Saturday, April 30, 2011

The question remains: What good IS God? (Faith and Fiction Roundtable discussion)

“What good is God?” is a pretty big question, and as is the case with most such questions, my feeling is that it has multiple, complex answers...well beyond the scope of this collection of Philip Yancey’s essays and speeches (which I reviewed earlier this week).

Yancey seems to realize the magnitude of the question himself, and acknowledges that the focus of most of the pieces here is a little more specific: “What good is God when disaster strikes anyway, and belief doesn’t protect us?” I suspect that after a week of storms that have caused 300 deaths and millions of dollars’ worth of damage, that’s a particular resonant question in the Bible Belt right about now.

I’m not sure belief is supposed to protect us, like a magic shield. Rather, I think it offers a way to process events we’re not protected from - a refuge, a community, a framework for moving forward. In addressing groups who have been victims of traumatic events - the Virginia Tech shootings, the terrorist attacks in Mumbai - or forced underground by prosecution - Christian communities in China and the Middle East - I think Yancey recognizes this. The book’s subtitle is “In Search of a Faith That Matters,” and my impression is that the kind of belief I describe is the sort that “matters” in the contexts he presents here.

Because this was a collection of talks given to a variety of audiences, I don’t think it addressed what a “faith that matters” is supposed to look like - and I appreciated that. I think that approach was also influenced by the way in which Philip Yancey came to his own faith. He was brought up in a fundamentalist church and graduated from a Bible college, but his worldview - and understanding of God in the world - expanded as he reached adulthood. He takes a pretty strong stand against what he calls “legalism,” or the excessive focus on “rules” about the “proper” way to believe and express one’s faith that often seems to lead to “my Christianity is better than your Christianity” competitiveness - not especially Christian behavior, in my opinion, and Yancey seems to recognize that such rules are not really the point of a faith that matters.

I don’t think Philip Yancey actually answers the question posed in the title of this book - not in the book, at least. I’m not sure the travels and people he writes about here are finding the “faith that matters” the subtitle alludes to. And personally, I’m not bothered by either of these matters’ remaining unresolved - as I’ve said before, I’m more interested in the questioning and the searching than in actually getting answers sometimes.

Members of the Faith and Fiction Roundtable are discussing our second read of 2011 today; if you’ve also read it, or have thoughts on the themes it brings up, we’d love to have you join in on any or all of our blogs:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

So long, soaps! It's been (un)real...

Love in the AfternoonImage by kevindooley via Flickr
If I still watched the soaps, I’d feel this development more than I do, but it still makes me feel sad and a bit displaced to know that ABC is cancelling All My Children and One Life to Live. It’s been over twenty years since I watched them much, but starting much too young and through my post-college years, I had a pretty serious soap-opera habit.

It started in my elementary-school years, when my mom was home with my sister and me and the TV was on. My mom was a big fan of Dark Shadows, but she watched several other soaps too, including AMC, which was relatively new and considered pretty edgy in the early 1970s. Her aunts - surrogate grandmothers to my sister and me - didn’t want to be disturbed when their “story,” OLTL, was on. We might not have really understood everything that was going on - and for several years, we were definitely more interested in game shows and syndicated comedy reruns - but all the same, the soaps didn’t escape our attention.

By middle school, I was getting hooked on the soaps all on my own, and I was an ABC loyalist by ninth grade. Granted, it was the heyday of Luke and Laura when everyone was watching General Hospital, and OLTL never became “my” story like it was for my great-aunts, but All My Children was a staple. All the women in my family became regular readers of Soap Opera Digest around that time, and I got curious about the storylines on some of the other shows, I strayed to CBS, where I got into As the World Turns and my best friend Teri’s favorite, Guiding Light. There was a period of several years in high-school and college - on days when I didn’t have classes, of course - when I double-teamed shows, switching between them during commercials back in those long-ago pre-DVR (let alone VCR) days.

The working world and a disapproving husband took a big chunk out of my soap habit after college, but my first job was only a five-minute drive from home, and I used to go home for lunch (and to watch AMC). By the mid-1990s, my soap-watching days were mosty behind me, but I’d still read news about the shows when I stumbled across it...and was pretty pleased for Susan Lucci when she finally won that Daytime Emmy for creating the indelible, immortal Erica Kane.

