Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Salon: The Sacrifice--and a personal TBR Challenge!

The Sunday Salon.com

It must be a side effect of not going to church--Lent totally snuck up on me this year. As of this past Wednesday, it's meatless Fridays and no buying books until Easter. And I didn't realize it was coming until it was too late to indulge in a last-minute book-buying binge.

The meatless Fridays are a church tradition I continue to observe even if I don't attend Mass, and they're really not that difficult to keep unless my birthday happens to fall on one of them (March 29 almost always falls somewhere within Lent, but exactly where it lands changes every year). If I'm going to give up something I'll miss for forty days, books are prime candidates. Giving up reading would be far too much to ask, though, so I give up acquiring. (Mostly.)

(As an aside, I do still subscribe to the principle of "giving up" something for Lent. There's been a recent shift away from that toward the idea of "giving more" instead, as my friend Melissa shared on Facebook (via another friend of hers):
"For those of you like me who are beginning the season of Lent, traditionally we talk about 'giving up; things for 40 days like chocolate, sweets, caffeine, alcohol, etc. Don't focus on that so much, but think about 'giving more'...more time to your chilThisWhat I'm reading nowdren, more time to reflect, more time to volunteer, more time for quiet, more time to just slow down. Means a heck of a lot more than giving up a piece of chocolate!"
I see the worth in that, really, and I'd like to try to incorporate that into my observance. However, I was taught that Lent is a season of sacrifice, and I continue to follow that teaching as much as I can, although "sacrifice" seems to be an out-of-favor concept these days.)

The book-buying ban has been my regular Lenten sacrifice for at least a decade now, because it is a much bigger sacrifice than chocolate for me...but in all honesty, it may not be quite the sacrifice that it used to be, given the current state of TBR Purgatory. It might be easier to stick to it this year, now that I live in a town without a bookstore; but on the other hand, e-books and audio offer such easy--and quickly gratified--new temptations. Because I don't buy them, review books don't count; I don't get many of them aside from the ones that come in for "work" these days, though, so they really aren't a big issue (although they are the "mostly" I referred to earlier).

As Jenn pointed out on Twitter, though, not adding to the TBR does--theoretically--provide an opportunity to make a dent in it. Therefore, I'm undertaking a personal Lenten TBR Challenge along with the book-buying ban. I'm not setting a number, but I do have one goal in mind: getting caught up and ahead of my "work" review deadlines and making room for some "just for me" reading. Sacrifice may not be fun, but it can lead to self-improvement.

A book-buying ban may not sound like a big thing to some people, but I know that here in the Sunday Salon, I'm talking to folks who understand that it really can be one. I value that understanding very much, and that's why I'm not giving up blogging for Lent; although I will probably continue to be somewhat irregular about posting, I'm not prepared to sacrifice that entirely. And oddly enough, despite my religious lapses and issues with the church I know best, I can't quite bring myself to give up Lent for Lent, either.

Do you have any "personal reading challenges" going on right now?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Gone Reading: Gifts for Readers, Giving the Gift of Libraries

Of course, I love to come across a good story, and since I do what I do here, you know I like to share those good stories, too. Gone Reading International has a very good story.

Description: Gone Reading

Founded by Brad and Eileen Wirz almost one year ago, Gone Reading International, LLC is fueled by the belief that when people have open access to great reading materials, life always changes for the better. Their mission statement puts it like this:
"We envision a world where everyone has the opportunity to better themselves through the open pursuit of the dreams and ideals of their choosing. We envision a world where such opportunity exists for everyone, regardless of their country of origin or locale. Our mission is to bring the world closer to this vision by helping to ensure that everyone has open access to the reading materials they want and need.”
Brad Wirz's eyes were opened during a volunteer trip to Central America in 2010, where he worked with a group of Americans to help build a library in the Honduran jungle:
”Hundreds of villages, thousands of people, had basically no access to books or reading materials at all. That just blew my mind."
After returning home, Wirz began thinking about what he could do to help address this access problem:
”I found that there are some great organizations already doing this work, building libraries, helping people help themselves by providing access to books, reading materials, and literacy training. Unfortunately, these organizations are woefully underfunded. 
“As a huge book-lover myself, I instinctively read several books to develop my plan. I knew I didn’t bring anything to the library-building process itself. But after a few months of reading, thinking and planning, I determined that I could use my marketing background to generate streams of cash for these organizations."
Wirz knew he didn’t want to start a traditional charity:
”I didn’t see the point in simply asking people to donate money. But as I sat in the local mall one day, in the midst of a global financial meltdown nonetheless, it occurred to me that people were still buying lots and lots of stuff. I had read that about 100 million adults in the U.S. identify reading as their #1 hobby. These people are spending money every day, buying the things they want and need.”
That’s when Wirz decided to build a for-profit "lifestyle brand" for readers, but donating 100% of the after-tax profits to organizations that specialize in building libraries across the developing world. GoneReading's online store features competitively-priced reading accessories like bookmarksbook journals, and book lights (for e-readers and print books), as well as reading-themed t-shirts and cute, colorful bookends that would enhance any kid's shelves. (And standard U.S. shipping is free!)

