Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I bought a book today

Big surprise, huh? The surprise is my reason for buying it. I'm on Facebook, where folks change their "status" fairly often. I have a hard time deciding what to say and, since I like it when others share little aphorisms, I got this book to share "tranquil" sayings. You have the privilege of reading my very first selection from the book, from page 257 of A Thousand Paths to Tranquillity by David Baird (2000). Maybe I should even call it a teaser.

"It is the same moon that is reflected in the puddles as in the fountains."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Justice ~ What's the right thing to do?

Is torture ever justified? Would you steal a drug that your child needs to survive? Is it sometimes wrong to tell the truth? How much is one human life worth? What do you think and why?

"Justice" is one of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history. Now Harvard opens its classroom to the world. Professor Michael Sandel challenges us with difficult moral dilemmas and asks our opinion about the right thing to do. He then asks us to examine our answers in the light of new scenarios. The results are often surprising, revealing that important moral questions are never black and white. This course also addresses the hot topics of our day—affirmative action, same-sex marriage, patriotism and rights. Here are the twelve classes:

Oct 12 ~ The Moral Side of Murder / The Case for Cannibalism ~ 1
Oct 19 ~ Putting a Price Tag on Life / How to Measure Pleasure ~ 2
Oct 26 ~ Free to Choose / Who Owns Me? ~ 3
Nov. 2 ~ This Land is my Land / Consenting Adults ~ 4
Nov 9 ~ Hired Guns? / Motherhood: For Sale ~ 5
Nov 16 ~ Mind Your Motive / The Supreme Principle of Morality ~ 6
Nov 23 ~ A Lesson in Lying / A Deal is a Deal ~ 7
Nov 30 ~ What's a Fair Start? / What Do We Deserve? ~ 8
Dec 7 ~ Arguing Affirmative Action / What's the Purpose? ~ 9
Dec 14 ~ The Good Citizen / Freedom vs. Fit ~ 10
Dec 21 ~ The Claims of Community / Where Our Loyalty Lies ~ 11
Dec 28 ~ Debating Same-sex Marriage / The Good Life ~ 12

Every week, starting Monday, October 12th, I'll ask a question (or two) from each of these topics. You are welcome to watch Harvard's weekly video, do the readings they provide (not all episodes have related readings), and come here to see what's being said. I'll post a link on the sidebar of Bonnie's Books that will bring up ALL questions in this series, and you can answer earlier questions as well as the current one. Here's this week's question: Does morality interest you enough that you'll join us in exploring the ideas?

"Justice" ~ let's think about this stuff together.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Speak up about SPEAK

"A good education depends on protecting free speech and the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves."
You should read the whole letter that comes from.

You can also hear a video of Laurie Halse Anderson reading a poem that includes words written to her by a lot of young people after reading her book Speak. One sentence stood out for me: "Your book cracks my shell." Because the book is entitled "Speak," Laurie entitled the poem "Listen." You should. You should listen to her poem. She reads it well, though the words may be hard to hear.

And if you are on Facebook, read Laurie's notes, a continuing series of reports about what's happening to her books. Just this past week Twisted was one of several books challenged by a parent.

To read what some of us have posted on the Banned Books blog about Speak, click here. If you've read the book, tell us about it in the comments.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Life magazine

Life magazine is now available on Google books, covering the years from 1936 to 1972. The one that caught my eye was this Sep 24, 1965 issue, showing photos taken from space by Gemini. Ike was 75. You'll definitely want to see the fashions.

Even the advertisements are fun. When I saw the two-page spread of The Sea from Life's Nature Library, I'd swear I could remember that new-book smell. The TV dinner, on the other hand, looks better than I ever remember it tasting. And -- surprise! -- there are cigarette ads. And how times have changed: "Even in the rain, 'Fill 'er up' also means 'Lift the hood'." Another advertisement has Lawrence Welk in it. And there's a top-loading dishwasher.

It was lots of fun looking through this 44-year-old magazine, at least for me. Kiki was not impressed. Next time I'll look for this one.

