Sunday, January 31, 2010

Remarkable Creatures ~ a teaser

Remarkable Creatures, a novel by Tracy Chevalier, was published this month.  These quotes show how one of the main characters reacts to remarks about the other main character.
Lord Henley (p. 105): "Besides which, Mary Anning is a female. She is a spare part. I have to represent her, as indeed I do many Lyme residents who cannot represent themselves."

Elizabeth Philpot (p. 106): I was furious at Lord Henley for riding roughshod over scientific discovery; for turning a mystery of the world into something banal and foolish; for throwing my sex back at me as something to be ashamed of. A spare part, indeed.
I'm really enjoying this book so far.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


It was three years ago today that I began this blog, posting about The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.  Two years ago I missed the date, thinking "last day of January," which was off by a day.  Last year I was sick, unable to breathe (or sleep) all night and on the morning of the 31st I called my friend Donna to take me to the emergency room.  I couldn't breathe, it turned out, because my heart wasn't pumping the fluid out of my lungs, and in February I had open heart surgery.


This is a photo Ginnie took while I was recuperating at her house after leaving the hospital.  In one hand is her cat Wootchie, which I was holding onto to keep her from sitting on my chest where there is now a thin white scar, even though that's what Wootchie wanted to do (she's a loving cat).  In my other hand is a paper on quantum physics, which Ginnie and I were reading because we are both nerds.  Notice I'm wearing a heavy jacket because, after surgery and losing 30 pounds, I seemed cold all the time, even in Ginnie's warm house (well, it was winter).  Below is my granddaughter with her baby Raegan, who was born three months after my surgery.

It's been an eventful three years! Now I'm ready to begin my fourth year as a book blogger.  Come along with me as we explore books and adventures and life.

And now it's slushy

My mailman delivered a book to my door, leaving slushy footprints in his wake. We doubled yesterday's snow before it started melting in 34*F weather this morning.

Friday, January 29, 2010

It's snowing

My cell phone camera didn't pick up the snowflakes drifting down, but it's still snowing.  And it started before 1:00 pm.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mozart's Bassoon Concerto in B flat major

My favorite music is Mozart's Bassoon Concerto (1774), and today is Mozart's birthday (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791). Maybe you don't know I played the bassoon, back in high school and college, and was in the Chattanooga Youth Symphony once upon a time. I could NOT, by any stretch of the imagination, play like this:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy birthday, Virginia!

Today is Virginia Woolf's birthday. She was born January 25, 1882, when my grandmother was barely a year old. This photo is from 1939, the year before I was born. I was less than a year old when Virginia Woolf died on March 28, 1941. Did I tie us together a little bit with these random facts? Good, because I'm reading her book, A Room of One's Own, and just happened to discover that today is her birthday. I'm within twenty pages of the end and will review it soon.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Invisible Image ~ a meme

I wasn't tagged for this but, giving credit where credit's due, I found an "Invisible Image meme" online a couple of years ago (the post has disappeared). IMHO, it was too danged complicated anyway, so here's MY version, for which I am using this empty-frame photo. So, on with the show ... er, I mean ... meme.

What’s an Invisible Image?

We've all collected images to use later, many of which languish on our C-drives, collecting dust. Take a handful of those stored images, post them with a descriptive line (or not), and see if you can convince a few friends to do the same ... no tagging necessary, but a heartfelt plea that any readers who join the fun leave a comment here so I can come take a look at your stuff. And now my choices.  How would you caption these images?


Nothing's happening on the blogs tonight.

Space saver?


My TBR stack is getting heavy!

Gloating with immense satisfaction.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dick and Jane ~ and some other girls

When I was in the first grade in 1946, we used the Dick and Jane readers.  According to Wikipedia, these readers "were used to teach children to read from the 1930s through to the 1970s in the United States. ... The main characters, Dick and Jane, were a little boy and girl. Supporting characters included Baby (or Sally), Mother, Father, Spot the dog, Puff the cat, and Tim the teddy bear."  I remember all but the teddy bear from this list.  And I remember that Dick did all the exciting things, running and playing while Jane watched things happen.  That Wikipedia article says we used "whole language" or "whole word reading" rather than phonics, repeating the words a lot.  That's true, but I remember being fascinated by the sounds (phonics) of the letters.  See the "H" above?  That's a broken ladder (it has only one rung), and it sounds like "huh" with lots of air behind it.  And that "S" is like a snake and sounds like a "hissssssss."