One of the things I always appreciated about the soaps back then was that most of them were taped in New York City; they were probably the backbone of the television industry there, and as a girl with Northeastern roots, I liked that. There are now just four traditional-network, English-language soap operas left on TV, and they’re all taped in Southern California...just like almost everything else on television. Sigh. And here in Southern California, the Spanish-language soaps, the telenovelas, just might be more popular than The Young and the Restless.

The soaps have always had a shaky connection to reality, so perhaps it’s appropriate that ABC is replacing AMC and OLTL with...reality shows. Then again, those programs frequently have an equally shaky connection to reality of their own. And without denying how out-there soap-opera plots can get, some of the “daytime dramas” have worked controversial social issues into their storylines well before the night-time dramas would even touch them. In addition, the serialized aspects of many modern TV shows - and the careers of some of the actors who star in them - owe a debt to the soaps.

At this stage, I can’t say I’ll personally miss All My Children all that much, but I’ll miss knowing that it’s still out there. I guess this means Erica Kane’s last marriage really will be her last one (I have no idea what number she's up to by now), and we won't be able to go home to Pine Valley any more.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Art of Giving

I received this original artwork this past weekend as a belated birthday gift from my mother-in-law.
"Happily Ever Now," original collage by Jason Mraz, 2011
She personally delivered the gift to me on Saturday when she came to spend Easter with us; the artist had personally delivered it to her just a day or two earlier. He's a friend and neighbor of hers who created this original collage to be auctioned in a fundraiser organized by the Feeding the Soul Foundation. Among her many other excellent qualities, Mom-in-law is a generous supporter of good causes, and she made the winning bid on this work at a CD-release-party event benefiting Superfood Drive, just one of the organizations the Foundation supports (you can see some of the others on their site, which I've linked above).

At her suggestion, I left a thank-you note on the artist's Facebook page:

Florinda Lantos Pendley VasquezJason MrazHi Jason - I'm Peggy Vasquez's daughter-in-law, and I just wanted to thank you for the collage! I already thanked her :-).

Yes, Jason Mraz the musician is also a visual artist - and a friend and neighbor of my Mom-in-law's. I've yet to meet him myself, but you'll most likely see something about it here if and when I ever do. In the meantime, I need to decide just the right place to display this work of his, since my iPod clearly isn't it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Faith 'n' Fiction Book Talk: *What Good is God?*, by Philip Yancey

What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters 
Philip Yancey
Hachette/FaithWords (2010), Hardcover (ISBN 0446559857 / 9780446559850)
Nonfiction (Religion/Christianity), 304 pages
Source: Purchased e-book (Kindle format: ASIN B003YFIVGI)
Reason for Reading: April 2011 Faith ‘n’ Fiction Roundtable discussion

Opening Lines (from the Prologue): “In late November 2008, my wife and I were completing a tour of India sponsored by my publisher. I had spoken on themes from my books in five cities, and the last stop involved a public event in India’s largest city, Mumbai. As it happened, that was the horrifying night when terrorists attacked tourist sites with grenades and guns, killing 172 people.”
Book Description: Journalist and spiritual seeker Philip Yancey has always struggled with the most basic questions of the Christian faith. The question he tackles in WHAT GOOD IS GOD? concerns the practical value of belief in God. His search for the answer to this question took him to some amazing settings around the world: Mumbai, India when the firing started during the terrorist attacks; at the motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; on the Virginia Tech campus soon after the massacre; an AA convention; and even to a conference for women in prostitution.
Comments: I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book, but I don’t think it was what I found, at least in terms of its structure. What Good Is God? In Search of a Faith That Matters is a collection of talks that Philip Yancey has given in various places around the world, each prefaced with a chapter reflecting on the circumstances under which they were given.

In some instances, Yancey addressed communities in the wake of traumatic events; in others, he spoke to groups who were marginalized and persecuted. He spoke in Memphis, Tennessee - a place I know pretty well, and one where nearly every issue is quite literally black or white - on the day after the 2008 presidential election, discussing the healing influence that the Church Health Center has had on this city with a notorious civil-rights history. He talked in South Africa about how the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has approached its mission. He brought survivors of the Columbine shootings with him to a talk at Virginia Tech just after it suffered its own similar tragedy, knowing that they’d be able to reach each other as few could. He spoke at a Cambridge University conference about C.S. Lewis, and that chapter may have been the one I least expected; it actually made me want to read C.S. Lewis’ writings on Christianity.