Teaser ~ Waiting for Columbus

Today's teaser is from pages 8-9 of Waiting for Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk, 2009.

"Get me a phone," he snaps. "I want to make a call."


"A phone damnit. Look, I am Columbus. Christopher Columbus. I know the queen, the queen and the king. They can vouch for me. I am to lead three ships across the Western Sea. We've got a deal, damnit! Just get them on the phone."

Whoa, she thinks. Consuela can hear the earnest certainty of his voice. He believes what he's saying. "You want to fall off the edge of the Earth?" Consuela is performing her own little experiment. "You want to die?"

"You don't believe that. Nobody but a simpleton would believe that old wives' tale. Try not to underestimate my intelligence and I'll do the same for you."

"I'll let Dr. Fuentes know you're awake."

"Yes, let your doctor know that I'm hungry, and I have to piss, and I'm not crazy."

Friday, September 25, 2009

The time has flewn

"How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness, how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?"

— Dr. Seuss

Fifteen books ~ #11 ~ The Social Construction of Reality

The Social Construction of Reality ~ by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1966) is #11 in my series on "fifteen books that will always stick with me." I read this decades ago, so I don't remember details. What I do remember is the flash of insight that came from realizing we construct reality. People of a particular culture decide what's real and what isn't, and thus we "see" what society has decided we shall see.
"...the primary knowledge about the institutional order ... is the sum total of ‘what everybody knows’ about a social world, an assemblage of maxims, morals, proverbial nuggets of wisdom, values and beliefs, myths, and so forth” (p.65).
Let me give you an example of how I undersand what the authors mean. I grew up in a time and place where "everyone knew" -- meaning the grown-ups around me "knew" -- there's no such thing as a ghost. Therefore, if a child is frightened by a "ghost in the closet," her parents assure her nothing is there. The little girl may not be convinced right then, but by the time she is an adult she too will "know" there are no ghosts.

I grew up long before the movie "Sixth Sense" was popular in 1999. As a matter of fact, I was a 59-year-old grandmother by the time that movie child confided in his psychologist that he "sees dead people that walk around like regular people." One day recently I was captured by this phrase in a synopsis of Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation by John Phillip Santos (1999): "as a girl, she saw a dying soul leave its body." I had never expressed it quite that way, but I have described many times what I saw when my grandfather died. I was four years old and can still visualize the scene. The adults were all around his hospital bed, looking down at him. I wondered why they weren't looking up, since he was floating over them toward the far wall on my right, headed toward the intersection of wall and ceiling. And then he was gone. On the day I read that synopsis I decided to google an illustration for "soul leaving a body." This is what I found.

The one on the left is close, but the one on the right is more accurate.

This drawing has the right idea, except it's way too stiff. Though my grandfather's form was wispy like steam, the motion was very fluid and natural. And he went head first off to the right, kind of like the one on the right. However, the rising soul/spirit didn't exactly look like his body. It looked more like steam rising from hot coffee, though identifiable as the person himself. I could tell it was my grandfather and wondered why the grown-ups weren't looking where he was going, toward the wall and ceiling over to my right, as in these pictures.

The Social Construction of Reality confirmed something I knew deep inside, probably since the age of four. For allowing me to trust my reality, I rate this book 10 of 10.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Banned Books Week

During the last week of September every year, hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. The 2009 celebration of Banned Books Week will be held from September 26 through October 3.

And Tango Makes Three has topped the list of banned and challenged books three years running. Cady and I reviewed this book last year. Click on this link to read what we said about it.

Here's another link, this time to a librarian's answer to a patron who wanted the book Uncle Bobby's Wedding removed from the shelves. These sections seem to me especially pertinent:
"It seems to me – as a father who has done a lot of reading to his kids over the years – that that kind of decision is up to the parents, not the library. Because here's the truth of the matter: not every parent has the same value system."

"Our whole system of government was based on the idea that the purpose of the state was to preserve individual liberties, not to dictate them."

"I believe that every book in the children's area, particularly in the area where usually the parent is reading the book aloud, involves parental guidance."

