Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Reading Report: summer 2011

English Creek- Ivan Doig.  This one is excellent.  It's kind of a guy book-- it's a coming of age story about Jick McCaskill, the son of a forest ranger on a fictional Montana national forest, during one tumultuous summer. Many things happen, some big, but also many small moments, about fishing and haying and the Fourth of July.  It's beautifully written, and it beautifully describes a moment in the history of the American West that has almost completely vanished.  The McCaskill family is well-established; their existence is not the homesteaders' precarious struggle for survival.  But still it is the summer of 1939, and money is scarce.  World War II hasn't started yet.  There are cars and trucks, but mostly Jick and his dad get around on horseback. 

It takes place in a fictional Montana county that, if it were real, would be located a couple of hours from where we live.  The occasional references to real places made it fun to read, and since Doig is a native Montanan, he gets it exactly, precisely, right:  the breathtaking, addictive scenery; the way the clear, cold air can clear your head.  It's not a book for everyone, but if you like horses, or fishing, or have any interest in the history of the West, it's well worth reading.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Dubliners- James Joyce.  This one was "sort of" for school.  It's one of Joyce's earliest works, and it's far easier to read than his later stuff.  There are characters in Ulysses who show up first in Dubliners, so I thought it would be an interesting read.  And it is.  In the same way that your opinion of some modern, out-there, abstract artist is improved when you see her early work and realize that wow, she really can draw, these short stories prove that Joyce is truly a great writer, and not just someone who was out to bamboozle people with the most complicated work he could possibly think up-- which is sometimes what you think when you're slogging through Ulysses and about to throw up your hands in exasperation. 

Back Spin- Harlan Coben. This is the 4th in the Myron Bolitar series, and it's my least favorite so far.  It's about a golf player who finally reaches the top of the leader board at the USOpen again after choking at a similar point many years before.  On the eve of his big moment, his son is kidnapped.  I hadn't read one of this series since last summer, and while it was good enough to make me look forward to moving on to the 5th, it didn't have nearly the impact of the last one I read.  It is just too complicated.  There were not one, not two, but three big reveals at the end.  And the goofy humor that is Myron's trademark seemed overdone and intrusive instead of quirky and endearing.  But it surely kept me absorbed through a couple of days of vacation-- I had to force myself to put it down at one point and rejoin the family because I'd become so immersed in it I was in danger of being disowned.

Making Waves- Tawna Fenske.  I've been a regular reader of Tawna's blog for several months now, mainly because she makes me laugh early in the morning, which is similar in difficulty level to making Atilla the Hun cuddle baby chicks.  So I was excited to read Making Waves, her debut novel, which she's been blogging about for a long time.  It's well worth reading.  The opening scene, where Juli, the heroine, is helping her mother make the most bizarre jello salad you've ever heard of (and I've seen some strange ones), is absolutely hilarious in an understated, brilliant kind of way.  And Juli's first interaction with the hero, Alex, is similarly clever.  I'm in awe that this is a first novel.  It's maybe a little uneven, and the pacing runs in fits and starts, but it is as much fun as I've had reading a book in a long time.  Perfect beach or plane read.  Good job, Tawna!  After reading her blog I feel like we're friends, even though she has no idea who I am.

This has also been my summer of Georgette Heyer.  I think I've read about a dozen of hers now.  Fortunately for me, she's written about 30 novels, so I haven't even come close to reading them all.  Some of them I've liked better than others, but none of them has been awful (although some of the really early ones, like These Old Shades, come close).  My favorites so far are Cotillion, The Nonesuch, Bath Tangle, A Civil Contract, and The Unknown Ajax.  Heyer takes some getting used to if you're used to contemporary romance novels.  She uses exclamation points with abandon.  There is no steamy sex.  And there are rarely big, detailed denouements.  The first few I read I found enormously unsatisfying because the resolution of the relationship between the hero and heroine took place in about two paragraphs on the very last page.  But once you get used to that, you start to see how subtly she sets things up, the little ways that the characters gradually learn to appreciate each other, instead of the sledgehammer effect of so many contemporary novels.  I've become so enamored of Heyer's restraint that it has ruined contemporary novels for me.  I tried reading a few other authors I've enjoyed in the past recently, and they pale by comparison.  Which is why none of them (except Making Waves) are getting reviewed here, not even the one I just finished, which I disliked so intensely that I'm tempted to wax eloquent.  But it's not worth it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

meta-blog: a blog post about blogging

My husband's family discovered my blog recently, so when we saw them while on vacation, I got several comments and questions about it.  (And by the way, if any of you are still checking in, welcome, and thanks for stopping by!)  Answering their questions made me think about why I do this (because they wondered, and sometimes I do, too), and what the implications are.