Yancey was brought up in a narrow-minded, fundamentalist church, but has arrived at a more expansive worldview - and God-view, which is what he communicates to his listeners. He comes across as evangelical in some ways, but with a rather non-sectarian approach, and the more time I spent with the book, the more appealing I found that. He takes a pretty strong stand against what he calls “legalism,” or the excessive focus on “rules” about the “proper” way to believe and express one’s faith that often seems to lead to “my Christianity is better than your Christianity” competitiveness - not especially Christian behavior, in my opinion. In contrast, he seeks to convey what Christianity is meant to be by going back to its roots, the teachings of Jesus and writings of his early followers.

Despite some redundancies that I think are at least partly the fault of the book’s structure, I think that Yancey does a pretty effective job of getting his Christian worldview across to his readers and listeners; I rarely felt that I was being preached at, and I was surprised to find that I shared some of the viewpoints he expressed. I’m not sure that what’s presented in this book truly matches the premise of its title, however. “In Search of a Faith That Matters” implies, to me, a personal faith journey in some form, and that’s really not what’s chronicled here. On top of that, the central question “What Good is God?” really doesn’t seem to be answered. I’m not uncomfortable with that, personally - as I’ve said before, the questions are what interest me - but I do think that some readers might feel a bit misled. Having said that, I’m not sorry I read this one, and it’s left me with some real food for thought.

The Faith ‘n’ Fiction Roundtable members will be posting our discussion of What Good is God on Saturday, April 30.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Salon: Countdown to BEA (Anxiety)!

 The Sunday Salon.com

This will be my first trip to Book Expo America, and I find myself wavering between eager excitement and anxiety with a touch of crankiness as I anticipate it. This is actually not an unusual reaction for me as I prepare for a conference, and at this stage, the anxiety - which makes me cranky - seems to be running a little ahead of the eagerness.

One of the reasons I’ve liked attending the BlogHer conferences is that the whole event, including the lodging, mostly happens under one roof and is thoroughly scheduled out. BEA attendees will be staying in hotels all around Manhattan, and that's one reason the whole thing feels less structured to me; and for me, that means a lot more potential to be overwhelmed. To try to get a handle on that, I’ve started a document collecting some of the talks and autograph sessions I’m particularly interested in attending, but I haven’t even begun reviewing the exhibitor list yet, let alone factored in BlogWorld Expo East, which will be going on at the same time and location.

I like structure. I’m a planner, and I know some of my anxiety comes from just not knowing how the whole thing works. If you’ve been to BEA before, I would really appreciate your enlightening me on some of the logistics! For example, if you’re attending an autograph session, how/when/where do you obtain the books you’re getting signed? That’s only one of my questions, so I’d love it if you’d share any knowledge you have with a newbie!

There are moments when I consider blowing off hours of BEA to wander around the city instead, but then I start worrying that no one will want to wander and hang out with me, and then the anxiety meter really ratchets up. Frankly, I don’t want to be eating meals all by myself, and my roommate won’t be arriving till later in the week. (On that note, I’m looking forward to another NYC adventure with Melissa
once she gets there.)

Is anyone else getting pre-BEA jitters? What are you looking forward to, and what are you getting nervous about?

New to the TBR
As you may recall, I made it almost all the way through Lent without buying any books. This week, all I’ve added is two unsolicited ARCs. By my definition, “unsolicited” means “maybe I’ll read/review ‘em, maybe not.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Week-End Review - and pictures, too!

There’s more “review” this week-end than I’ve managed to gather up in quite a while - plus a little editorializing - so let’s jump right in!

Good News/Bad News, “Bookstores I Have Known” Department:Good news, via Shelf Awareness:
“Buffalo Street Books, the Ithaca, N.Y., bookstore that closed last month and has reorganized as a coop (Shelf Awareness, March 7, 2011), is opening this coming Saturday, according to the Ithaca Journal. The store has more than 600 members and has raised $250,000.
The opening will include catering by Ithaca Bakery and music in the evening.”
Not such good news, from the same source:
“...Top bidder for the Davis-Kidd store in Memphis and the Fredericksburg, Va., Joseph-Beth was the Gordon Brothers liquidation chain, though Van Uum said a deal has been worked out for the Fredericksburg store to transfer to Books-A-Million, the Herald reported.”
I must confess that I did not properly appreciate indie bookstore Davis-Kidd during my years living in Memphis, but I did enjoy a few very nice lunches in their cafe. Sale to a liquidation company is truly sad, though, because that means it’s really over.