"Library collections don't imply endorsement; they imply access to the many different ideas of our culture, which is precisely our purpose in public life."
Let's celebrate our freedom to read!

To learn more:

The Kids' Right to Read Project interviews the author, Chris Crutcher. Watch the four-minute video or read the transcript of the video.

This map shows where books have been censored. This site also links to details about specific books that have been banned or challenged.

How can YOU celebrate Banned Books Week?

How about reading a banned book? And if you have a blog, write something about the book you read. Or at least tell us you read it. I would love for you to come back here to comment and tell us which book you read. Let's do it!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009

Register now at

Then post something about CLIMATE CHANGE on October 15.
One issue, one day, thousands of voices.
Let's do it!

Fifteen books ~ #10 ~ The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (2002) is #10 alphabetically in my continuing series on "fifteen books that will always stick with me."

What is it about this book that I like so much? Maybe it's the image of Rosaleen, a black woman in the South in 1964, spitting snuff on the shoes of a racist white man who is harrassing her. Maybe it's the strong character of August Boatwright (one of the "calendar sisters" of May, June, and August), who epitomizes a queen bee in this story about bee-keeping sisters who take in a 14-year-old white girl running away from her abusive daddy -- I think making her kneel on grits is abuse, don't you? Maybe it's the Black Madonna in Tiburon, South Carolina, that Lily runs to after she breaks Rosaleen out of custody. Maybe it's that this first novel was written after the author realized conventional goodness just wasn't enough.

In The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine (1996), Sue Monk Kidd says her awakening began on the day she overheard two men talking about her daughter Ann, down on her knees stocking a drugstore shelf. One man said, "Now that's how I like to see a woman -- on her knees." The men laughed, Ann looked stricken, and Kidd herself was enraged, telling them, "You may like to see her and other women on their knees, but we don't belong there. We don't belong there!" That episode began a period of intense searching that, in my opinion, deepened her writing. Look at the beautiful way she uses words:
"There had been a moment, many moments really, when truth seized me and I 'conceived' myself as woman. Or maybe I reconceived myself. At any rate, it had been extraordinary and surprising to find myself -- a conventionally religious woman in my late thirties -- suddenly struck pregnant with a new consciousness, with an unfolding new awareness of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be spiritual as a woman" (p. 7).
Don't you love that phrase "struck pregnant"? I do. By the way, she and Ann have a new book out, published this month, called Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Memoir.

Click this link for an interview with the author and discussion questions about The Secret Life of Bees for your book club. To read even more, click here.

I'm going to rate both of these books:
(1) The Secret Life of Bees was a book I couldn't put down, so it rates 10 of 10.

(2) And because it's such an excellent book, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter rates 9 out of 10.  NOTE:  I also wrote about this book here, where I gave it a rating of 10/10.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Teaser ~ A Long Way from Tipperary

Today's teaser comes from page 75 of John Dominic Crossan's memoir, A Long Way from Tipperary (2000), which is subtitled "What a Former Irish Monk Discovered in His Search for the Truth."
"Calling a council to reform or update the church implicitly accuses those in charge of having failed in leadership, of having failed, in this case, by their very style of leadership. They had remained attached to an autocratic hierarchy commanding exclusively from the top down, a model bequeathed them by Europe's toppled monarchies and shattered empires, an image for the Catholic church transferred nostalgically from the Papal States of the past."

Monday, September 21, 2009

The First Paul ~ Borg and Crossan, 2009

This past weekend I attended a series of lectures by John Dominic Crossan on "Paul and the Justice of Equality." Most of what he presented is in his latest book The First Paul, which he co-authored with Marcus J. Borg. What he said reinforced what I had read.