GoneReading's profits support non-profits such as READ Global and Ethiopia Reads, organizations with established models and experience partnering with local villages and communities in the most underdeveloped parts of the world to effect real change, building libraries and educational-resource centers to serve children and adults.

"Shopping for a cause" isn't exactly new, and neither is GoneReading's approach to it (it's not unlike Newman's Own, which is a pretty good model), but I think their particular cause is worth supporting.

To that end, I'm excited to offer a special coupon code for readers of The 3 R's Blog


The coupon expires on March 31st, and is good for 25% off of any purchases at www.GoneReading.com except for those cute bookends. I hope you'll go forth and shop! Personally, I could use one of those book lights...

Disclosure: I was contacted by Gone Reading International and asked to help spread the word about its mission, which I learned about via its website. In return, I was offered a coupon code to share with my readers, and no monetary compensation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"At Home With Books" today...

I'm not really here...I'm the guest blogger for Alyce's "Best and Worst" series on At Home With Books today! My subject is an author that some people tend to dismiss out of hand as being formulaic--and I won't dispute that, but sometimes that formula has produced some very engaging, discussion-worthy fiction, including one book that's a World Book Night selection. And sometimes it hasn't.

That's all I'll tell you here...head on over to At Home With Books to find out whose books I'm talking about, and my picks for their Best and Worst!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

High School Confidential: Memo to the Class of '82 Reunion Committee

(I'm in this mob somewhere. I think. It's hard to tell from here, and I was the smallest person in the class.)
Aside from the classmate who was my first husband and my son's father, there are very few people in the St. Petersburg (Florida) Catholic High School Class of 1982 that I've kept in touch with on any regular basis since we graduated. But I've learned plans are in the works for our 30th class reunion(!!) on the weekend of June 29th, and if Facebook activity is an indicator, it looks like people are starting to reconnect in anticipation of that.

Please accept my regrets; I won't be making it to the 30th reunion. Then again, I didn't get to the 10th, 15th, 20th, or 25th either, so I doubt anyone expected anything different this year. I haven't lived in St. Pete for almost 25 years (and haven't been back there at all since my mother died in October 1999); I've lost my acclimation to the subtropical heat, and in all honesty, it's highly unlikely that anything would lure me back there in the summertime of any year.

Since we won't be seeing each other in person, I'm sending my crash-course catch-up on the last 30 years.

I didn't become a lawyer or an artist (although I did, eventually, marry an artist). I never got any taller, although I definitely grew rounder. I became an accountant (like my father) and, eventually, a writer (like my sister); and for almost 28 of the 30 years since we left SPCHS, I've been a mother. And through it all, I have never stopped being a reader.

And now, the highlight reel:
  • 1984: Got married (to the aforementioned classmate), and changed my name
  • 1984: Gave birth to my only child, a son
  • 1987: Graduated from university (USF St. Petersburg, College of Business)
  • 1987: Moved to Ithaca, New York (for husband's graduate studies and my first job in nonprofit accounting)
  • 1991: Moved to Memphis, Tennessee (for husband's post-grad career and my next job in nonprofit accounting)
  • 1997: Got a dog and bought a house (in that order)
  • 1998--2002: Worked in a zoo (literally), doing nonprofit accounting
  • 2002: Got divorced (from the aforementioned classmate) after 18 years and sold the house, but kept the last name (and one of the two dogs)
  • 2002: Son graduated from high school and went off to university; I moved to Los Angeles, California--my sister and father were already here--and got another job in nonprofit accounting
  • 2005: Tried online dating, and met my match
  • 2006: Married my match, and got his two children as part of the deal; added their last name to the one I already had (you can now find me on Facebook as Florinda Lantos Pendley Vasquez)
  • 2007--present: Became a blogger, online writer, and social-media presence, known to hundreds (?) as Florinda3Rs...while still working in nonprofit accounting
As you might notice, there have been some Major Life Events that roughly coincided with prior class reunions, which is one reason I haven't been to any of them. Geography is another, especially now that I'm a cross-country plane flight away. And frankly, after all this time, it's become a habit not to go.