During most of 1991, I worked in downtown Ithaca, NY, just a few blocks from Buffalo Street Books, and whiled away a few lunch hours there. I really hope their second life as a co-op goes well (but if that could work anywhere, it’s Ithaca). My memories of the Ithaca Bakery - where I was first introduced to the glory of the Cheesecake Brownie - may be even fonder.

(BTW, a clarification on something I posted on Sunday: the freelance reviews I’ll be doing for Shelf Awareness are for their new, soon-to-launch “consumer edition” - watch for it!)

Gotta love a book festival that takes book bloggers seriously. The recent University of Central Florida (UCF) Book Festival had three official bloggers: Jenny, Sandy, and Heather (Zibilee) - well done, all! And the upcoming Newburyport (MA) Literary Festival will include a book-blogger panel (Saturday, April 30, at 11 AM). Note to the LA Times Festival of Books, which is happening the same weekend as Newburyport’s event: when do you plan to get with the program and give bloggers a place at the table?

Also re: bookish events, guest posts from Book Blogger Convention panelists kicked off the “Follow the Blog Tour” this week

“Culling” vs. “surrender” - the knowledge that you’ll never be able to see/read/hear everything worthwhile...and that’s OK

If your first and/or only exposure to the classic Greek play Lysistrata was Meg Wolitzer’s new novel, The Uncoupling, here’s a review of the source material.

Bibliomania: it’s for real, and not quite as much fun as you might think. Also from @BookaliciousPam: she’s cooking up a cookbook to benefit the hungry, and your recipes are wanted!

Sadly, anyone who really needs to read this post on review-query peeves probably won’t, but Wendy speaks for a lot of us (the comments certainly make that clear), so you REALLY should!

You may never have worked for a nonprofit, but perhaps you’ve given money to one (I’ve done both); either way, you should check out Melissa’s thoughtful insider take on the Three Cups of Tea/Greg Mortenson controversy.

Crunching the numbers on e-book production...and they don’t turn out all that bad!

Books on a Boat: Shipboard libraries that could really take you away!


Speaking of "away," here are a few more pictures from Sunday's trip to Solvang:

Another look at Valley Books
A replica Gutenberg Printing Press, upstairs in the "loft" at The Book Loft
This may be the most picturesque Subway ever!
We don't have any travel plans for this weekend - what about you?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Randomness: Four Things for Thursday

No, this is not the "Four Things" meme (not today, anyway). I actually have a proper Week-End Review to post tomorrow, so here are some Thursday Tidbits to mention.

Sign-ups are open for the second year of Armchair BEA! Over 200 people have already signed up, and even though this virtual conference has no capacity limits, what are you waiting for? If you're not going to be in New York City next month for Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention, you'll want to be part of this - we'll have prompts and themes for daily blogging, panel discussions, giveaways galore, and lots of opportunities to connect with other book bloggers. And although I actually will be at BEA/BBC, I have no intention of missing out on the Armchair BEA fun; I'm proud to be one of the event's founders, and am back this year as part of the organizing team and a participant! Also, be sure to check out the new look of the Armchair BEA site, thanks to Pam from Bookalicious!

But before BEA - on-site or Armchair - the LA Times Festival of Books is coming...and this year, I won't be going. Tall Paul and I will be attending a family wedding in West Covina that evening, and earlier in the day, we'll be at the Anaheim Comic Con. (We do plan to change clothes in betweem events, don't worry.) I'll miss the SoCal book blogger meet-up that usually happens at the Festival, but it seems I may not be the only one; as Ti asked yesterday, is anyone going to LATFoB this year? We are going to have to make plans for an alternative get-together, folks!

And if you are going to be in NYC for BEA/BBC and you'd like to make plans to meet up with other book bloggers, have you added your contact info to Dawn's list yet? Also, if you don't mind, tell me - right here! I'm arriving in New York on Monday, May 23 (late afternoon) and staying through Saturday morning, and except for Thursday and Friday, my plans are pretty fluid right now. Maybe we can get together at some point?

