted at TheSmartlyLA.com

Edited to add a mention of one thing I AM reading this week - please check out my featured member post re: Banned Books Week at BlogHer.com!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Salon: (Banned) Books I've Read

The Sunday 

I'm very much in favor of the freedom to read what one chooses to read - and in order to make those choices well, one needs access to the full range of choices. I also believe in the freedom to choose not to read something. But I believe those rights belong to the individual and not to any institution (with an exception, perhaps, for parents of young children regarding what those children read in their own homes). I do not support censorship. I don't believe in delegating my right to decide what I can and can't read to anyone else. I have the tools to make those decisions for myself, and I believe we all have the right to those tools.

Having said that, I don't make a point of seeking out and reading banned or censored books just because they're banned. In some cases, the attempt to censor a book will actually pique my interest in it; it's the lure of the forbidden. (And some authors are well aware of that lure.) But I also know there are themes and topics that just don't appeal to me, and quality of writing notwithstanding, if I choose not to read a particular book, that will be the reason why, not because it's been challenged by some educational or morality police. That choice should remain mine - and yours.

In honor of Banned Books Week, I thought I'd do a little inventory. With the help of LibraryThing's catalog of works tagged "banned books," I identified those in the top 150 that I've read at some point in my life - some I currently own, and some I read years ago (or at least prior to blogging).

Image credit

There aren't all that many commonalities among the books in this list, thematically. They vary in their objective literary merit, and if it weren't for the fact that they've been banned or challenged, there would probably be nothing especially memorable about some of them. However, they've all been challenged because they pose a challenge - to ideas about religion, politics, morality and ethics, and the structure and habits of society. And if a society - or an individual - means to grow, it's necessary to challenge those ideas.

And sometimes challenged books just make some people squeamish, and for that reason, they don't think anyone should read them. A story about a teenage girl who silences herself after she is raped by an acquaintance is clearly  not dealing with a comfortable subject, but does that mean that Laurie Halse Anderson's YA novel Speak should be banned...as pornography? It's not the first YA novel about a teenage girl who gets raped by an acquaintance (am I the only one who remembers Are You In the House Alone? by Richard Peck from the late 70's, my actual YA years?)...and like it or not, that is, quite unfortunately, not a farfetched or fantasy-based plot. I haven't yet read Speak, but I did buy a copy of it this week. And if it is banned, I'll be proud to add it to my inventory of Banned Books I've Read.

Banned or not, I will be carrying whatever I'm reading during this Banned Books Week in this bookbag, which I bought at Comic-Con this past summer:
You can get one of your own at the Unshelved Store.

Are you reading banned books this week?

Friday, September 24, 2010

#Fridaynonsense: From the College of Commonsense Knowledge

I haven't posted one of these random lists recently, which I think is one of the signs that people don't e-mail any more (because they're all on Facebook, but that's another story) - that's usually how I come across things like this. However, this one came via her GReader Shared Items, and was originally posted here - I've just edited it down a little (and added some of my own commentary, because I just can't allow some things to go unremarked upon).