So first of all, why I started.  I started the first version of Aunt BeaN's Blog back in October of 2003.  As soon as I heard about blogs, I knew I wanted to have one.  Partly just to have a place to type out all the strange things I think about all the time.  But also because I had a vision of a community of people who were recovering from fundamentalist childhoods.  There had been a number of times when I searched for such a community myself, but I only found people who were recovering from having joined cults-- usually as adults.  There were some similarities, but it wasn't what I wanted.  They didn't share that nostalgia for the good parts of their fundamentalist experience, the way the sound of one of my old favorite hymns can bring tears to my eyes, or the profound love and respect I still feel for my relatives who are faithful Christians. 

At the time, I felt like I had Really Significant Things To Say about spirituality and recovering from fundamentalism.  I thought it was Important to Get My Thoughts Out There.  Which makes me roll my eyes now.  Mostly because there has been such a huge non-response.  Even though I carefully seeded my profile with terms people might google when they were struggling with their background, in eight years I don't think I've ever had someone find my blog for that reason.  There was one guy who commented on one of my posts when I was about two years into it, but I never heard from him again and I don't think he stuck around.  There was no stats page back then, so I'm not sure how he got here.  As far as I can tell, the only people who have ever found this blog are people I've told about it--either directly, or indirectly by participating on someone else's blog.    

But the other reason it makes me amused is because that intensity that I felt about sharing my experience was in itself a kind of evangelical fervor.  I think I am a much better writer about issues of faith (and anything else) now, partly because I had so little success in interesting people in what I had to say when I was using that tone.  Now that I have a more balanced perspective of what exactly you can do with a blog, it's both more interesting to read (I hope) and more useful to me.  I truly do write for myself now.  I write about the things I'm trying to figure out.  I love it when people are interested by it and have opinions and we can discuss things a little (even though it doesn't happen very often), but I would still keep doing this even if no one else ever read it.

Which brings me to dh's family's concerns about privacy.  Those of you who have been around for awhile know that I've only just started to overcome my own concerns about privacy.  Up until last summer when I started writing posts about my dad, I don't think I had ever posted anything specific about my personal life.  I posted what I was thinking about, and reviews of books I read, but I rarely if ever wrote about specific situations or people.  I never got more specific about my location than "Northern Rockies," and up until about two or three months ago, didn't use my name.

I read an article in Time magazine this past weekend that summarized what I've been realizing about internet privacy over the last few months.  It was the Man of the Year article, which probably came out back in January or so (so I am way behind as usual), and it was about the Facebook guy.  The profile of him is interesting and worth reading, but the thing that interested me more was the writer's analysis of how the internet has changed over the years.

The early adopters, including me (I was using e-mail and posting on bulletin boards back in the mid-80s), saw the Internet as a place where you could (and should) be completely anonymous-- you could leave behind the social persona you had (or were stuck with) in the real world, and set yourself free as an anonymous person in the virtual world.  You could be anyone.  The anonymity both let you create a new identity and supposedly protected you from internet stalkers.  But--as the article points out-- all that did was create open season for pornographers and perverts.  It didn't really do much for the rest of us.

Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who created Facebook, has a different vision, where the Internet is a web of people you know and who know you.  You are yourself, and the connections created in the absence of being pinned to a specific geographic location allow you to find other people you would never find on your own in the "real" world.  So you can get movie recommendations from people you know, so you know whether or not their taste is similar to yours (one tiny example).  It's a very interesting article, and I'm probably not explaining it very well.