To begin with, Paul is a controversial figure whom some find appealing and others find appalling. I used to be in the latter camp, appalled by Paul's pronouncements on women, for one thing. Years ago, however, I learned that Paul is not responsible for much that was written in his name. It was a common practice in the first century CE (Common Era) to write what you might expect a person to say, if he were still around to do it. Thus, Paul didn't actually write about half the stuff with his name on it. In The First Paul, Borg and Crossan sort the New Testament epistles** attributed to Paul into three groups:
(1) 7 genuine letters ~ written by the radical Paul, himself
First Corinthians
Second Corinthians
First Thessalonians
(2) 3 disputed letters ~ written by a conservative "Paul"
Second Thessalonians
(3) 3 not written by Paul ~ written by a reactionary "Paul"
First Timothy
Second Timothy
This book is about the "first Paul" in the list above because he's really the only Paul. The authors call him the radical Paul because his ideas are as radical as those of Jesus. The conservative epistles were written later by others who wanted to bring Paul's ideas more in line with the way most people think. The third group, the reactionary epistles, reshaped Paul's ideas as the writers reacted by "correcting" Paul's meanings completely.

The authors call Paul radical in the subtitle: The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon. What was so "radical" about Paul? What I quoted for last week's Teaser didn't sound at all radical. Their answer:
"Paul's message challenged the normalcy of civilization, then and now, with an alternative vision of how life on earth can and should be. The radical Paul, we are convinced, was a faithful follower of the radical Jesus" (p. 19).
"Normal" was the Roman way of doing things, and Romans had figured out that the way to peace was through war. Their religion led to war, which led to victory, which led to peace:
Religion --> War --> Victory --> Peace
Paul offered an alternative:
Religion --> Nonviolence --> Justice --> Peace
Instead of peace through victory, Paul said we need peace through justice.
"There will only be peace on earth, Paul claims, when all members of God's world-home receive a fair and equitable share of its bounty, when all members of God's family have enough" (p. 116).

"There will be peace on earth, said Roman imperial theology, when all is quiet and orderly. There will be peace on earth, said Pauline Christian theology, when all is fair and just" (p. 121).

"Rome embodied the wisdom of this world -- the normalcy of this world, the way life most commonly is, the way things are. ... The few dominated the many -- and they achieved their domination through violence and the threat of violence" (p. 135).

"Paul called his hearers to center their lives in God as known in Jesus rather than accepting and living by the wisdom of this world. This is the path of personal transformation" (p. 136).
Rated: 9 of 10, an excellent book.

** An epistle is a letter intended to be read to a group. Except for the epistle written to Philemon, an individual, Paul wrote to churches. Even Philemon, though written to an individual, was meant to be read aloud to Philemon's community of Jesus followers, so it too is properly called an epistle.

NOTE: Crossan touched on some of these ideas last year, when he lectured on empires and the moral and ethical call to oppose unjust superpowers. At that time his most recent book was God and Empire. Click on the book title to read that short report.


"What is reading a good book but a daydream at second hand?"
-- Michael Pollan

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fifteen books ~ #9 ~ The Mythmaker

Continuing my series on "fifteen books that will always stick with me," #9 in alphabetical order is

The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity ~ by Hyam Maccoby, 1986.

I read this book a decade or so ago, and it made me take another look at Paul. Writings attributed to Paul and about Paul take up about half of the New Testament, the Christian Bible, but I was one of those who had pretty much given up trying to defend Paul. Even after reading What Paul Really Said about Women by John Temple Bristow, which exonerated Paul by examining the biblical text more closely. There seemed to be too many problems with Paul. When I ran across The Mythmaker, I had to re-examine my thinking.

Who was the founder of Christianity? Most would say Jesus, of course, but Maccoby says Jesus was no more the founder of Christianity than the historical Hamlet was the author of Hamlet. Even though Paul never met Jesus face to face, Maccoby says he "invented" Christianity, adding elements of Judaism, Gnosticism, and pagan mystery cults to the story of Jesus's crucifixion.
"...the dominant outlook and shaping perspective of the Gospels is that of Paul, for the simple reason that it was the Paulinist view of what Jesus' sojourn on Earth had been about that was triumphant in the Church as it developed in history. Rival interpretations, which at one time had been orthodox, opposed to Paul's very individual views, now became heretical and were crowded out of the final version of the writings adopted by the Pauline Church as the inspired canon of the New Testament" (p. 4).
This short summary doesn't do the book justice, but here's my point: I was fascinated by the ideas in this book and have continued to read about Paul because of it. This week I read The First Paul by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, which I will review next. The scholarship in The Mythmaker may be dated (as Crossan said when I asked him today at a lecture in Chattanooga), but it piqued my interest in reading the scholarly works of people like Borg and Crossan, who is also co-author of In Search of Paul: How Jesus's Apostle Opposed Rome's Empire with God's Kingdom.