From the College of (Should-Be-)Obvious Things: Truths that (Should Be) Self-Evident
  • I think part of a best friend’s job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.
  • Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.
  • There is great need for a sarcasm font (and NOT for statements about the need for a sarcasm font).
  • How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet? (This is in the Top 5 Unsolved Mysteries of All Time, I swear.)
  • Was learning cursive really necessary?
  • MapQuest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I’m pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood. (The same thing could be said about Google Maps - and by the way, does anyone actually still use MapQuest?)
  • Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.
  • I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t at least kind of tired.
  • I totally take back all those times I didn’t want to nap when I was younger.
  • Bad decisions make good stories. (And thus, a blog is born...)
  • You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren’t going to do anything productive for the rest of the day. (But if that moment comes at 9:30 AM, that's not a good sign.)
  • I’m always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any changes to.
  • I keep some people’s phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call. (But I'm not talking about your number...)
  • I think the freezer deserves a light as well. (I agree - mine has one.)
  • I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Lite than Kay.
  • I wish Google Maps had an “Avoid Ghetto” routing option.
  • I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger. (And I have a feeling it might not just be me with that problem...)
  • If it tastes good, just don’t eat it.
  • How many times is it appropriate to say “What?” before you just nod and smile because you still didn’t hear or understand a word they said? (Seriously, I need an answer to this.)
  • I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front.  (Except for when they've forced the jerk to be a jerk in the first place, because no one would let them in any earlier...welcome to life on LA's freeways!)
  • Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever. (But if you live with me, please don't!)
  • Sometimes I’ll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.
  • Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey – but I’d bet everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every time.
  • The first testicular guard, the “Cup,” was used in Hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974. That means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.
  • People who live in New York City don’t realize it is legal to move away. (I'm related to some of those people, but because we are on opposite coasts, I don't get to to see them very often.)
  • Contrary to popular opinion, there are bad ideas.
  • I miss Gary Larson.  Why did he have to retire and Jay Leno won’t?
Got any to add?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Title: Excuse me, Mrs. Miss, did you Ms. something?

Bride signing document
(I promise that headline will make more sense once you read this...and if you know I have a terrible weakness for puns.)

When a woman gets married, one of the many decisions she gets to make is what last name she plans to use. Will she legally adopt her husband's name? Will she keep her own? Will she hyphenate? Will she keep her name for public use - her career may be associated with it - but use her husband's name in her private life? Will she want to be known by the same last name as her children?

And what title will she want used with that name? While we've become much less formal with one another during the last half-century or so, there are still plenty of circumstances where we address one another by a title and last name...and the title can be just as open to question.

Rebecca got me thinking about this when she expressed her preference for the title "Ms.":
"I mean, really. I’m twenty-seven years old, and you’re going to call me Mrs.? Yes, I’m married, but, really?

The 1800s just called. They want their outmoded social conventions back.

This is why the wise women of the 1960s gave us Ms. Say it with me: Miiizzzzzzz.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my husband, and I chose to add his name to mine as a nod to our partnership and the family we created when we decided to commit our lives to each other. I am happy to be married and proud to be married to him.  But I don’t define myself by the fact that I am married, and I resent it when other people do, especially when they top it off by referring to me as just another of my husband’s accessories."
It's not just convention, it's part of grammar and language usage, and not just in English. Men have always been addressed as "Mr.," no matter whether they're husbands or bachelors. Women have been either "Miss" or "Mrs.," depending on whether they were linked to a Mr. of the husbandly variety, which has meant that some women have remained "Miss" So-and-so well into advanced age. Recognizing this particular inequity, second-wave feminists advocated for the new title "Ms." to be used by and for all women, regardless of age or marital status. It's always made sense to me, and yet it still seems to be struggling for acceptance, forty-some-odd years later.

Traditional etiquette rules state that it’s proper to address a woman as Mrs. Herfirstname Hislastname only if she’s a widow or divorcee. (For the record, that means it was correct to call me "Mrs. Florinda Pendley" from February 2002 until October 2006.) Married women are formally addressed as Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname, because their identity derives as half of "Mr. & Mrs. Hisname Hisname." Some traditions are long overdue for retirement.

I got married for the first time when I was 19. I took my husband’s name, which would also be the last name of our child (born 6 months later). When we got divorced, I kept the name – aside from still sharing it with my son, I’d lived with it my entire adult life, and I had an educational and professional history linked to it. That was the main reason I didn’t drop it when I got married the second time…but I didn’t think it was fair to my new husband to keep using it, either, so I added HIS last name after it. (This is one unforeseen consequence of changing your name when you get married; you may one day deal with the prospect of changing it again. And perhaps yet again...)

In practice, I’ll respond to either last name individually as well as the combined one. I would prefer that any and all of them be prefaced with “Ms.” That's been my preference for at least the last twenty-five years, actually. While I'm more than happy to let you know I'm married, there are very few instances where it’s necessary to address me in a way that denotes my marital status. One of the many reasons I prefer Ms. is that it sidesteps this whole thing.