And it reflects how I've come to feel about this blog.  I still am careful about what I say, particularly about my loved ones who appear here even though they may not be all that excited about it.  But I'm no longer afraid to be "outed" as the writer of this blog.  I know from experience that it would be a tempest in a teapot.  It would make a big difference to a very few people, some of whom would love it and some who would be shocked or angered by it, but for the most part, it would be a tiny, tiny, miniscule blip in the internet world, where there are hundreds of thousands of blogs.

I have a few more thoughts about this, but it's plenty long enough already and I am out of time.  It may dribble over into another post sometime.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

odds and ends

So... a few things before we take off for yet another trip-- followups from old posts.

I'm feeling a bit uneasy about the post I wrote on the 4th of July.  I meant it in the vein of "there's no place like home," not that the US is better than anyplace else.  I went back and tried to re-word it, but then figured no one would see it if I did that, so I'll just say this here.  Apologies if I sounded like a boorish American. 

Also, referring back to a post I wrote in March, the PC-USA did ratify amendment 10-A, allowing noncelibate GLBTs to be ordained in churches in our denomination.  I got a call from our pastor this afternoon, and it looks like I will be joining the church this Sunday!  Better late than never.  I hope.

 We are off to the Southeastern US.  It will be hot and humid, and looking at the forecast-- a little rainy.  but we'll have a blast anyway.  Lots of fun with cousins and dh's siblings.  There is a computer at the house, but I probably won't be on it much, so I'll be back the week after!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

in praise of books, the kind you hold in your hand

I was clicking around on various blogs yesterday and ran across a pretty scathing post about people who still prefer the "feel" of a real book to an eReader.  He made it sound like people who enjoy an actual physical book in their hands are neanderthals, with barely enough intelligence to speak a sentence, let alone appreciate the written word.  I almost commented at length about what I like about real books as opposed to the electronic version, but I don't know the guy and I hate arguing.  So I'll just write my own post about why I like books.

I will say, though, that I like my eReaders, too.  I have two, if you remember--a Kindle and a Sony Reader-- both received as gifts.  Since I love physical books so much, it probably would have been many years before I broke down and bought one on my own.  I have to say that I am slowly being won over.  I often have one of my eReaders in my purse, for when I get caught waiting somewhere.  And of course their #1 best feature:  you can have a hundred books right there in your hand.  Or 300.  You can't beat an eReader for vacation.  I used to have books tucked everywhere around my clothes in my suitcase, and it wasn't uncommon for me to run out of reading material and "have to" go to a bookstore and buy more.  But I still love books, the real thing, with pages that turn.

First of all, and this is the most common complaint I hear from people that have an eReader: it is difficult to go back and find something that you want to re-read.  If Joe Schmoe appears two chapters from the end of a book, and you know he's already shown up once but you can't remember if he's the main character's uncle or her cousin, in a "real" book, it is easy to flip back and find out.  On an eReader, it's such a chore that it's almost not worth it. You can do it of course-- using the search function for 'Joe Schmoe' or taking a wild guess at the location using the 'Go to' feature-- but either of those is irritatingly cumbersome compared to just being able to flip back.

And related to that-- I know I'm not the only one who remembers where things are on the page.  When Joe Schmoe appeared the first time, I will probably remember that it was on the bottom of the left-hand side of the page, which makes it simple to flip back and find him.  On an eReader, the position of text on the screen is variable, and it can be in a different place every time you read it-- especially if you mess with the size of the font. 

And another thing.  On a plane, all electronic devices must be turned off for takeoff and landing.  Depending on the flight and how early they make the announcement, that can be 20-30 minutes (or more) on either end of the flight.  Which leaves you with nearly an hour to fill for each flight you're on.  If you're not ADD-ish, this may not be a problem, but it's enough to make me nuts.  The prohibition includes phones, iPods and eReaders of all varieties, whether or not you have the wireless turned off or even if it doesn't have wireless.  So I always have a "real" book with me for the plane.

People who underline or make notes in the margin while they read will be frustrated-- you can annotate and highlight with an eReader, but it's not nearly as easy to do as having a pencil in your hand and just jotting something down.  And when I was studying this past spring, I found it much easier to find handwritten annotations in the margin of a book than to find a highlighted section of text on a eReader.