For the interest in Paul that it generated in my thinking, I give The Mythmaker a rating of 8 out of 10.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Flamingos, anyone?

Today's prompt at Weekend Wordsmith is Plastic Flamingos with this photo.

Tiel Aisha Ansari's response was Flannel Flamingo, one of the funniest short pieces I've read in ages. Take a minute and go read it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kiki's bath

Today it happened -- Kiki's bath.

I moved her litter box, swept that corner, and put down a folded towel for my knees. I pulled aside the shower curtain, doing everything early in the day in order to prepare myself psychologically.

This evening, when Kiki came to tell me it was supper time, I was ready. Going into the bathroom on our way to the kitchen, I started running water. To move her toward me, I popped the cat food can and let her smell the food.

Then I picked her up -- without much struggle, even when she saw where we were going. She did panic when she got wet, but not as much as usual. I think she wanted to be clean, but was frightened by the slippery tub. I hugged her while cleaning her with the other hand, and she buried her face against my shoulder. In her wiggling, she turned so that her back was under the running water, but she didn't move away from it. Maybe it felt nice and warm?

She kind of jumped out of the tub when I released her at the end, and I caught her with "her" raggedy towel. Drying off seemed almost worse to her than being in the water. When I let her go, she plopped down in the living room and went to work licking herself dry.

I said, "Treats?" And she forgot all about getting dry. When I put down her supper, she ate before going back to the job of drying herself. I caught her again in the towel, which didn't make her too happy, but neither was she too upset as I rubbed her off a bit more. When I scratched her (damp) back, she sat there and purred.

She's clean now.

Oh, the picture? No, of course that's not Kiki. How many hands do you think I have, anyway? But maybe I will try the sink next time.

Today's teaser ~ The First Paul

John Dominic Crossan will speak at Grace Episcopal Church (on Brainerd Road at Belvoir Avenue in Chattanooga) this Friday, September 18th at 7:30 p.m., and twice Saturday (9-10:30 a.m. and 11-12:30). There's no fee to attend.

I got this photo last year when I heard him speak about his book God and Empire. This weekend he'll talk about the book he wrote with Marcus J. Borg, The First Paul.
"Paul was a city person, and the whole of his activity as an apostle was in cities. In this respect he was very different from Jesus, who grew up in a small village and whose public activity was rural, concentrated in villages and small towns in the countryside" (p. 81).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Today's teaser ~ People of the Book

Today's teaser comes from People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, 2008.

"Bits of butterfly don't generally wind up in books. Moths do, because they come indoors, where books are kept. But butterflies are outdoor creatures" (p. 43).

Friday, September 11, 2009

Today's teaser ~ Letters from Rapunzel

Today's teaser comes from the YA novel Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes, 2007, which won the first annual HarperCollins Ursula Nordstrom Fiction Contest.

"I forgot that letters are different from a phone conversation. Your words are right there, in black and white, and can be studied, and thought about, and shared. Which is a good thing, if your words are wonderful, like my dad's poems, or maybe like his letters to you, but not when you wish you could take them back" (p. 51).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Today's teaser ~ The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Today's teaser comes from page 113 of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, 2007.

Yes, I want to go.

There it was, the Decision That Changed Everything. Or as she broke it down to Lola in her Last Days: All I wanted was to dance. What I got instead was esto, she said, opening her arms to encompass the hospital, her children, her cancer, America.