The capital "L" in the illustration reminds me of the only spanking I ever got in school.  (Yes, teachers spanked in those days.)  Being tall, I was on the last row, closest to the reading circle at the back of the class.  While Mrs. Curry was letting the "yellow birds" read, the rest of us (the "blue birds" and "red birds") were supposed to be practicing our writing skills.  Our assigned letter was an "L" but it was the small "l" which is a single line straight down.  Come on, people!  My middle name is Lillian (I once wrote about my middle name) and I could write my whole name before I started to school.  Bo-o-o-oring!  So I listened to the story the "yellow birds" were reading.  It was different from my stories -- and remember, I was on the back row.  So I turned halfway in my desk and listened.  Mrs. Curry told me to turn around and do my work.  I did, but before long I was listening again.  Finally, she called me back and turned me over her lap.  I was so embarrassed!  So embarrassed that at almost 70 years old, I still recall that day in great detail.  Mother says Mrs. Curry called her that evening and asked if I had told her what happened.  Mother said, "No, but she's been trying."  Apparently I said, "Mother ... uh ... um ... oh, nothing," more than once.  And by the way, the "L" sounds like "la, la, lah."

When I was a little older, I devoured books like Abe Lincoln: Pioneer Boy and John Paul Jones: Naval Hero. I wanted to grow up and go to sea on those ships with lots of sails; I wanted to climb the rigging and be high above the ocean. And then I found out that girls can't do that. Women in the 1940s could be WAVES, a women's branch of the Navy, but there were no more sailing ships and, even if there were, women couldn't do the exciting stuff. They were supposed to stay on shore and type. I couldn't have adventures like Dick, and Abe, and John Paul Jones -- and all because I was a girl. That wasn't fair! Boys got to do all the fun stuff.

That is beginning to change.  Books today feature girls being smart and adventurous.

The Report Card by Andrew Clements (2004) is a chapter book about Nora, a girl genius who challenges the over-testing done by elementary schools.  She even speaks up to her teachers, the principal, and her parents as she explains what's wrong with the system.  Rated 9/10.
"I had never had to hide anything out on the soccer field.  I could be as smart and creative and talented as I wanted to -- because nobody ever treats a gifted athlete like she's weird.  And that's not true if you're a gifted student" (p. 83).
"I know that I'm different, and I hope I'll always be smart.  But I don't want to get pushed ahead so that I'm always trying to do what someone else thinks a person of my intelligence ought to be doing.  I want to use my intelligence the way I want to use it.  And right now I want to be a normal kid" (p. 169).
Paula Bunyan by Phyllis Root (2009) is a big picture book that lets Paul Bunyan's sister Paula have some tall-tale fun.  Rated 7 of 10.
"Three times out of six she could outwrestle Paul, and she always outran him. Paula could run so fast that once when she forgot to do her chores, she ran all the way back to yesterday to finish them and got back to today before anyone noticed she was gone."
I have found a similar book for adults: Feminist Fairy Tales by Barbara G. Walker (1996), who has "rewritten" more than two dozen fairy tales. More later, after I read it.

The Junie B. Jones series of books by Barbara Park were the hottest items we sold in our bookstore, enjoyed by boys as well as girls. Junie B. is definitely not a demure little "Jane" watching the action! Junie B. is the "world's funniest kindergartner." One of these books that comes to mind is Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying (1994). Junie B. is not only a good spy -- because she has sneaky feet -- but she is also very opinionated.  Rated 7 of 10.
"I go to kindergarten. Kindergarten is what comes before first grade. Except for I don't know why it's called that silly word of kindergarten. 'Cause it should be called grade zero, I think" (p. 1).

"Principal is the boss of the school.  Me and him know each other very good" (p. 56).

"Art is my favorite ... Only my art didn't get hanged up. 'Cause I painted a horse. And his head turned out like a fat wiener sausage. And so I had to tear it up and stomp on it with my shoes" (p. 63).
Thank You, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish (1964) is one of a series of books about a woman who misunderstands instructions, usually by taking things too literally or getting words mixed up.  She reminds me of Epaminondas and His Auntie (1907) by Sara Cone Bryant, one of my favorite childhood books.  Epaminondas was a boy who took things too literally, just as Amelia Bedelia does.  I rate this Amelia book a 7 of 10.
Told to strip the sheets off the bed, she tears the sheets into strips (p. 13).