In any case, I'm sure the reunion will be a lovely time, but I suck at party talk and communicate more comfortably in writing, as I've done here, so maybe it's for the best if I don't change that habit. And maybe we can have our own reunion online instead. See you on Facebook?
I digress: Every now and then, I get a Facebook friend request from a high-school classmate. They don't come very often--I moved away from the city where I attended high school almost 25 years ago, and out of sight's been out of mind, mostly, on both sides--but I usually accept them when they do. I wonder if our approaching class reunion will bring more of us out of the social-media woodwork to make "friends" with each other--regardless of whether we were friends back then. 
When I checked out the timeline of a classmate I recently friended, I saw a lot of names in her friend list that rang bells--dull, distant bells, perhaps, but I still heard them. And in all honesty, the bells rung by a few names on that list didn't make a very pretty sound. I might still be holding a few grudges...there are some classmates I've "lost touch" with by deliberate choice. (And some probably feel the same way about me.) 
Since reunions are for reminiscing, let's flash back and see what we remember about senior year! I originally posted the following almost four years ago, so it's almost like new (except that it's old). I'd love to see your answers to these questions...I stole this meme in the first place, so feel free to do the same!
Fill this out about your SENIOR year of high school! The longer ago it was, the more fun the answers will be! (The real fun would be making up what you can't remember.)
I'd like to say I was surprised how much I do remember, but unfortunately I'm not. The emotional memories of high school have taken a long time to fade, and come back up pretty easily for me, like it or not; the factual memories seem to come right along with them.

1. Did you date someone from your school?
Not until two weeks after graduation...he eventually became my husband, and later my ex-husband. But I really didn't date anyone in high school - not that counted as "dating," anyway.

2. Did you win anything in Seniors ‘Who’s Who’?
No...I don't think I was enough of a "who" even to be nominated for anything.

3. What kind of car did you drive?
My dad's station wagon - but not unless he was in the car too, since I only had a restricted license. I didn't get a full license till the summer after graduation.

4. It’s Friday night…where are you?
I wish I remembered. The fact I don't is due to the fact I probably wasn't anywhere interesting, not that the time was lost in an alcoholic haze. I might have been at home, at the movies, or at a friend's house; maybe at the mall. During the fall, I was probably at a football game, believe it or not.

5. Were you a party animal?
Not at all. I didn't even find out about most parties. My sister and I gave the only parties that were actually known for the food. She had ambitions for a catering career at the time - and her parties are still known for the food, even though these days she mostly gives them for her kids' birthdays. On a side note, my parents owned a package store (Connecticut term for a liquor store) for several years while I was in grade school; had that been while I was in high school instead, I might have been much more popular...

6. Were you considered a flirt?
Not as far as I know - more of a smartass, really. Still am.

7. Were you in band, orchestra, or choir?
Chorus, we called it - for three out of four years. I was booted out during ninth grade and welcomed back the next year - Mr. Smith was always desperate for people who could carry a tune and would put up with him. I sang first soprano; I probably should have been a second, but found harmony a bit too challenging. (Ah, that might be a metaphor...)

8. Were you a nerd?
Without a doubt. I just didn't know then how to take the pride in it that I have now.

9. Did you get suspended/expelled?
I don't think I even got detention.
10. Can you sing the fight song?
"We are the Barons, mighty and proud,
Onward toward our victory we're bound,
Standing strong in unity
Our spirit will always be (hey hey hey!)"
To the tune of the Notre Dame fight song, of course (like hundreds of other Catholic high schools, I'm sure)

11. Who were your favorite teachers?
My Spanish teacher, Mrs. Hartley, and a couple of the English teachers, Mrs. Gregg and Mr. Wolstenholme.

12. Where did you sit during lunch?
It depended which of our buildings I was in at lunchtime. I preferred to sit outside at one of the picnic tables rather than in the cafeteria, whenever possible. In Florida, it was actually possible pretty often. (Oh, did you mean something like "at the cool kids' table"? Never.)

13.What was your school’s full name?
St. Petersburg Catholic High School. It had been formed about ten years earlier from the merger of Bishop Barry (boys') and Notre Dame (girls') high schools in St. Petersburg, Florida.

14. School mascot?
Some sort of knight on a horse - the Baron, I guess.

15. Were you on homecoming court?
No. I don't think I even went to the homecoming dance that year. Also, that was the only year I didn't work on my class' "Victory Hall" decorations for the homecoming game, and we came in dead last in the contest. Coincidence? Probably, but I'd like to think not entirely. I was pretty well-known for my drawing in those days, so without me, they were just not up to it. :-) I used to sketch almost as much as I read back when I was in school, but I haven't done any serious drawing in years. I think it's been supplanted by writing now. I did marry an art major (the second time), but it hasn't really encouraged me to start sketching again. It's more the opposite - that's his domain. Plus, he's trained and very talented, and I'm really neither, so I don't pick up a pencil all that often.

16. If you could go back and do it again, would you?
I'm reliving it through my kids. That's quite close enough, thank you. 

17. What do you remember most about graduation?
I lost a contact lens when the tassel on my mortarboard hit me in the eye at the Baccalaureate service - but I also won the foreign-language award for Spanish, so it wasn't all bad. I rode to the ceremony with a guy who was becoming a friend again - the same one I started dating two weeks later. I was the second person to receive a diploma - we were lined up by height. (My friend Teri and I were at the head of the lines - we're the same height, or lack of it, believe it or not.) I didn't get invited to any of the parties.

18. Where did you go senior skip day?
I mentioned it was a Catholic school, right? What is this "skip day" of which you speak? We weren't even allowed off campus during lunch.