Do you prefer to be Ms., a Miss, or a Mrs., and why? And speaking of "Miss," how do you feel about being called that as opposed to "Ma'am"? I'm old enough now that "Ma'am" is really more appropriate, but I still don't like it - maybe they should use "Ms." for that, too. (Note to my four male readers - those questions are not meant for you, but if you have an opinion on them, feel free to speak up!)

photo credit: PicApp Image Search

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Talk: *Red Hook Road*, by Ayelet Waldman

Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman

Red Hook Road
Ayelet Waldman
Doubleday (2010), Hardcover (ISBN 0385517866 / 9780385517867)
Fiction, 352 pages
Source: ARC (Advance Reader's Copy) provided by the publisher - pub date June 2010
Reason for reading: review, a favorite author

Opening Lines: "The flower girl had lost her basket of rose petals and could not bear to have the photograph taken without it. Altogether she had been somewhat of a disappointment in her role. She had forgotten to sprinkle the petals as she walked down the aisle of the church, remembering only once she reached the front pew. Perhaps she had been distracted by the transformation of the nave, the oiled and gleaming oak pews, the glass wall sconces sparkling, their long tapered candles lit for the first time in years, all the shutters on the windows flung open, letting in the light of the golden afternoon. And, everywhere, flowers."

Book Description: Set on the coast of Maine over the course of four summers, Red Hook Road tells the story of two families, the Tetherlys and the Copakens, and of the ways in which their lives are unraveled and stitched together by misfortune, by good intentions and failure, and by love and calamity.

A marriage collapses under the strain of a daughter’s death; two bereaved siblings find comfort in one another; and an adopted young girl breathes new life into her family with her prodigious talent for the violin. As she writes with obvious affection for these unforgettable characters, Ayelet Waldman skillfully interweaves life’s finer pleasures—music and literature—with the more mundane joys of living. Within these resonant pages, a vase filled with wildflowers or a cold beer on a hot summer day serve as constant reminders that it’s often the little things that make life so precious.

Comments: With the opening lines quoted above, Ayelet Waldman immediately places the reader into a familiar scene: a wedding ceremony is winding down outside a church. The families are lining up for formal portraits before leaving for the reception dinner, and the photographer senses the tensions that underlie the festivities. This observer is documenting what he sees, and foreshadowing what the reader is about to see.

Red Hook Road follows the families of the bride and groom, the Copakens and the Tetherlys, through the four summers following that wedding. The Copakens are "summer people" in the Maine village of Red Hook, but wife Iris' family has a long history in the community; however, the fact that they reside for the rest of the year in New York means that Jane Tetherly will always see them as being "from away." While their respective children, Becca and John, have been together since their teens, neither mother is altogther happy about the marriage that will bring their families together. And when the families are shockingly torn apart, the mothers react differently - Jane with New England stoicism, Iris with more conflicted emotions and behaviors. The mothers are not the only ones affected, of course - Becca's sister Ruthie and John's brother Matt find themselves drawn to one another as they individually sort through the aftermath.

The observer's perspective employed via the photographer in the opening pages of the novel really never fades; Waldman seems to maintain a slight distance from her characters through much of the novel, which makes the times when she drops it all the more affecting. She spends more time with Iris and Ruthie than with other characters, but as the narrative viewpoints change, the reader get the opportunity to construct fuller pictures of these people - or some of them, anyway. Jane isn't as fully developed, but as a woman who focuses on doing rather than thinking, she comes across as someone who would keep her inner life to herself; in that context, it seems appropriate that she's at a bit of a remove. I found Iris' father, ninety-year-old semi-retired violinist Emil Kimmelbrod, a particularly enigmatic and interesting character, and he was one to keep himself to himself even more than Jane.

