Friday, December 19, 2014

Beginning ~ with choosing a name

Pearl of China ~ by Anchee Min, 2010, fiction (China)
Before I was Willow, I was Weed.  My grandmother, NaiNai, insisted that naming me Weed was better.  She believed that the gods would have a hard time making my life go lower if I was already at the bottom.  Papa disagreed.  "Men want to marry flowers, not weeds."  They argued and finally settled for Willow, which was considered "gentle enough to weep and tough enough to be made into farming tools."  I always wondered what my mother would have thought if she had lived.
This novel is based on the life of Pearl Buck.  Years ago, I read The Good Earth, which is Pearl Buck's most famous novel.  The last question in a discussion guide says:  "If you have read The Good Earth, discuss similarities and differences between Buck’s novel and Min’s Pearl of China.  How does each author portray the people, land, and troubles of rural China?"  I wonder how different this book will be.  I'm reading it for my book club's first discussion of 2015.  Here's a summary:
It is the end of the nineteenth century and China is riding on the crest of great change, but for nine-year-old Willow, the only child of a destitute family in the small southern town of Chin-kiang, nothing ever seems to change.  Until the day she meets Pearl, the eldest daughter of a zealous American missionary.  Pearl is head-strong, independent and fiercely intelligent, and will grow up to be Pearl S. Buck, the Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning writer and humanitarian activist, but for now all Willow knows is that she has never met anyone like her in all her life.  From the start the two are thick as thieves, but when the Boxer Rebellion rocks the nation, Pearl's family is forced to leave China to flee religious persecution.  As the twentieth century unfolds in all its turmoil, through right-wing military coups and Mao's Red Revolution, through bad marriages and broken dreams, the two girls cling to their lifelong friendship across the sea.  In this ambitious and moving new novel, Anchee Min, acclaimed author of Empress Orchid and Red Azalea, brings to life a courageous and passionate woman who loved the country of her childhood and who has been hailed in China as a modern heroine.



Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

BTT (#44) ~ young adult books

Deb at Booking Through Thursday asks:  "Do you read books written for children or teens?  Or do you stick to books for adults?"

I read a variety of books, fiction and nonfiction for adults and teens (YA).  I also read children's "chapter books" and picture books for the very young.  One of my favorite YA fiction books was....

Out of My Mind ~ by Sharon M. Draper, 2010, YA fiction, 9/10
Click on the title, and the link will take you to my review of the book.  The excellent writing really pulled me in and held my attention.
One of my favorite children's picture books was...

Old Turtle and the Broken Truth ~ by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Jon J Muth, 2003, children's, 10/10
I've loved this one for years — and have my own copy in a box somewhere.  The earth and all its creatures are suffering, because the people will not share their truth with those who are different from them.  Their truth gives them happiness and power.  Then one brave little girl seeks the wisdom of the ancient Old Turtle, who sees that the people's truth is not a whole truth, but a broken truth.  Old Turtle shows the girl the missing part of the truth, and the little girl returns with it to her people.  When the pieces are brought together, the broken truth is made whole at last — "You are loved ... and so are they."  It's a ten (10 of 10), couldn't put it down.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TWOsday ~ two "found" books

I went to the library to pick up the book I had on reserve and — AFTER checking it out — I noticed a display with bookmarks in every book that said...
A Best Book of 2014!  Chosen as a best book of the year by two or more publications including:  Library Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and more.
Right in front of me was the one my friend Donna had already told me looks good.  Beside it was another book I'd read about and meant to look up sometime.  I checked out both.

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything ~ by Barbara Ehrenreich, 2014, memoir
From the New York Times bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed comes a brave, frank, and exquisitely written memoir that will change the way you see the world.  Barbara Ehrenreich is one of the most important thinkers of our time.   Educated as a scientist, she is an author, journalist, activist, and advocate for social justice.  In Living with a Wild God, she recounts her quest — beginning in childhood — to find "the Truth" about the universe and everything else:  What's really going on?  Why are we here?  In middle age, she rediscovered the journal she had kept during her tumultuous adolescence, which records an event so strange, so cataclysmic, that she had never, in all the intervening years, written or spoken about it to anyone.  It was the kind of event that people call a "mystical experience" — and, to a steadfast atheist and rationalist, nothing less than shattering.  In Living with a Wild God, Ehrenreich reconstructs her childhood mission, bringing an older woman's wry and erudite perspective to a young girl's impassioned obsession with the questions that, at one point or another, torment us all.  The result is both deeply personal and cosmically sweeping — a searing memoir and a profound reflection on science, religion, and the human condition.  With her signature combination of intellectual rigor and uninhibited imagination, Ehrenreich offers a true literary achievement — a work that has the power not only to entertain but amaze.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History ~ by Elizabeth Kolbert, 2014
Over the last half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted.  Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.  This time around, the cataclysm is us.  In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before.  Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes.  She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday Mindfulness ~ consciousness

"You exist in time, but you belong to eternity.
You are a penetration of eternity into the world of time.
You are deathless, living in a body of death.
Your consciousness knows no death, no birth.
It is only your body that is born and dies.
But you are not aware of your consciousness.
You are not conscious of your consciousness,
and that is the whole art of meditation —
becoming conscious of consciousness itself."
— Osho