20.Were you in any clubs?
Let's see, I already mentioned Chorus...school newspaper, drama club, International Club, and National Honor Society. I think that was it, and I really don't want to dig out my yearbook and check. And speaking of drama club, I'm actually a two-time high-school-musical dropout.

21. Who was your Senior prom date?
Tony. He was a tenth-grader from my church youth group - a really nice kid. I went to prom just to go, though. The real fun was Grad Night at Disney World. I went with my friend Rick, and that was a good time.

22. Are you planning on going to your 10 20 25 30 year reunion?
Guess I answered that earlier in this post, huh?

23. Do you still talk to people from high school?
Other than my ex-husband, not really. Oh, and my sister, but that's different. There's always Facebook, though...

Class reunions--have you been to any? Was it worth it?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Salon: Just for Fun...and some Bookkeeping

The Sunday Salon.com

I've been reading in print, audio and e-book for the Indie Lit Awards all month, and that includes yesterday, today, and on my day off tomorrow--we vote on the short lists at the beginning of March. I've got Shelf Awareness galleys stacked up with April and May pub dates. I've signed up for another BlogHer Book Club for next month. I think it's important to note that I'm not doing any of this reading under duress; I've chosen it all. It may have associated responsibilities and deadlines, but no one's put them on me except me.

Having said that, though, I do sometimes feel a desire to set it all aside for a bit and read something just for fun. Specifically, right now, I want to read this:

Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It
In Chicks Dig Time Lords, a host of award-winning female novelists, academics and actresses come together to celebrate the phenomenon that is Doctor Who, discuss their inventive involvement with the show’s fandom and examine why they adore the series.

These essays will delight male and female readers alike by delving into the extraordinary aspects of being a female Doctor Who enthusiast. Essays include Carole Barrowman discussing what it was like to grow up with her brother John (including the fact that he’s still afraid of shop-window dummies), columnist Jackie Jenkins providing a Bridget Jones’ Diary-style memoir of working on “Doctor Who Magazine,” novelist Lloyd Rose analyzing Rose’s changes between the ninth and tenth Doctors and much more.
I picked up this Hugo-Award-winning essay anthology earlier this weekend from one of the vendors at Gallifrey One, the annual Doctor Who convention held here in LA. With no new Who episodes coming for awhile and my enthusiasm for the Doctor rekindled by the con, I want to dive right into this. I'm trying to decide whether to allow myself a small sample now--after all, an essay anthology doesn't need to be read straight through, right? They're good choices for polygamous reading, aren't they?--or delay some gratification until I've done my Indie Lit Awards duty, at least. I'm torn. What would you do?

Also for fun: I'll be the guest blogger for the "Best and Worst" series at At Home With Books this Wednesday, talking about which of Jodi Picoult's books I think fall at which ends of that spectrum.

Reviews posted since the last report:

Reading in Progress/Upcoming reviews:
(Reviews of titles shortlisted for the Indie Lit Awards will not be posted until after voting is completed and winners are chosen)

New additions to TBR Purgatory:
ARCs/Review copies:

Books I bought:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

When Nerds Collide: An Online-Dating Success Story

There's something in my spam e-mail almost every day from one online dating site or another. I have no interest in or need for dating sites at this point in my life...but there was a time when I did, about seven years ago. Spam doesn't work for me, but online dating--via eHarmony--did.

It was nearly three years after my divorce from my first husband before I was ready to try dating again. Those three years had given me ample opportunity to think about what I wanted to find in a partner and what mattered in a relationship.

There were the big things, of course: compatible worldviews and values, intelligence, compassion, and, for me, sense of humor. But then there were any number of smaller things I felt would make day-to-day relating more enjoyable, such as similar frames of pop-culture reference and tastes in entertainment.

In order for those attributes to mesh well, a guy would have to be...well, a geek. But how would I find that geeky guy? The odds were good he might be online, and eHarmony's approach to online dating intrigued me. I wasn't interested in randomly skimming photos and sketchy profiles; eHarmony promised a method more like that of a matchmaker, making introductions based on analyzing the detailed personality profiles each member submitted and identifying compatibilities. I liked the idea of someone doing that screening for me.

Within a couple of days of joining eHarmony--I signed up for a year, because who knew how long this would take?--I was introduced to several men. Some didn't follow up, but a few moved forward into the next stages of eHarmony's "guided communication" process; by the time I entered the "open communication" stage with one of them, I felt like we were clicking, at least in writing. Less than two weeks after we were introduced, we met in person for a weekend lunch date.

Paul described himself as a "dork," but other things I knew about him didn't really jibe with my experience of dorks. He was creative--a trained artist/illustrator and aspiring photographer, working as a graphic designer--as opposed to scientific, he was into cars and motorcycles, and with his beard and earring, he definitely didn't look the part. He didn't even need glasses, due to having recently had LASIK surgery on his eyes. I questioned his nerd bona-fides, but looked forward to meeting him in person just the same.