There are stretches in the novel where it seems that not much happens, as Waldman explores these complex characters' responses over time, effectively conveying that there's no prescribed method or schedule for "getting over" something, and that what may seem like letting go at first may really be a way of holding on. There are also scenes that are written so vividly - almost cinematically - that I felt I was watching them play out. I rarely hope a book will be made into a movie, but in this case I wouldn't mind it; however, I have a bad feeling the focus of the story would shift more heavily to Ruthie and Matt. Aside from certain prominent exceptions, it's still tough for women over 40 to get good roles in which they can act their ages.

Waldman's writing doesn't call attention to itself as she follows these characters on their journey, but it rarely hits a wrong note. For much of the telling, Red Hook Road is a quiet novel, and its emotional impact snuck up on me a bit. I don't mind when that happens. This didn't quite resonate the same way for me as Waldman's previous novel, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, did, and it's very different from her last book - Bad Mother, my Nonfiction Book of the Year in 2009, but it's a moving and thoughtful work of fiction that I think will stick with me for a while.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday Tangents: The Complaint Department Edition

I promise this isn't going to be a major whine-and-cheese party. There are just a few things making me grumbly lately, so I thought I'd inflict them on share them with y'all.

Twitter is blocked at work. Well, twitter.com has been blocked for awhile, actually (as has Facebook), but I've been able to keep up with the conversation via Twittergadget through Gmail. No more - the firewall discovered TGadget last Tuesday and kicked it outside. I completely understand why my office would want to block access to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc., of course, and can't really fault them for doing it - I've wondered when and if they would figure out how to block the various Twitter apps, since many people don't seem to use Twitter via its own website anyway. But it's definitely going to cut down on my own presence on Twitter, for the same reason that I'm barely present on Facebook - and given that I was cut off while I was trying to keep up with Book Blogger Appreciation Week activities, it was highly undesirable timing. Also undesirable: the erratic cell-phone reception in the neighborhood where I work, which will help keep me from much tweeting by phone.

It may all end up being for my own good...once I stop fretting over all the stuff I'm missing. I've been trying to reduce my Twitter time anyway, but doing that by choice is very different from having the choice made for you.

I've had a setback in the shoulder healing
. The physical therapists had told me that soft-tissue injuries like my shoulder dislocation usually take around three months to heal, but I'd gotten a good evaluation from the orthopedist and seemed to be making very good progress. It was just two months after the injury when I was informed I no longer needed PT sessions three times a week, and I was excited to be doing so well.

But apparently I got ahead of myself. I may have done my PT exercises a little too enthusiastically, and Labor Day weekend was probably too soon to resume my Wii Fit workout (especially for three days running). It took a few days for the effects to show, but I was in serious discomfort by the weekend after Labor Day, and a few days later, I had to take a sick day to give my right shoulder and arm some rest. I'm wearing the sling at night again, and while I'm still typing with both hands, I'm back to left-handed mousing. I'm also back to my very earliest PT exercises, and I guess I'll be doing them for longer and building them up more slowly. I've been doing better the last few days and am hoping I won't actually have to go back for more sessions, but apparently I have something else to work on: patience.

We finished all the Mad Men DVDs. We just started watching Mad Men on DVD early this summer, and finished Season 3 last week - too late to join Season 4 in progress, so now we'll have to wait for that one on DVD. (I am reading the recaps of what sounds like an excellent season, though.) And I am in serious withdrawal. I wish we'd caught this show back when it started, but am so glad to have finally gotten with the program, and loved being able to immerse myself in it; even though part of me wanted to stretch it out and savor it, we almost always watched two episodes at a time. It's JUST THAT GOOD, at so many levels. But my husband reminds me that with the fall TV season starting up, we'd have a lot less time for it anyway, so it was a good time to wrap it up...and we still have about half of Battlestar Galactica left to feed my TV-on-DVD cravings. But Mad Men is a show of a different kind, and it's one of a kind - I hope they get those Season 4 DVDs out quickly once Season 4 is actually over!

Back to school=back to traffic. I really hate my commute this time of year, between the fact that my drive to work is almost directly into the sun and the multitude of cars that seem to materialize from nowhere in early September. (And now when I get to work, I can't even complain about the traffic on Twitter! But I complained about that already, didn't I?)