Told to make a jelly roll, she tries to roll jelly on the floor (p. 35).

Told to pare the vegetables, she pairs them up, two by two (p. 41).

Told to string the beans, she gets out needle and thread and hangs the beans on the string (p. 50).

But Amelia Bedelia still manages to make the guest feel right at home.
Almost Astronauts : 13 Women Who Dared to Dream ~ by Tanya Lee Stone (2008) ~ is a YA (young adult) book about venturing into space.  Rated 8 of 10.
"In a society where women were to have dinner on the table at six p.m. for their husbands returning home from work, it was bad enough that they had the nerve to be women earning a living.  Worse, it was such an unladylike field as aviation.  If they didn't wear skirts while climbing in and out of their cockpits, powder their noses, and freshen their lipstick, they risked jeers and jokes from some of their male peers."
Today girls can dream of actually having all sorts of adventures, even going into outer space. These "almost astronauts" went to Florida to watch the first commander of the space shuttle blast off. They didn't get there, but women are on their way now.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Teaser ~ Are Men Necessary?

"Women are affected by lunar tides only once a month; men have raging hormones every day."
The teasers above and below are both from page 81 of Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd, 2005.
"Male critics accused Anita Hill and Monica Lewinsky of having erotomania -- fantasizing that a man is in love with you. But isn't empire-mania -- fantasizing that occupying a country will be a cakewalk -- a more dangerous malady?"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Independence Day"

I've had another suggestion from a friend who says "Independence Day" by Martina McBride is an even better song to inspire today's women.  Listen to it and let me know what you think.

See other songs I've posted for this discussion:  "I Am Woman"and "This One's for the Girls."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Teaser ~ A Room of One's Own

Today's teaser quote is from the first paragraph of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929).
"But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction -- what has that got to do with a room of one's own? ... All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point -- a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction ... I am going to develop in your presence as fully and freely as I can the train of thought which led me to think this. ... Fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact.  Therefore I propose, making use of all the liberties and licences of a novelist, to tell you the story of the two days that preceded my coming here ... I need not say that what I am about to describe has no existence; Oxbridge is an invention; so is Fernham; 'I' is only a convenient term for somebody who has no real being.  Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Gate to Women's Country ~ a teaser

Today's teaser is from page 69 of The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper, 1998.
Michael laughed.  "Warriors don't have daughters.  They may beget an occasional girl, my friend, but we don't have daughters.  You ought to know that!  No, you've got to use girls for what they're good for.  Forget daughters.  Stavia's nothing to me.  Or Myra, either.  Barten's courted Myra until she's eating out of his hand.  He's done well, Barten."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"This One's for the Girls"

Last week when I posted the video of "I Am Woman" which energized women in the 1970s, I asked the question, "Does anyone have any ideas about what song might inspire today's young women?" Alison's 13-year-old daughter said, "This One's for the Girls" by Martina McBride. Here's a video of it, so let me know if you agree.  If you can't play the video here, follow this link.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Stitchin' and Pullin': A Gee's Bend Quilt ~ by Patricia C. McKissack, 2008

Synopsis of the book:  "Mother and daughter, grandmother and granddaughter, aunt and niece, friend and friend. For a hundred years, generations of women from Gee’s Bend have quilted together, sharing stories, trading recipes, singing hymns—all the while stitchin’ and pullin’ thread through cloth. Every day Baby Girl listens, watches, and waits, until she’s called to sit at the quilting frame. Piece by piece, she puzzles her quilt together—telling not just her story, but the story of her family, the story of Gee’s Bend, and the story of her ancestors’ struggle for freedom."