Our Sunday lunch date lasted all afternoon, and we talked about all sorts of things, catching each other's references right and left. After a few more dates, I knew for sure--the guy's nerd credibility was established. He wasn't a techie, but he loved his technology, especially if it was made by Apple; he knew his way around a comic-book store; his music and movie libraries were both extensive, and we knew and liked many of the same things in both of those spheres; our senses of humor were warped in the same direction. He may not have looked the part, but he not only affirmed his nerdiness, he fully embraced it. On my second date with Paul, I told him I was "a geek's dream girl" during a conversation about how many seasons' worth of The Simpsons each of us owned on DVD (I had him beat).

Just a few weeks later, I was pretty sure he was my geeky dream guy, too, and told eHarmony there was no need to send me any more matches. I don't believe in soulmates, but if I did, I'd have thought I'd found mine.

Fortunately, he felt the same way, and almost ten months after that five-hour-long first date, he proposed. We got married on October 21, 2006--a second marriage for us both, and a wedding ceremony that included our respective children in forging a new family. We hit it off so easily, and so well, that it feels like we've known each other all our lives and sometimes I forget that we met online not quite seven years ago.

But even though we lived in neighboring towns at the time, chances are that without eHarmony Paul and I wouldn't have met at all. In fact, he'd only joined for three months initially, and had extended his membership just a week or two before I signed up; if the timing had been wrong, we might not have met even with eHarmony! I never expected to meet someone so right for me, and especially not so soon; I barely got a month's worth of matches out of that year's membership in eHarmony. But it was worth every penny, and getting to share every day with my geeky dream guy is priceless.

Shared perspectives with my partner--not just regarding the nerdy--matter to me, but what about you? You could win a $100 Visa gift card with your answer to this question:

What is the most important character trait your partner must have, and why? Leave your response in the comments to be entered for a chance to win!

Here are the giveaway rules:
No duplicate comments. 
You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods: 
a) Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post 
b) Tweet about this promotion and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post 
c) Blog about this promotion and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post 
d) For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry. 
This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected. The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 2/14/2012 - 3/15/2012.

Visit the BlogHer.com eHarmony page to check out more blogger success stories and for more chances to win!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Salon/Review Re-Post: *A Wrinkle in Time*

Yesterday in New York City, there was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time and the new commemorative edition published for the occasion:
"This special edition has been redesigned and includes an introduction by Katherine Paterson, an afterword by Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis (sister of YA author Léna Roy) that includes photographs and memorabilia, the author’s Newbery Medal acceptance speech, and other bonus materials."
In recognition of this literary event, it seems appropriate to re-post this Book Talk from October of 2010 (updated to reference the new edition, which I don't yet own but hope to soon).

A Wrinkle in Time
Madeleine L'Engle
Farrar Straus Giraux/Macmillan (2012), hardcover (ISBN 0374386161 / 9780374386160)
Fiction (middle grade/young adult), 280 pages (including supplemental material)
Source: personal copy
Reason for reading: Re-read for Banned Books Week 2010

Opening Lines: "It was a dark and stormy night."

Book Description: Meg Murry, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. She claims to have been blown off course, and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a "tesseract," which, if you didn't know, is a wrinkle in time.
Meg's father had been experimenting with time-travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?

Comments: Would you expect a novel that opens with one of the greatest first-line clichés of all time to be something so original? Well, maybe it wouldn't seem that way to you now, given that the book is nearly fifty years old, but I suspect it was in 1962 - and when I first read it, at the age of 12, it definitely was to me.

It's hard for me to be objective about this book. I've read A Wrinkle in Time more times than I can recall, although it had been years since I last picked it up. I decided that Banned Books Week 2010 would be a good time to reacquaint myself with an often-challenged novel that I have frequently listed among my all-time favorites, although I was a little nervous - would it still have a spot on that list after I finished it this time?

I shouldn't have worried. This is a novel that never gets old, but it seems that as I've gotten older, I've found more ways to appreciate it. The story of a fairly ordinary family - well, both parents are brilliant scientists, the eldest child's a misfit, and the youngest is more than a little unusual, but they're fairly ordinary aside from that - and a very out-of-the-ordinary adventure, A Wrinkle in Time incorporates elements of science fiction and fantasy and considers matters of philosophy and morality, and is written with appeal to readers of all ages. While this book won the Newbery Award, Madeleine L'Engle said that she didn't intentionally write it for children; at any rate, she certainly didn't write it down to children.

There are many things I have always loved about this book. Meg and Calvin are two of my favorite characters in any fiction, but I think I've grown fonder of Meg's parents - both Dr. Murrys - since I last saw them. Charles Wallace, however, strikes me as more enigmatic than I remembered; he's not exactly convincing as a five-year-old, but I'm pretty sure he's not supposed to be. Parents are imperfect and fallible, and children struggle to figure things out, but even under great stress and strain, the love and respect between family members can help hold things together.