I can't really complain about one thing, though: my results on this Blogthings Quiz of the Week. They're accurate and exactly what I would have expected, including the ways in which I'm not "typically" adventurous.

You Are Not Adventurous

The thrills that other people seek don't really hold much appeal for you. Bungee jumping? Skydiving? No thanks!
You prefer to stay with what's tried and true. There's a reason why you love your old favorites so much.

And while you aren't typically adventurous, you're probably adventurous in ways that go unnoticed.
Maybe you read voraciously - or watch a lot of independent films. You get your thrills in a more peaceful, sustainable way.

Have you got anything you'd like to complain about? Feel free to vent it here (as long as it's not about me)!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Orphans (an introduction)

This essay was originally written for the now-shuttered Los Angeles Moms Blog in the spring of 2009. After a little editing, I submitted it to TheSmartlyLA, and it was recently posted there - but it's never appeared here until now.

Florida Orphans
 It seems surprising that anyone would be surprised by the death of an elderly person – did I mention she was eighty-five? – and yet, her death did surprise everyone.

As her youngest son said at her funeral, his mother had slowed down a bit physically during the last few years, but not mentally. She was in close contact with her four children as well as her grandchildren and their children; she was still working in the family business she had continued after her husband’s death seven years before, and remained active in her temple and the community. Our friend spoke with her the day before she died and there was nothing unusual about that, but her family suspected that something was wrong the next morning when she wasn’t answering her phone – or checking her e-mail. She had died quietly in her sleep, in her own home, on her couch, in front of the television. It was the circumstances of her death that were surprising, not the fact.

One thing about the very old: since it seems like they’ve been around forever, we’re liable to start thinking they will be around forever. I suspect we do this because we’re not thinking – and sometimes that’s deliberate. Sometimes the not-thinking is wishful thinking, especially when it’s about our parents and grandparents. One reason it’s hard to think about them not being around forever is that once they’re gone, the generational wall has fallen and we’re one step closer to our own (eventual) mortality. Once they’re gone, we’ll be orphans.

Please read the rest of my reflection on "Orphans" at TheSmartlyLA - I promise it's not that depressing!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Salon: Bye-bye, BBAW!

The Sunday 

Congrats to The Sunday Salon for winning "Best Meme" in the BBAW Awards this past week - that makes all of us Saloners winners too!

Another Book Blogger Appreciation Week has come to an end, and while it was indeed "a treasure chest of infinite books and infinite blogs," it unfortunately lacked infinite time to experience them all! I hope to catch up on the posts I missed by the end of this weekend, and I apologize in advance if I miss yours! As always, thanks to Amy and the BBAW team for a great event (and for inviting me to participate in the wrap-up conversation on a special Friday-night edition of That's How I Blog! You can stream it or download the podcast from that link.). And if you haven't weighed in on the BBAW Post-Event Survey, don't forget to do that!

Because I was keeping tabs on the events for my daily recaps at She Writes, I think I have a good feel for the big news of the week, but I'm sure I missed a lot of things bubbling underneath. Losing Twitter access from my office as of Wednesday didn't help matters - bad timing, but since I don't think that's coming back, I suppose I'll have to adapt. (It's like they think Twitter impairs work productivity or something. What's that about?)

However, I didn't completely miss out on doing some damage to my feed reader, in accordance with BBAW tradition. Meet some of the new additions:

Added on Day 1, via posts about "First Treasures" (book blogs discovered during the past year):

Added on Day 2 (and 3, because I fell behind in my reading), via "New Treasures" (BBAW Interview Swap)

There were some great guest posts on the BBAW blog itself, too. One of my favorites was The Classics Debate between Michelle of That’s What She Read (pro) and Danielle of There’s a Book (con). For the most part, and at least for now, I'm on Danielle's side; I would have been anyway, but her statement that "(I)t could just be that Wuthering Heights finally did me in" did me in. For the record - which I think is already on the record here somewhere - I despise Wuthering Heights, which I’ve read twice. I gave it a second chance because so many people do love it, and didn’t like it any better the second time. It’s been influential, though - any book whose male protagonist reminds me of Heathcliff has a distinct disadvantage to overcome in winning my affections.