This last item has nothing to do with anything related to book festivals - I just haven't brought you a Blogthings Quiz of the Week for a while.

You Are California

You are cutting edge and diverse. People may call you flaky, but you can't help that you have a lot going on.

In general, you are friendly and laid back. There's nothing you like better than a quiet afternoon at the beach.

You are socially progressive and open minded. Anyone is welcome into your circle of friends.

You may be a bit image conscious, but you understand that appearances matter!

I guess it's a good thing I live here, then. But lately, I'd say my state is Confusion.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It's all relative; or, focusing on a family

There are stories I don’t tell here because they really aren’t mine to tell, but sometimes I find myself thinking about them anyway, and that’s what led me down this particular path...in search of an angle from which there might be a story I could claim and tell.

After almost 27 years as an only child, yesterday my son just became a big brother to a baby sister. (NOT from me - I would have told you THAT, people!) Well, he’ll have a baby half-sister - both of them will share half their DNA with their father. And I’m not sure why I never thought of it this way before, but it dawned on me that my son has no full-blood relatives. He is half-related to me, genetically, and half to his father; soon he’ll have that half in common with someone else, but he’ll never have more than half that connection with anyone.

I married into this family in 2006.
So much for blood being thicker than water. When you really think about it, the only full-blood relations any of us have are siblings with whom we share both parents. At a cellular level, there’s no one with whom we have more in common. My only true relative, biologically, is my sister; my husband’s only true relative is his brother. My sister and I are also very good friends; my husband and his brother, sadly, are not. You may not be able to choose who you’re related to, but you do get some choice regarding the kind of relationship you have with them.

I never questioned that I only wanted one child. My son’s actually never minded being an only child - and as that ends for him, he's old enough to be a parent himself (and several years older than his parents were when they had him). While there have been times that I’ve thought, in passing, that he might have missed something by not having a sibling, it’s mostly occurred in reflecting on my own sibling relationship, which happens to be good one. Perhaps if I’d thought to frame it earlier in terms of the genetic connection, I’d have felt differently about it; now I feel as if he, quite literally, doesn’t have anyone.

In truth, though, he’s got plenty of people, because I also believe that to a large extent, we make our families. He has friends that he’s closer to than he ever will be to his half-sister (granted, age and geographic differences are factors too, but they’re outside the scope of this discussion and so I’ll ignore them). He, his father, and I will always be connected through family history, although we haven’t been together as one for nearly a decade. I have a family with another husband and the two children he brought with him, although there is no blood connection between any of us (and never will be, as Tall Paul and I will not be having children together - the world should breathe a sigh of relief over that).

I’m really not sure where all this is going, but I’ve ended up with this:
No, you can’t choose your relatives, at least in the biological sense, although I guess you could make a case that our natural parents choose our relatives for us. Thanks to those choices, some of us may not have any relatives at all, and some may have relatives of varying degrees. However, we can choose our families...and most of us do choose to include at least a few of our relatives.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Moment: It's not Easter yet, but I bought books!

As I do almost every year, I gave up buying books for Lent. Some years I stick to it pretty well, and some years I don't; some years I take way too much advantage of the "Sunday loophole." (Count the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter; they'll add up to more than 40 if you count Sundays. Therefore, "Sundays don't count" in keeping a Lenten vow. So said my mom.)

This year had been a pretty good one...up until yesterday. However, yesterday was Palm Sunday, so I figure I almost made it. Besides, it was a special occasion!

April 17 is the anniversary of Tall Paul's and my first date, and we decided to mark it by taking a day trip up past Santa Barbara to Solvang, the "Danish capital of America." That's Danish as in "people from Denmark," not the pastry, although the town does have abundance of bakeries, along with wine-tasting rooms and a couple of very nice bookstores.

This is the interior of Valley Books, a place that could actually make me a fan of used bookstores. I picked up a couple of books there - one of which was barely used, plus three new books when we stopped at The Book Loft. Everything I bought was already on my wishlist. You can't say I didn't do my part to shop indie bookstores this weekend, and I have to admit I don't feel quite as bad about breaking my vow a week early because of that.