In the Author's Introduction to an earlier edition of A Wrinkle in Time, L'Engle says that "In the Time novels, Meg...asks some big questions. Many of us ask these questions as we're growing up, but we tend to let them go because there's so much else to do. I write the books I do because I'm still asking the questions." It's handling those Big Questions that have made this book a modern classic - faith and reason, individuality and community, Good and Evil - and kept it a fixture on the banned/challenged books lists. However, one thing that's never struck me as being in question - in this novel or in others by the author - is that religious belief and scientific thought can not only coexist, they can inform and reinforce one another. I've long thought this, and I'm pretty sure that reading A Wrinkle in Time at a formative age helped point me that way.

Revisiting A Wrinkle in Time put me in mind of another novel I've grown to love that also considers the Big Questions and the relationship between science and spirituality, Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. Seeing the commonalities between them may have made me love A Wrinkle in Time even more.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Day at the Museum: Stuff I Saw at the Getty Villa

This past Sunday was much too nice a day to stay in and watch some football game, so we drove out to Malibu--not to go to the beach, but to visit a museum. 

Did you know that a "museum" means an institution filled with the presence of the Muses? It says so right here!

And at the Getty Villa, that's quite literally true...

The Getty Villa showcases its collection of Greek and Roman antiquities in a setting inspired by their place of origin, situated in the hills with a view of the Pacific Ocean.

The pools are only ornamental--no swimming allowed.

And no sitting on this throne, either (which doesn't look very comfortable anyway).

 The Temple of Herakles is quite impressive, but the layout of the floor tiles made me just a bit dizzy.

Jewelry and blown glass...

...perhaps once used by some of these fine people...

...who would eventually end up in some place like this.

Someone's watching! It looks like this guy could have been the in the world's earliest minstel show.
It was a rather tiring day, but a gorgeous place to spend it!

More photos from the Villa

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Susan and Her Story: A star that will keep on shining

Anyone who doubts that the sense of community among people who meet online is real has never seen what happens when we lose one of our own. It happened among book bloggers when Dewey passed away--a loss that was compounded by the fact that it was very much unexpected.

A larger, more diverse blogger community has had more time to prepare to lose one of its dearest members--she brought us on the journey with her--but the impact of her loss is just as profound. The "Goodbye" post on the blog Toddler Planet on February 6 wasn't unexpected, but it knocked the wind out of me anyway. 

I met Susan Niebur for the first time at BlogHer'09 in Chicago, but I already knew who she was - blogger, mom, astrophysicist, and cancer survivor. When Susan was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) - the least common and most deadly form of the disease - in 2007, fellow bloggers rallied around, forming Team Whymommy to support her in her battle against it. She won...that time. She had a recurrence of the cancer in 2010, and in early 2011, she learned that it was back once more. Susan fought hard--and never fought alone--but the cancer dealt the last blow. She left a husband, two young sons, and an unforgettable impression on many, many people; as her husband put it in that post, "She is survived by her family, friends, achievements, and the indelible marks she made on people around the world."

I only met Susan in person a few times, at the BlogHer conferences in 2009 and 2010, and certainly can't claim to have been close friends with her...but if you ever had the chance to speak with her at all, it was easy to come away from the conversation feeling like you were friends. When I ran into her the evening before BlogHer'10 began and she said "I'm glad to see you! You were on my list of people I wanted to talk to," it meant a lot to me.

But like most people who weren't her fellow DC Moms, or planetary scientists, or cancer activists, I mostly knew Susan through her words--thoughtful, inspiring, and unfailingly honest. I was moved by her response to "awareness" memes--
"Friends engaged me on FB and twitter too, talking about it, asking why I felt left out, and letting me know that the whole meme was staged by some women in the midwest urging awareness of breast cancer.
Aren’t we aware by now, people? Don’t we know that we need to understand our own bodies, take notice of changes in one breast but not the other, and call the doctor when we see that something’s changed? Don’t we know that we need to talk to our doctor about thermography or mammograms? Don’t we know?...
...(T)his was ostensibly an effort to raise awareness of breast cancer — but one in which breast cancer survivors themselves could not participate, and were reminded (as if we needed a reminder) that we didn’t need bras anymore, that most basic undergarment of women everywhere, that symbol of sexuality, for the simple reason that we had already sacrificed our breasts in a hail mary attempt to keep the rest of our bodies from dying of cancer."
--and inspired to join the Army of Women as a possible breast-cancer research volunteer. I've also donated in her memory to the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Susan made me aware that action, not "awareness," makes a difference. Research is the action that can bring about better treatments and, ultimately, perhaps a cure--and those of us that can't actually do the research can support the efforts of those who can.

When I look at the night sky--and look after my own health--I'll think of Susan. Her story--mother, scientist, activist, educator, survivor--needs to live on, and I believe that many of us who were fortunate enough to be touched by it will continue to tell it, and to be inspired by it. In her own words:
"All that survives after our death are publications and people. So look carefully after the words you write, the thoughts and publications you create, and how you love others. For these are the only things that will remain.”