And then there's the whole "feel of a book" thing which made yesterday's blogger was so contemptuous.  He's older than I am, so it's apparently not age-related, which is what I would have guessed.  I'm not sure why he's so excited about sitting down with an electronic device, but it just doesn't have the same feel.  On a winter night when it's dark and a little stormy out, I want to sit down in front of the fire with a cup of tea and a book.  It's old fashioned, I know.  But there you go.

And finally, one of the main things you lose with an eReader is the row of books on the shelf.  Which is endlessly entertaining to me.  One of the reasons we bought the house we've lived in for 12 years now is because there is an office downstairs with two walls of bookshelves.  I can be happy for an hour down there, puttering around, rearranging books on the shelves, remembering old favorites, making a pile of books I've yet to read, culling a few to take to the library used book sale.  I'll even confess to having bought a couple of books after having read them on the Kindle just so I could have a copy on the shelf down in the office.  and that is just a little bit neurotic, I know.  But whoever said that personal preferences have to make sense?

I'm trying to think of ways that eReaders are better than books (besides their enormous capacity).  You can have games on them, and a "notepad" for typing your to-do list, so they offer more than one kind of usefulness.  They're lighter than many books, especially hardbacks (but I rarely buy hardbacks).  And with a Kindle, you have the instant gratification of hearing about a book and being able to buy it and start reading it practically immediately, which is addictive and disturbingly (for the sake of my book budget) easy to do.

We're off to the beach next week for our annual reunion with dh's side of the family.  I'll take both eReaders (because dh and the kids use them, too), and several physical books, too.  Whatever the format, there's nothing better than reading on vacation!  What about you?  which format do you prefer, and why?

Monday, July 04, 2011

purple mountain majesty

We've got our problems, I know, but I'm celebrating living in the USA today. In all my travels, I've never found any other country where I'd rather live.  I even think that all those taxes we pay are a bargain to get to live here.  So anyway, here's what we did on Saturday-- a 3-mile hike about 90 minutes from our house.  What's beautiful about where you live?

and p.s.  Grammar mavens, weigh in.  Is it purple mountain's majesty (majesty possessed by the purple mountains), or purple mountains majesty (majesty modifying mountains, poetic but not making particularly good sense), or purple mountain majesties (purple and mountain are both abjectives modifying majesties)?  or there are more ways you could interpret it.  We grammar types get off on this stuff, you know.  According to wikipedia, it is the third option, but I've never sung it that way so I'm changing it to whatever the heck I want.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

suddenly, the phone rang.

For the last 25 years, I've felt a small clench in my stomach when the phone rings.  It will sound stupid when I admit this, but when has that stopped me before.  First of all, because I have a hatred/fear of talking on the phone that borders on phobia.  But also because it might be my dad.  His influence on me when I was young was practically mind control-- not because he was so awful, but because I was so anxious to please him that I took everything he said, all his attitudes, far too seriously.  And he had paternal and religious authority to back him up, not to mention that he was three times my size.  That's not to say that I take it as my fault that he was so overbearing, but just that I can acknowledge with 50 years of experience with my personality that I'm prone to that kind of thing-- that anxious, hand-wringing state of mind that doubts my own perceptions and worriedly tries to figure out what everyone else wants so I can produce it.

Dad played on that, to be sure.  He didn't mind that his middle daughter would do or say almost anything to please him.  He wasn't one of those fathers that wanted his daughters to grow up to be strong and opinionated.  Well, actually, he probably would have said that was what he wanted, but that wasn't the kind of attitude he fostered.  He fostered subservience, instant agreement to his opinions; we could earn his instant, icy disfavor if we got angry at him or rebelled.

Anyway.  I'm getting off track.  The point I was trying to make is that when I finally started going through therapy in my mid-twenties, in some ways it was like recovering from brainwashing.  So it was really, really difficult to be around him in anything but the most casual of situations because I was so well-trained to just default to his opinions, his way of thinking.  It literally scared me to be around him for many, many years because I was so afraid that I would give in to him, that he would have that kind of control over me again.  It was a long time before I could trust myself enough to know that I was too strong for him to control ever again.