An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, 2009

Sub-titled "A Geography of Faith" this book is about becoming aware of where you are by moving and doing. The author is almost saying, "Don't just endlessly think about it; get up and DO something." And she gives us a dozen things to try. One practice she did, after years of excuses, was to walk a labyrinth. It was in a setting of pine trees.
"The first thing I noticed was that I resented following a set path. where was the creativity in that? Why couldn't there be more than one way to go? The second thing I noticed was how much I wanted to step over the stones when they did not take me directly to the center. Who had time for all those switchbacks, with the destination so clearly in sight? The third thing I noticed was that reaching the center was no big deal. The view from there was essentially the same as the view from the start. My only prize was the heightened awareness of my own tiresome predictability.

"I thought about calling it a day and going over to pat the horses, but since I predictably follow the rules even while grousing about them, I turned around to find my way out of the labyrinth again. Since I had already been to the center, I was not focused on getting there anymore. Instead, I breathed in as much of the pine smell as I could, sucking in the smell of sun and warm stones along with it. When I breathed out again, I noticed how soft the pine needles were beneath my feet. I saw the small mementos left by those who had preceded me on the path: a cement frog, a rusted horseshoe, a stone freckled with shiny mica. I noticed how much more I notice when I am not preoccupied with getting somewhere" (pp. 57-58).
Back at the place where she had begun, she realized, Surely the Lord is in this place -- and I did not know it!
The beauty of physical practices like this one is that you do not have to know what you are doing in order to begin. You just begin, and the doing teaches you what you need to know. (p. 58)
The small labyrinth in these photos is at the Episcopal church near my house, so I set out to do what she suggested. It occurred to me later that I should have walked it barefoot, instead of in my sandals, since another of the author's exercises in awareness is to feel grass on bare feet or (in this case) the roughness of sun-warmed bricks.

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith is for people who want to deepen their spiritual life through a heightened awareness of the physical self in this world. Like Jesus, she tells stories so that I was able to see and feel her experiences. Her reverence for a saltmarsh mosquito brought tears to my eyes (click the link to read my short report).
"In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life" (page xvi).
Rated: 8 of 10, a very good book.

NOTE: On Barbara Brown Taylor's home page there's a link to a radio show called Tapestry with Mary Hynes, who interviews Taylor about this book.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fifteen books ~ #8 ~ The Mists of Avalon

Continuing my series on "fifteen books that will always stick with me," #8 in alphabetical order is ...

The Mists of Avalon ~ by Marion Zimmer Bradley, 1982

When I think of Avalon, I think of a boat gliding toward a mist-shrouded isle.  It's also a place lost in the mists of time, at least since Christianity took over Britain.

In Bradley's version of the story, which gives us the legend of King Arthur from the viewpoint of the women around him, I could see the goddess religion being supplanted.  To do this, the author shows the holy place of each in exactly the same place.   That makes for a bit of surrealism, as someone who is on misty Avalon will occasionally hear the Christians who are all around them at the same time or would that be, at a later time?  Jana L. Perskie, one of's Top 100 reviewers, said:
The tale is told from the points of view of the much maligned Morgaine (Morgana Le Fey), Priestess of Avalon, and Gwenhwyfar (Gwynivere), Christian princess and future queen of Camelot. ... Believers of each religion seek to control the throne, but ultimately Christianity ascends to be the organized religion of the land.  Since Morgaine is a Druid High Priestess, it would explain why she received such a bad rap in Christian civilization.
I came away from the book much more sympathetic to Morgaine, also known as Morgana le Fey, which means "of the faeries."   Women such as Arthur's mother, sister, and wife didn't think like the knights of the round table, but had different concerns.

Three friends and I are studying Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth, and this week's chapter happened to be "The Gift of the Goddess."   One of the women has an unglazed copy of a tiny goddess figurine similar to the "Goddess of Willendorf" on the left, and I have a figure like the goddess-crone with the thumb-shaped depression on the right.  Both represent the fertility of Mother Earth.  The earth feeds and sustains us as a mother does her child.  There are no fertility figurines in The Mists of Avalon, but we do see one way of being religious pushed aside by another, just as goddess figurines were destroyed by devotees of the new religion.  I think it's interesting that these little figures are now turning up all over the world.