Here's what I brought home:

How was your weekend?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Salon: Change of (Reading) Habits, and some news!

The Sunday Salon.com

Last weekend, I set aside the book I was reading on my Kindle for this month's Faith 'n' Fiction Roundtable in order to tackle some "fresh" reading for the 24-Hour Readathon. That went well; I started and finished two books that day. However, I still have not finished the FnFRt reading! However, I've read enough to participate in the group discussion of Philip Yancey's What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters, which is already underway, and I hope to be done with it - the book, not the discussion - by the end of this weekend. I know I've mentioned that I'm not the fastest reader, generally, but this is not a terribly complex book, and even for me, it's taking way too long!

But to be fair, it's not entirely the book's fault. Since the Readathon, it's been extremely difficult to find much time to read, period. It's also been tough to find time to write about reading - or anything else for that matter - which is why I've been a missing person in Blogland for the past week. Physical-therapy appointments and audit work at the office are taking big bites out of my time right now; those will both end - fairly soon, I hope! - but there are some other changes on the horizon that will have a longer-term effect on what happens on this blog.

There probably won't be too much writing for the rest of this weekend, as Tall Paul and I are celebrating the sixth anniversary of our first date with a day trip to Solvang. I'll bring my Kindle and my next book along for the ride, but I'm not the best car reader, so I may not get very far with that. However, I am looking forward to exploring the town's two bookstores!

I posted a review of one of my Readathon books this week, but the second won't be up for another couple of weeks. It's for May's BlogHer Book Club, which means the review will be published there, but I'll link to it when it is. That's going to be a new thing for me - posting book reviews elsewhere - but it's going to be happening more often, which leads to a bit of news I'm excited to share with you:

I will be reviewing books twice a month as a freelancer for Shelf Awareness, which is expanding its book-review coverage! This has been in the works for several weeks, but I didn't want to say anything until the contract was signed. I'm not sure when my first review there will be published, but it will probably happen in another month or two.

I will be re-posting my SA reviews on The 3 R's (with a "reprinted with permission" statement), so it's not going mean a huge change in the content here, although posting frequency may drop (because I'll be spending more time reading books - a worthwhile tradeoff, don't you think?). However, it will mean some change in my reading habits, as there will be more new books in the mix than I've ever had, and I'll probably be accepting even fewer review books from other sources and blog tours.

But you know how we all dream about getting paid to read and write about books? It's not like I can quit my day job to do it, but I'll be getting a taste of what it's like.

Reviews posted since the last report:

New to TBR Purgatory:
For review:

Are you experiencing a Spring Slump in your reading and blogging, for one reason or another?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Week-End Review: Does it count if I haven't been around all week?

The following recap of my week is brought to you by

Friday Fill-Ins

1. For me, it was one busy week! Between work, physical-therapy appointments, preparing for the panel I’m moderating at the Book Blogger Convention next month (!), and making some necessary changes to my eating and exercise habits, I’ve gotten very little reading done since last weekend’s Readathon and almost no blogging. You may have noticed. Or maybe not. But it may be like this around here for another few weeks, or until I’m finished with PT and/or auditors (or both!) - and right now, that can’t happen soon enough!

2. Since there’s a big grocery department at the new Target, I buy a lot less at my local supermarket.

3. Behind the sound of the wind in the trees, I heard the coyotes howling (we have some as neighbors. Lucky us).

4. Spending a week doing nothing but reading is something I always wanted to do (and I think I still do!).

5. When it was over, I really needed a nap!

6. I spent most of my time home by myself while recovering from shoulder surgery, but I (almost) never felt alone.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to getting home early enough to take a nice long walk, tomorrow my plans include coffee with my sister in the morning and watching the new Smallville episode we’re recording (it’s on tonight) later in the day and Sunday, I want to do something special and fun with Tall Paul to celebrate the sixth anniversary of our first date!

I’ve had to do the “mark-all-as-read” thing with my Google Reader more than I like during the last couple of weeks, but I’ve still gathered some links to share with y’all:

If “community” is one of your reasons for blogging, you probably wouldn’t do this, but is there a reason you WOULD close comments on your blog - that is, not take comments at all (as opposed to just on specific posts)? Also, if your Twitter bio sounds like everyone else’s Twitter bio, you need some help. (And BTW, if your Twitter bio includes too many of the clich├ęs listed here, I may not be following you.) (both via ShePosts) And have you ever considered the inherent fickleness of your relationship with social media?