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Talk: *Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis*, by Lauren Winner (Shelf Awareness review)

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis
Lauren Winner
HarperOne, 2012 (January 31) hardcover (ISBN 0061768111 / 9780061768118)
Nonfiction/memoir/spirituality, 272 pages

A version of this review was originally published in Shelf Awareness, Readers' Edition (January 31, 2012); SA's editors provided compensation and a galley of the book. The cover image links to IndieBound.org. I am an IndieBound affiliate.

Lauren Winner told the story of her conversion from Judaism to Christianity in her first memoir, 2002's Girl Meets God. A decade later, the fervor of the conversion experience has faded, and as she struggles to cope with the death of her mother and the demise of a marriage that perhaps never should have happened, the faith that she would have expected to sustain her through these challenges seems to have escaped her as well. In Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Winner chronicles her experience with that particular, unexpected loss--and, as the subtitle implies, how she found her way back.

Winner’s story reflects two of the meanings of its title: “still” as both a holding in place and an enduring over time. The book's structure follows its subtitle; it's a series of brief reflections over the course of the year in which she ends her marriage and gratefully learns that her relationship with God is not ending along with it. Rather, it's arrived at the place where the biggest part of it will be spent.

Beginnings and endings are easier to define and to process, but most of life is lived in the middle--and the middle is where we seem most likely to become lost. Winner writes thoughtfully and eloquently about finding herself in the middle and accepting her place there. Still is not prescriptive; Winner is not telling the reader how to address a faith crisis, particularly one that comes at the same time as some other crisis, but her insights may be helpful to those who have reached their own middles.

Book description, from the publisher's website:
In the critically acclaimed memoir Girl Meets God, Lauren F. Winner chronicled her sojourn from Judaism to Christianity. Now, in Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Winner describes how experiences of loss and failure unexpectedly slam her into a wall of doubt and spiritual despair: “My belief has faltered, my sense of God’s closeness has grown strained, my efforts at living in accord with what I take to be the call of the gospel have come undone.”
Witty, relatable, and fiercely honest, Winner lays bare her experience of what she calls the “middle” of the spiritual life. In elegant and spare prose, she explores why—in the midst of the overwhelming anxiety, loneliness, and boredom of her deepest questioning about where (or if) God is—the Christian story still explains who she is better than any other story she’s ever known. Still is an absorbing meditation combining literary grace with spiritual wisdom. It is sure to resonate with anyone looking to sustain a spiritual life in the midst of real life.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sunday Salon: "E-books vs. Print Books" is a Bogus Argument

The Sunday Salon.com

Although my husband is (almost) unfailingly supportive of my bookstore fetish, I don’t think he shares my dismay over the fact that we now live in a town without one. He likens the decline of bricks-and-mortar bookstores to the disappearance of record stores, which were being done in--first by big-box retailers, then by digital media--for years before the book-format wars began. He loved hanging out in record stores, and he misses album-cover art and sleeves with lyrics in non-microscopic print...but he appreciates being able to buy just the songs he wants off those albums, and to carry hundreds of his favorite songs in his pocket. Record stores aren’t quite extinct, but the survivors are supplying a specialty product to a niche market.

His prediction is that eventually--maybe even within a decade--print books will become a specialty product for a niche market too, and everyone else will be reading e-books (in various formats on their devices of choice).

I hope he’s wrong, but I think maybe he’s not, at least partially. I’m not sure his record store/bookstore analogy is perfect, and some market research has shown that e-book buyers are still buying print books as well. But would it really be a sign of the apocalypse if e-books did become the dominant way to read?

Jonathan Franzen may think so. I hope he's wrong too.

I love the experience of browsing in a bookstore, and it's hard for me to envision not feeling that way. But when I know exactly what book I want...well, lately, living in my town without a bookstore, I find myself just as likely to download it on my Kindle or iPad (which I've outfitted with both the Kindle and IndieBound Reader apps in addition to the native iBooks--I have multi-format capability). I may not get around to reading those downloads all that much sooner; in fact, sometimes it may take even longer to get to them, since I don't see them to be reminded that they’re residents of TBR Purgatory. On the other hand, they're not increasing the book clutter around my house. (On the other other hand, I like book clutter!)

Overall, though, I’m pretty much in agreement with what Jonathan Segura says in this post on NPR’s Monkey See blog:
“Here's the thing: you don't have to be a print book person or an e-book person. It's not an either/or proposition. You can choose to have your text delivered on paper with a pretty cover, or you can choose to have it delivered over the air to your sleek little device. You can even play it way loose and read in both formats !Crazy, right? To have choice. Neither is better or worse — for you, for the economy, for the sake of 'responsible self-government.' We should worry less about how people get their books and — say it with me now! — just be glad that people are reading.”
I love being surrounded by books, but not as objects (unless they're signed by the author); I love them for the stories they contain. If printed books do become a niche-market item, I'll be in that market. But I'll be in the e-book market too, because it's here to stay...and I must have my stories, however they come. I must be reading.