The Mists of Avalon ~ by Marion Zimmer Bradley is a great fantasy, and I rate it 10 of 10.

Today's teaser ~ In Search of Molly Pitcher

Today's teaser comes from the YA novel In Search of Molly Pitcher by Linda Grant De Pauw, 2007.

I put my elbows on the table and my fists in my hair while I tried to get the story straight. "Once upon a time," I muttered, "there was a girl named Mary Ludwig who, at the age of fourteen years and nine months, married her own son" (p. 52).

Sum fun ~ 09/09/09

Let's have sum fun. Yes, I really mean sum, as in the sum of the digits that result from nine multiplied by another number. Did you know it always equals nine?

9 x 1 = 9
9 x 2 = 18 ... and ... 1 + 8 = 9
9 x 3 = 27 ... and ... 2 + 7 = 9
9 x 4 = 36 ... and ... 3 + 6 = 9
9 x 5 = 45 ... and ... 4 + 5 = 9
9 x 6 = 54 ... and ... 5 + 4 = 9
9 x 7 = 63 ... and ... 6 + 3 = 9
9 x 8 = 72 ... and ... 7 + 2 = 9
9 x 9 = 81 ... and ... 8 + 1 = 9
9 x 10 = 90 ... and ... 9 + 0 = 9
9 x 11 = 99 ... and ... 9 + 9 = 18 ... and ... 1 + 8 = 9
9 x 34 = 306 ... and ... 3 + 0 + 6 = 9
9 x 715 = 6435 ... 6 + 4 + 3 + 5 = 18 ... and 1 + 8 = 9
9 x 1234 = 11016 ... 1 + 1 + 0 + 1 + 6 = 9

But today I'm especially having sum fun with an odd fact, that September 9 also happens to be the 252nd day of 2009.

2 + 5 + 2 = 9

Nine is sum-thing else, huh?

(I should try to post this at exactly 9:09 a.m. on 09/09/09.
Check the posting time below to see how close I could get.
Actually, I'm trying for 09:09:09, for the right second.
I got very close a year ago, on 08/08/08, here.)

UPDATE: Yep, a baby was born at 9:09 a.m. on 09/09/09, and baby Henry weighed 9 pounds, 9 ounces. Read about it by clicking here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: An Arkansas baby girl, who was born on 9-9-09, has a big sister born on 8-8-08. Read about the sisters here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Today's teaser ~ Rashi's Daughters: Joheved

Today's teaser comes from Rashi's Daughters: Book I: Joheved, by Maggie Anton, 2005.

"Original sin is what the minim [heretics, Christians] believe is the nature of man. They say anyone not baptized, even babies, cannot enter the Garden of Eden in the World to Come and must spend eternity in the flames of Gehenna." His voice, which had begun with mild derision, rose into fury. "How can they possibly think the Creator would condemn innocent babes to such torment?" (p. 183)

Book review questions

My best short summary of what to include in a review:
Was it a good book?
Would you recommend it?
What did you like about it?
What did you dislike?
Tell us whatever you thought.
Below are deeper questions for specific genres, but first some examples of genres:  fiction, history, historical fiction, poetry, science, science fiction, travel, memoir, biography, and literature, which can include nonfiction as well as fiction.   Most of what I review is either fiction, memoir, or nonfiction (having taught religions of the world in college, I'm interested in religion, history, and culture).  Don't even try to use all these questions for every review, of course, but as tools for collecting your thoughts about a book.