So you take my dread of talking on the phone in any circumstances, and add to it my fear of talking specifically to him, and you get that knot in my stomach every time the phone rang.  It's the reason we finally got caller ID after many years of resisting all those fancy newfangled phone features (which may come as a surprise for the three of my readers who aren't old enough to remember back when phones didn't have caller ID)(heck, we still had a phone sitting in the closet that had a rotary dial up until about five or six years ago).  So if I was home alone, I could check the phone first and see if it was Dad.  I would (usually) still answer, but I had a few seconds to take a deep breath and be ready before I answered.

So last week I was home alone on Wednesday morning and the phone rang.  And it suddenly occurred to me that it couldn't be my dad.  It will never again be my dad.  The repercussions of that are still sinking in-- I can feel it like a mellow, glad sound reverberating through the layers of myself.  It feels like a bodily sensation, that relief, that relaxing of anxiety.  I felt a bit guilty about this at first, because it seemed so disrespectful of the dead to be relieved that he is gone.

But I've discovered --to my surprise-- that as I let that relief sink in, the good memories are coming back.  He used to lie on the couch in the living room and play King of the Mountain-- the three of us (who were all under age ten or so at that point) would try to roll him off the couch, giggling hysterically all the while.  And how utterly comforting it was to be able to hold his hand in a strange place. And his intuitive sense that something was bothering me-- he didn't always have it, but he knew more often than my mom did, that his odd, introverted middle daughter was bugged by something.  He was a good man.

Friday, July 01, 2011


Listen, I know this is keeping you awake nights, so I'll just tell you:  I'm completely in favor of the serial comma.  Also known as the Oxford comma, a bit of grammar trivia I just learned tonight while reading this blog post.  That's the way I learned it in sixth grade from Mrs. Burton, along with how to diagram a sentence, and that's the way it should be.  I'm knocking on the door of fifty, and I've decided that I am now officially entrenched in my opinions.  (For those of you who couldn't care less about commas, a serial comma is the one that appears before the "and" in a list:  four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.  There are many who insist you should write four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.  Which is Wrong.  Just sayin'.) (actually, if you couldn't care less about commas, you probably didn't want to know that.)

MadMax had to learn to diagram sentences this year.  He thought it was the biggest waste of time ever.  Ever? I said.  Because coming from a kid who would spend hours a day playing Facebook games if we let him, this seems a bit rich.  I only have vague memories of diagramming sentences, and I probably couldn't do it now if you held a gun to my head.  But I kind of liked it at the time.

But I'm a language nut, so my opinion may be way out on the far end of the bell curve on this one.  It continually astonishes me that we can look at black marks on a sheet of paper and enter into an entire other world-- maybe a world that resembles our own, maybe one that is as different as can be.  (I read an André Norton novel once when I was MadMax's age that took place on a planet inhabited by intelligent cats.  very cool.)

Which is not to say I have exemplary grammar.  I'm fascinated by grammar, but I don't always remember it.   And I spent many of my formative years in East Texas, where highbrow phrases like "I might could help you" and "Can you carry me to the mall?" abound.  But there are certain grammar rules that I choose to enforce strictly-- "Me and Dylan are having a sleepover" is not acceptable at our house; and if someone asks me, "How are you doing?" I cannot say "Good," even though I don't notice it when someone else says it, and it's perfectly acceptable now, anyway.

I think that might be what I love about being a literature student.  Language astonishes me, words amaze me-- the things you can do with words, the effects you can create, the artistry of a beautifully written sentence, the surprise of an unexpected word.  Euglena. Parsimonious. Dapper. Hermaphrodite. Unintelligible. Balmy. Redolent.  Unguent.  ha-- while thinking up cool words to put in this paragraph, I ended up at the Merriam Webster website and got lost for twenty minutes reading lists of words.

Which is why I do think there is such a thing as literary art, an idea that is becoming passé in academic circles.  Don't get me started.  It's too late tonight. 

I've acquired two mosquito bites while sitting here.  I think we need a new screen door.  Do you have a favorite word(s)?  Not because of what the word means, but because of how the word sounds, or the way it looks on the page, or the effect it produces.  I had a friend once who loved b-z words:  bizarre, Byzantine, Bismarck, abysmal.  Maybe mine is undulating