One reader’s frustration in applying literary analysis to commercial fiction; one reader’s frustration over whether to bother reviewing fiction that’s both unknown and not very good

A new variation on the serialized novel - buying a book as a chapter a month. Would you try it? And if you’ve ever had an author at your book-club meeting, do you feel that it inhibits the discussion?

The American Library Association’s list of 2010’s most-challenged books was released this week - will this give you more of a reason to read one of them? Another list announcement: the Orange Prize for Fiction shortlist.

Copycat covers, uncovered!

No interest in the Royal Wedding? There’s an app a mug for that. Speaking of apps and things that use them, remember when phones just made phone calls?

It's April 15th - did you get your taxes done yet?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Talk: *The Wilder Life*, by Wendy McClure

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
Wendy McClure
Riverhead Hardcover (2011) (ISBN 1594487804 / 9781594487804)
Nonfiction (memoir/literature), 352 pages
Source: ARC from publisher (pub date 4/14/11)
Reason for reading: Review copy; 24-Hour Readathon, Spring 2011

Opening Lines: “I was born in 1867 in a log cabin in Wisconsin and maybe you were, too. We lived with our family in the Big Woods, and then we all traveled in a covered wagon to Indian Territory, where Pa built us another house, out on high land where the prairie grasses swayed. Right?”
Book Description: Wendy McClure is on a quest to find the world of beloved Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder-a fantastic realm of fiction, history, and places she's never been to, yet somehow knows by heart. She retraces the pioneer journey of the Ingalls family- looking for the Big Woods among the medium trees in Wisconsin, wading in Plum Creek, and enduring a prairie hailstorm in South Dakota. She immerses herself in all things Little House, and explores the story from fact to fiction, and from the TV shows to the annual summer pageants in Laura's hometowns. Whether she's churning butter in her apartment or sitting in a replica log cabin, McClure is always in pursuit of "the Laura experience." Along the way she comes to understand how Wilder's life and work have shaped our ideas about girlhood and the American West.

The Wilder Life is a loving, irreverent, spirited tribute to a series of books that have inspired generations of American women. It is also an incredibly funny first-person account of obsessive reading, and a story about what happens when we reconnect with our childhood touchstones-and find that our old love has only deepened.
Comments: My particular youthful literary obsession wasn’t Laura Ingalls Wilder, although I did read all of the Little House books at least once and watch the first few seasons of the TV series they inspired (in first run - I was 10 years old, prime Little House-reading age, when the show debuted in 1974); mine was Louisa May Alcott. Nevertheless, I can relate to Wendy McClure’s girlhood immersion in what she came to call “Laura World,” and I’m rather relieved to discover that I wasn’t the only avid young reader whose favorite literary characters became regular residents of her inner life.

While her devotion to the Laura legend fades as she enters adolescence, Wendy rediscovers her love for the books when she unexpectedly comes across her old set while packing up her parents’ house, and reading them again as an adult inspires her to learn more about the woman who wrote them. The Little House books are fictionalized memoir, with some disagreement over exactly how fictionalized they are; despite any controversy there, their vivid descriptions of frontier life and depictions of a “simpler” time have given them new popularity among home-schooling families.

Seeking a better understanding of who Laura really was, and why so many people embrace her story as they do - as well as something else she really can’t define - Wendy decides to explore Laura World beyond the books, testing recipes from The Little House Cookbook, teaching herself to churn butter, and making plans to visit the various places Laura and her family lived.

As Wendy takes readers - and her very supportive boyfriend, Chris - along on her odyssey, she recaps the Ingalls/Wilder family saga, discusses the various points of contention between the stories and various biographies, and shares her impressions of the people and places that comprise what remains of Laura World today. The writing is reflective, revealing, engaging, and often very funny. The Wilder Life will particularly resonate with any reader who has engaged in a long-term literary or cultural obsession of her or his own (which I suspect covers quite a few of us), and I’m glad I took this trip with Wendy McClure.

Rating: 4/5

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This book counts for the 2011 Memorable Memoirs Challenge (2/4)
*This book will be eligible for nomination for the 2011 Indie Lit Award in Biography/Memoir - nominations open in September 2011*

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