Friday, December 12, 2014

Beginning ~ at the window

The Altered I: Ursula K. Le Guin's Science Fiction Writing Workshop ~ edited by Lee Harding, 1976, 1978
Miriam stood at the big window of the infirmary ward and looked out at the view and thought, For twenty-five years I have been standing at this window and looking out at this view.  And never once have I seen what I wanted to see.  Nor will I ever see it.  Never again.  O Jerusalem, if I forget thee!
This is the first paragraph of Le Guin's short story "The Eye Altering" (pages 17-28 of this book) that she wrote in the spring of 1975.  She calls it a "first typed draft."  Here's the blurb from the back of my paperback copy of the book:
The Dandenong Experiment.  The astounding science fiction in this book is the result of an even more astounding — and unsettling — experiment.  In 1975 twenty SF writers isolated themselves in the remote Dandenong Range of Australia and began, under the leadership of Ursula K. Le Guin, a bizarre series of exercises designed to deliberately alter their human and literary perceptions, with the intention of exploring, and if possible expanding, the outer limits of science fiction... The experiment was judged a success.  That success is now in your hands:  a unique work of the imagination that has opened unforeseen new horizons!
I've read this book three times already: in 1978, in 1981, and in 1990. It's been 24 years since the last time, and I've forgotten all the details. I'm ready to read it again.


Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Library Loot ~ December 10-16

Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference ~ by Cordelia Fine, 2010, women's studies
A brilliantly researched and wickedly funny rebuttal of the pseudo-scientific claim that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.  It’s the twenty-first century, and although we tried to rear unisex children — boys who play with dolls and girls who like trucks — we failed.  Even though the glass ceiling is cracked, most women stay comfortably beneath it.  And everywhere we hear about vitally important "hardwired" differences between male and female brains.  The neuroscience that we read about in magazines, newspaper articles, books, and sometimes even scientific journals increasingly tells a tale of two brains, and the result is more often than not a validation of the status quo.  Women, it seems, are just too intuitive for math; men too focused for housework.  Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and psychology, Cordelia Fine debunks the myth of hardwired differences between men’s and women’s brains, unraveling the evidence behind such claims as men’s brains aren’t wired for empathy and women’s brains aren’t made to fix cars. She then goes one step further, offering a very different explanation of the dissimilarities between men’s and women’s behavior.  Instead of a "male brain" and a "female brain," Fine gives us a glimpse of plastic, mutable minds that are continuously influenced by cultural assumptions about gender.  Passionately argued and unfailingly astute, this book provides us with a much-needed corrective to the belief that men’s and women’s brains are intrinsically different — a belief that, as Fine shows with insight and humor, all too often works to the detriment of ourselves and our society.
The line that jumps out at me is that "we tried to rear unisex children — boys who play with dolls and girls who like trucks — we failed."  I have two daughters and one son.  The twins are three years older than their brother, and I was a feminist when they were growing up in the 1960s.  I gave toy cars and trucks and dolls to all three children, but yes — "we failed."  My children didn't become "unisex," but I do have competent daughters and a compassionate son.  What "failed" was that, although each of them played with the same toys, their play was different.

Cars and trucks
My daughters "talked" as they pushed little cars from place to place.  "We go around the corner and over the bridge to grandmother's house, and we park the car and go inside."  My son, on the other hand, pushed his cars while making noises for it:  "Vroom!  Vroom!  VROOM!  Screeeech, BANG!"  I didn't teach them how to play, so it must have been innate.

Dolls
The girls cuddled their dolls and rocked them to sleep.  They put them to bed and covered them up with doll blankets as they played "house" with each other.  My little boy insisted on having G.I. Joe dolls, not baby dolls.  His idea of playing with dolls was to tie a handkerchief or wash cloth to the doll with strings and throw it off the deck to see if his make-shift parachute would work.  G.I. Joe usually fell rapidly to the ground, landing with a splat!

How scientific is that anecdotal evidence?  Not very.  But I'll be interested in seeing what Cordelia Fine has to say about society and neurosexism.  I can debunk the idea that "men’s brains aren’t wired for empathy and women’s brains aren’t made to fix cars."  I could do a better job of fixing what was wrong with my car than the man who pulled up behind my stalled car one day, jumped out and ran up to grab the pliers out of my hand (he was truly trying to be helpful).  But then he just stood there, staring at the motor of my car.  I took back my pliers, thanked him, fixed the problem, and drove off.  Meanwhile, I can assure you I raised a perfectly fine young man with oodles of empathy, who cares for others.
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages us to share the names of books we checked out of the library.  See what others got this week.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mindfulness ~ coping with stress

Source of photo
Mindfulness helps teens cope with stress and anxiety, according to an article I read last week.  The photo (from the article) shows a room that I find peaceful because of the painting on the wall of what appears to me to be autumn leaves blowing in the wind.  See the swirls of "white wind" and loose leaves of all sizes?  I think I'll start alternating days of exercise with days of mindful meditation.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday ~ exercise an hour        Tuesday ~ mindful meditation
Wednesday ~ exercise              Thursday ~ mindful meditation
Friday ~ exercise an hour         Saturday ~ mindful meditation
Sunday ~ a day of rest