1.  Title, author, copyright date, and genre?
2.  Summarize the book without giving away the ending.
3.  What did you think of the main character?
4.  Which character could you relate to best?
5.  Were there any other especially interesting characters?
6.  From whose point of view is the story told?
7.  Were the characters and their problems believable?
8.  How did the main character change during the novel?
9.  What was the book's central question, and how was it answered?
10.  Did you learn something new from the book?
11.  Was the book different from what you expected?
12.  Was location important to the story?
13.  Was the time period important to the story?
14.  What alternative title would you choose for this book?
15.  Share a quote or two from the book.
16.  Share a favorite scene from the book.
17.  What did you like most about the book?
18.  What did you like least?
19.  Did you like the way the book ended?
20.  What do you think will be your lasting impression of this book?
21.  What did you think of the cover?
22.  For banned books:  Why was this book banned?
23.  Would you recommend this book?
24.  How would you rate it? *** My book rating guide

MEMOIR (memoir defined)

1.  Title, author, date of book, and genre?
2.  What do you think motivated the author to share his or her life story?
3. I s the author trying to elicit a certain response, such as sympathy?
4.  How has this book changed or enhanced your view of the author?
5.  Were there any instances in which you felt the author was not being truthful?
6.  What is the author's most admirable quality?
7.  Is this someone you would want to know (or to have known)?
8.  Share a quote or two from the book.
9.  Share a favorite part of the book.
10.  What did you like most about the book?
11.  What did you like least?
12.  Did you learn something new from the book?
13.  What will be your lasting impression of the author?
14.  What did you think of the cover?
15.  For banned books:  Why was this book banned?
16.  Would you recommend this book?
17.  How would you rate it? *** My book rating guide


1.  Title, author, copyright date, and genre?
2.  What was the author's purpose in writing this book?
3.  Did the author make a logical argument?
4.  Did the author keep you interested?
5.  Share a quote or two from the book.
6.  Share a favorite part of the book.
7.  What did you like most about the book?
8.  What did you like least?
9.  What will be your lasting impression of the subject?
10.  Did you learn something new from the book?
11.  What did you think of the cover?
12.  For banned books:  Why was this book banned?
13.  Would you recommend this book?
14.  How would you rate it? *** My book rating guide


Feel free to use and adapt my prompts as you like.

Chrisbookarama has a great post about How to Write a Review.  Here are her main points:
  • Mention the title and author's name in the title and body of the post.
  • Describe the book briefly, and avoid spoilers.
  • Give your opinion, and make it personal.
  • Talk about the story, its plot, characters, pacing.
  • Look at technical details, like point of view, writing style, any grammatical errors, atmosphere.
  • Point out both the good and bad, and if it just wasn't for you, say so.
  • Watch your grammar, so no mistakes will distract the reader.
  • Be true to yourself and honest in your opinions. Your readers will appreciate it.
  • If you choose to have one, explain your rating system somewhere on your blog.
  • Write!  It won't always be wonderful, but just do it!

Questions to ask an author

I've had questions and prompts for interviewing writers as part of my Book Review Outline, but decided I really need a separate post about interviewing writers. Here are some possible questions you could ask:

1. Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?
2. How did you get interested in writing this particular genre (historical novels, mysteries, sci-fi, children's books, etc.)?
3. What kind of research did you do for this book?
4. What's a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
5. What is the hardest part of writing for you?
6. What’s the best thing about being an author?
7. What are you working on now?
8. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
9. Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books?
10. What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?
11. If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?

(The last question comes from Lisa Roe.  Thanks, Lisa, it's a good question.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Reading ruminations ~ a saltmarsh mosquito

Barbara Brown Taylor was writing about reverence in this quote from An Altar in the World, p. 22:
Properly attended to, even a saltmarsh mosquito is capable of evoking reverence.  See those white and black striped stockings on legs thinner than a needle?  Where in those legs is there room for knees?   And yet see how they bend, as the bug lowers herself to your flesh.  Soon you and she will be blood kin.  Your itch is the price of her life.   Swat her if you must, but not without telling her she is beautiful first.
I was walking the treadmill (for my life) when I read this and was absolutely shocked that my eyes teared up.  I am so allergic to bug bites that I can feel the difference between a gnat, a mosquito, a flea.  So I have killed many in my lifetime.  Never once did I say, "You are beautiful," though I have said, forlornly, "Why didn't you stay outside?"  (Click to enlarge picture, so you can see her beautiful legs.)