Aside from that, I don’t find the language of classics complicated, exactly, but it does tend to be denser and take more time and concentration for me to work through. Granted, many of these books were written when people HAD that time…and at this stage of my life, I don’t feel that I do. I’m not ruling them out entirely, but just not right now. However, since Michelle told me that a book just has to be more than 25 years old to be considered a "classic," it may be much easier than I thought it would be to work them into my reading. (My son turned 26 in July - is he a classic now too?)

Another of my favorite posts of this week had nothing to do with a particular BBAW theme; however, Care's reflections on life before and after book blogging were all about the book-blogger appreciation!

The book-blog world will probably quiet down for a few days as we all recover and try to catch up with some of the books we've neglected during the past week...or maybe that's just me. I am bound and determined to finish The Lonely Polygamist and get a review of it posted next week (for the record, I've liked it so far and am closing in on the end, but it's long)! I received it as an ARC, but it's been out since...April. Oops.

My short-term reading goals are to deplete my ARC stack - which, fortunately, is relatively small right now - and think about which books to set aside for the 24-Hour Readathon on October 9. And while I have no shortage of neglected non-ARC review books, I'm somewhat inclined to continue neglecting them and read my own books for the rest of the year. I may even tackle one or two of the books my husband's been trying to get me to read ever since he did - those are even more neglected than the non-ARC review books!

Did you participate in BBAW, and did you have fun with it? What will you be reading now that it's over?

Friday, September 17, 2010

BBAW 2010: Future Treasures - Blogging Goals and Going Forward

BBAW 2010:  A Treasure Chest of Infinite Books and Infinite Blogs


Friday—Future Treasures

We’ve been visiting each other and getting to know each other better…now is your chance to share what you enjoyed about BBAW and also what your blogging goals are for the next year!

I feel like I didn't get to participate in BBAW as much this year, but I'm not sure that's accurate. I blogged on the daily topic every day and read as many posts as I could manage, but most of those came to my via my feed reader; I didn't get to do much blog-hopping via the daily Mr Linky. Fortunately, even with the growth in the book-blog community, many of the blogs I read regularly were also participating in BBAW! (However, if you're not a book blogger, I probably didn't see much of you this week - my apologies, and I'll make it up to you next week!).

I liked all of this year's blogging themes. Monday and Tuesday introduced me to some great new-to-me blogs. Wednesday showed me that I'm far from the only one who's been influenced to read YA fiction thanks to book bloggers, and Thursday's posts added some new titles to the wishlist; in addition, I liked Michelle and Danielle's fun "Classics Debate" on the BBAW blog that day (some food for thought!). But truthfully, I think what I enjoyed most about BBAW 2010 was keeping tabs on the action, including the award announcements, for the daily recaps I contributed to She Writes. You can find all of those here - and by the way, She Writers appreciate book bloggers too!

One of my blogging goals for the year ahead is to continue to represent for book bloggers at She Writes, and I'm trying to be more consistently active on BlogHer.com as well (although most of what I post there shows up here first, so it's not really "extra" blogging). That means I may just be trading some of the blogging I do here for blogging elsewhere, at least for a little while.

Speaking of goals, I find that the ones that work for me are flexible and modest ones - goals that can be assessed regularly, refined if they're working, and amended or chucked if they don't. I've tried to keep my blogging goals pretty simple and controllable, although that may not always be obvious - there are times when my blogging appears pretty darn out of control, I'm sure (especially if you have to live with me while I'm doing it!).

One thing I do need to control more effectively is the management of blog feeds in my Google Reader/Feedly. I'm pretty sure there are a lot in there that have been dormant for a while; there are also some duplicates, and others that I'm not sure are a good fit anymore. Since blog reading counts as part of "blogging" overall for me, cleaning my feed reader is definitely one of my blogging goals for the next year!