Have you been holding out against the e-book? Have you embraced it? And has it taken anything away from your love of the printed word?

Happy Super Bowl Sunday to you football fans and anyone else who will be observing it today! We're off to the Getty Villa and a day along the coast--I'll have my Kindle with me to do some reading along the way. We're recording the Puppy Bowl to watch after we get home. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Book Talk: *A Thousand Lives*, by Julia Scheeres

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Faith, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown
Julia Scheeres
Free Press (2011), Hardcover, 320 pages (ISBN 1416596399 / 9781416596394)
Nonfiction/history, 320 pages
Source: ARC from publisher (published October 2011)
Reason for reading: personal

Opening lines (from the Introduction): “Had I walked by 1859 Geary Boulevard in San Francisco when Peoples Temple was in full swing, I certainly would have been drawn to the doorway...I would have been thrilled and amazed by Peoples Temple, a place where blacks and whites worshipped side by side, the preacher taught social justice instead of damnation, and the gospel choir transported the congregation to a loftier realm...Unfortunately, the laudable aspects of Peoples Temple have been forgotten in the horrifying wake of Jonestown.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website: In 1954, a pastor named Jim Jones opened a church in Indianapolis called Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church. He was a charismatic preacher with idealistic beliefs, and he quickly filled his pews with an audience eager to hear his sermons on social justice. After Jones moved his church to Northern California in 1965, he became a major player in Northern California politics; he provided vital support in electing friendly political candidates to office, and they in turn offered him a protective shield that kept stories of abuse and fraud out of the papers. Even as Jones’ behavior became erratic and his message more ominous, his followers found it increasingly difficult to pull away from the church. By the time Jones relocated the Peoples Temple a final time to a remote jungle in Guyana and the U.S. Government decided to investigate allegations of abuse and false imprisonment in Jonestown, it was too late. 
The people who built Jonestown wanted to forge a better life for themselves and their children. They sought to create a truly egalitarian society. In South America, however, they found themselves trapped in Jonestown and cut off from the outside world as their leader goaded them toward committing “revolutionary suicide” and deprived them of food, sleep, and hope. Yet even as Jones resorted to lies and psychological warfare, Jonestown residents fought for their community, struggling to maintain their gardens, their school, their families, and their grip on reality.
Comments: I was a freshman at a Catholic high school in November 1978, when the news broke about the 900 deaths from poisoned Kool-Aid at Jonestown, Guyana; I think that was part of the reason why, at some point in each year’s required religion class, we had a discussion about the dangers of cults. I’m not sure there’s as much awareness of, or interest in, the topic these days; I’m not sure that a cult could actually operate the way Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple did any more. (It’s a lot harder to isolate a large group of people and hold their attention, for one thing.) But the story of Peoples Temple still warrants attention, and in A Thousand Lives, Julia Scheeres tells it with a degree of thoroughness and detail that it’s rarely been given before. Although most of the principals of Peoples Temple died with it and many of its own records were destroyed before they could be seized, she was granted unusual access to remaining documents and government files, and was able to conduct in-depth interviews with some survivors of the massacre.

Yes, Jonestown did have survivors, and not all of the Peoples Temple’s members were actually in Jonestown when Jones and his followers took (or, in some cases, were force-fed or injected with) cyanide-laced fruit punch. The fact that some followers--including over two hundred children--did not die by their own hand makes the term “massacre” more generally applicable to what happened than “mass suicide,” although “tragedy” certainly fits as well.

Scheeres digs into the background of Peoples Temple, revealing that the group was formed almost twenty years before its founder spearheaded its relocation to Central America. In its early years, first in the Midwest and then in Northern California, Jim Jones attracted followers though his charismatic preaching and won their personal loyalty with his church’s idealistic devotion to social justice and equality. But as the groundwork was laid for the move to Guyana, the driving force behind the group became more more political; Jones had become a true believer in socialism, and he and other Temple leaders kept members in line through fear and threats of government persecution. In its later years, Peoples Temple was a cult of personality and politics that had little to do with religion; as good socialists, members were expected to reject God and put their faith in Jim Jones. By the time that some of them understood just how misplaced that faith was, they’d given up all their personal possessions to follow a man with an increasingly paranoid and dangerous worldview, and were stranded thousands of miles from their original homes and worried families.

A Thousand Lives isn’t so much the story of Jim Jones himself; as the title implies, Scheeres filters that story through the perspectives of several Peoples Temple members--a pair of elderly African-American sisters, a former schoolteacher, a troubled young man from the Oakland ghetto, and a blue-collar father and his teenage son. These people are portrayed with great compassion, and vividly convey the complexity and confusion that riddled Jonestown. They may have been bit players in the overall narrative of Peoples Temple, but their stories are important, and they add depth and dimension to a history we may have thought we knew. Its ending may be well-known, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of this tragic tale; A Thousand Lives is a fascinating, and shattering, read.

Rating: 3.75/5

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