I'm thinking about cutting back on how often I show up in your feed reader, too. Convalescing with my dislocated shoulder* this summer provided me with far more reading time than I usually have, and I really enjoyed spending the extra time with books - blogging has definitely caused a cutback in that, and I don't think I really knew how much I'd missed it! Therefore, blogging less - and reading more - is another goal for me. However, "blogging less" in my case will probably mean something like 3 or 4 posts some weeks instead of my usual 5 or 6. The problem is that if I go a few days without writing, I miss that, too.

Slow and steady growth in subscribers and comment activity are always included in my blogging goals, but since I can only affect them up to a point, I've learned not to get too hung up on them. I do what I can, but after that, it's up to y'all! (If you read here often and like what you find, subscribe, and share the link with your friends! Please?) However, making major changes in my content is NOT one of my goals - this blog will continue to be primarily-but-not-exclusively about books and related matters, but there will always be other topics in the mix too.

*Turns out I may not be as healed up as I thought I was, but I'll update y'all on that next week.

What did you enjoy most about BBAW 2010, and has that influenced your blogging goals for the next year?

Please check out my daily BBAW Updates all week at She Writes!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

BBAW 2010: Forgotten Treasures - Books Remembered and Recommended

 BBAW 2010:  A Treasure Chest of Infinite Books and Infinite Blogs


Thursday—Forgotten Treasure
Sure we’ve all read about Freedom and Mockingjay but we likely have a book we wish would get more attention by book bloggers, whether it’s a forgotten classic or under marketed contemporary fiction.  This is your chance to tell the community why they should consider reading this book!

I did my part for this cause earlier this year when I co-hosted a Read-Along of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow with Heather J. and Rebecca. Since I'd read it before, it's ineligible to be chosen as my Book of the Year, but because that earlier reading was pre-blog, I was able to review it here and give it the 5/5 rating it deserves. I'll just restate the case I made for it then:
There aren't many books that I'm an evangelist for. I'll tell you what I like, and I'll make suggestions and recommendations, but I don't often state outright that "You HAVE to read this." I will go out on that limb for The Sparrow, though. You have to read this.

Sparrow by Mary Doria RussellThis is a very hard book to pigeonhole. You may not care for science fiction; this is SF free of technobabble. While the primary plot concerns interplanetary exploration and first contact with a non-human species in another solar system, the focus is on character and the setting doesn't require contortion of the imagination. You may be wary of fiction with religious overtones; this novel prominently features several Jesuit priests among its characters, but the last thing it does is preach. The novel explores Big Ideas of faith and God and humanity and Meaning in the way that many of us would - in far-ranging conversations with friends - and doesn't beat you over the head with them. You'd never guess that this is Mary Doria Russell's first novel (previously, she wrote scientific articles and technical manuals); the writing is very accomplished, and yet it doesn't call attention to itself at all. What other arguments can I shoot down for you?

The Sparrow is a page-turner that will make you think critically, make you feel deeply...and make you want to talk about it, which is why we built a Read-Along around it.
Even if you missed the Read-Along, there's no bad time to meet this amazing novel; I'm glad I could help introduce it to some new fans that I'm pretty sure will back me up on that.

However, since I've already talked (at length) about why you should read The Sparrow, I thought I'd mention a couple of other books that I think deserve more attention than they've received from the book-blog community.

Intuition, by Allegra Goodman (2007, 4.5/5): This not-at-all-dry novel about a group of scientists on the verge ofIntuition by Allegra Goodman a potential cancer-research breakthrough is smart, suspenseful, and thought-provoking. Even more than the science, though, Intuition concerns such themes as scientific ethics and office politics, and Allegra Goodman doesn't provide easy answers. She employs the perspectives of multiple characters, and doesn't draw a lot of stark lines. She leaves spaces in the characterizations to be filled in by the reader, and while that can sometimes annoy me as a reader who cares about character development, she's skilled enough to make it work for me, and I thought that the primary players were well-drawn, distinct and complex. There's ambiguity in the character relationships and the storytelling, and not all the questions get answered, but it doesn't feel like things are left unsettled or hanging in the end.

I reviewed this book in March 2008, and don't recall seeing it get much attention at all from book blogs. If you're waiting to read Goodman's latest, The Cookbook Collector, this can keep you busy in the meantime - or if you've already read that and want more of the author, add Intuition to your TBR!

The Irresistible Henry House, by Lisa Grunwald (2010, 4/5): This novel is built on an unlikely but fact-based premise - it was inspired by the "practice baby" programs operated by some college home-ec departments in the mid-20th century, and explores the effects of a
The Irresistible Henry House: A Novel 
by Lisa Grunwaldsuccession of short-term "practice mothers" on one particular (fictional, non-representative) child. Lisa Grunwald builds a compelling and compassionate story around a bit of recent history that seems very hard to grasp from our modern, child-centric, post-feminist perspective. From where we stand now, the pitfalls and difficulties of the practice-house arrangement seem obvious, but they probably weren't then, and I found them fascinating. Grunwald shifts narrative viewpoints at times and the perspective doesn't fully belong to the title character until well into the story, but the other voices provide an effective framework for his early life. It's not hard to believe that Henry House becomes the person he is given the upbringing he had, and while his behavior is often unsympathetic, I never found his character to be. He's one of the most memorable, unique characters I've encountered in a while. Any woman who's ever been attracted to that not-fully-available guy will understand why a variety of female characters are drawn to him, but what makes him particularly interesting is that he doesn't exactly want to be that guy.

I had the opportunity to read and review this compelling novel earlier this summer, thanks to LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program, and I've been disappointed that it hasn't gotten more notice from book bloggers - it's one of my top reads of the year.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Do you have a favorite "forgotten treasure" of your own?

Please check out my daily BBAW Updates all week at She Writes

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

BBAW: Unexpected Treasures - Reading, Guided by Bloggers

 BBAW 2010:  A Treasure Chest of Infinite Books and Infinite Blogs


Wednesday—Unexpected Treasure
We invite you to share with us a book or genre you tried due to the influence of another blogger.  What made you cave in to try something new and what was the experience like?

If you're a regular reader here, my response to this topic won't be a surprise to you.

I give credit for my recent explorations into the category of young-adult fiction directly to book bloggers - adult ones, that is. I don't read many of the teen and college-age bloggers who cover that category, but I was swayed by the enthusiasm of book bloggers who are closer to my own demographic and make no apologies about reading and enjoying books targeted to the YA audience. Some of these bloggers don't even have kids as a cover/excuse for reading YA!

However, I think my resolve was truly weakened by a book and not a blog. Lizzie Skurnick's Shelf Discovery is a reading memoir that includes many YA books that I read when I actually was part of the YA audience, and it reminded me of their high quality and enduring value - attributes that seemed to be shared by some of the recent young-adult lit that book-blogging adults were championing. I started to wonder if it was time to get over my prejudices. Not long after that, I read Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and didn't regret it for a minute.

I've been slowly adding YA-oriented books to my TBR collection ever since. When my friend Literary Feline - also an infrequent reader of YA - declared Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief to be the best book she read in 2009, I didn't waste time picking up a copy. Target made Gayle Forman's If I Stay a "Breakout Book" and shelved it right alongside the other selections for that month, all aimed at adult readers - I took that as a sign. And three bloggers share responsibility for leading me first to the blog, and then the books, of Beth Kephart: Amy, Melissa, and Anna Lefler. I've read four of Beth's YA novels this year...and I hope their target audience properly appreciates their beautiful writing and emotional resonance.

I have no intention of limiting my reading diet to young-adult fiction, but I've glad I've added some of it to the menu, and I think I'll keep it around. On the other hand, I don't think my experiment on the other side of things - when I influenced someone else to read outside their usual range - will have any lasting effects. I'm pretty sure Mike won't be reading any more "chick lit" (although he did venture into book reviewing again this week, which was his little contribution to BBAW)

How have bloggers led you out of your reading comfort zone, and how did it go when they did?

Please check out my daily BBAW Updates all week at She Writes