How does a young African American girl piecing together her first quilt relate to the Women Unbound reading challenge?   Quilting is almost exclusively something that women do.  Baby Girl first remembers sitting in a cozy place below the quilt, listening to the women talk.  She learns that making a quilt is like piecing together lots of stories, made up of the material from things worn or used by those who came before her.  The day finally comes when she is called to take her place at the quilting frame and has to decide what piece will be the heart of her quilt, and why.  The women help her put her quilt together because quilting is all about "an old, old process, / women stitchin' and pullin' / together."  Here's my favorite page of this children's picture book:
Beneath the Quilting Frame

Baby Girl – that's me – played
beneath the quilting frame
on a "Nine Patch" quilt
my great-great-grandmother
and her sisters made
when Great-Gran
was herself Baby Girl.
I remember
the warm brown faces
of my mama, grandma, and great-gran
as they sewed, talked, sang, and laughed
above my tented playground.
All the while, steady fingers
pieced together colorful scraps
of familiar cloth
into something
more lovely
than anything they had been before.
Oh, how I remember . . .
I remember Mama's gentle voice
singing softly,
lulling her Baby Girl to sleep.
Rated: 7 of 10, a good book.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Donut Days ~ by Lara Zielin, 2009

I have already quoted the first words of this book in a teaser:
I'm no Biblical scholar, but I'm pretty sure Adam -- as in the guy who named all the animals in the Garden of Eden -- wasn't a hermaphrodite.

Turns out my mom had a different opinion.

If I'd known my mom was going to give Adam a sex change in front of the entire Living Word Redeemer congregation, I would have stayed away from her Friday night service.
Emma's parents are both pastors of the church, but her mother went too far -- in the opinion of a number of the people -- when she preached this stuff about Adam. This is what drew me to the book, wondering what it would say about women preachers, and that is one of the main themes of the book.

But that's not all the book deals with.  Besides worrying about her parents and the church situation, Emma has her own problems, like a falling out with her best friend Natalie. And there's the problem between Emma and her parents, who want her to attend a Christian college while she wants to study geology and evolution, which goes against what her parents believe and preach. She thinks she has figured out a possible way to get a scholarship for college, at the opening of the new Crispy Dream donut shop. To top off all her problems, Emma has not spoken to her friend Jake all summer because she doesn't know what to say to him after he said ... well, never mind what he said. I'll let you find out by reading Donut Days, which I rate at 8 of 10, a very good book.

GIVEAWAY:  Helen Murdoch commented on my teaser, "I just read this book and thought it was pretty good. I'm doing a give-away for it (in case any of your followers are interested)."  Click on this link to her review with the giveaway.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Nasreen's Secret School ~ by Jeanette Winter, 2009

What would it be like, as a child, to watch soldiers drag your father away? What would it feel like when your mother finally goes searching for him -- and never comes back? "Nasreen never spoke a word. She never smiled. She just sat, waiting for her mama and papa to return."

Nasreen's grandmother eventually enrolled her in a secret school for girls.  Even though women and girls were forbidden by the Taliban to venture out without a man to chaperone them, her grandmother managed to get her through the streets to the green gate, and Nasreen sat silently through the lessons.  I won't give away the whole story, but my favorite part was when boys would divert any soldiers who came near the green gate.

This picture book has an author's note at the beginning for the adults.  Afghanistan before the Taliban was a good place for women, who made up 70% of the teachers, 40% of doctors, and 50% of students at Kabul University.  Nasreen's parents and grandmother were educated, and her grandmother wanted Nasreen to learn as well.  I rate this children's book 8 of 10, a very good book.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"I Am Woman"

"I Am Woman"

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore,
And I know too much to go back and pretend
'cause I've heard it all before,
And I've been down there on the floor,
And no one's ever gonna keep me down again.

Oh, yes, I am wise,
But it's wisdom born of pain.
Yes, I've paid the price,
But look how much I gained.
If I have to, I can do anything.
I am strong (strong).
I am invincible (invincible).
I am woman.

You can bend but never break me,
'cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal.
And I come back even stronger,
Not a novice any longer,
'cause you've deepened the conviction in my soul.

Oh, yes, I am wise,
But it's wisdom born of pain.
Yes, I've paid the price,
But look how much I gained.
If I have to, I can do anything.
I am strong (strong).
I am invincible (invincible).
I am woman.

I am woman watch me grow.
See me standing toe to toe,
As I spread my lovin' arms across the land.
But I'm still an embryo
With a long, long way to go
Until I make my brother understand.

Oh yes I am wise,
But it's wisdom born of pain.
Yes, I've paid the price,
But look how much I gained.
If I have to I can face anything.
I am strong (strong).
I am invincible (invincible).
I am woman.

Oh, I am woman. (I am woman.)
I am invincible.
I am strong.
I am woman. (I am woman.)

I can't believe I haven't thought of this song until yesterday.  I've been involved in the Women Unbound reading challenge for two months – TWO MONTHS – and had not thought about the song that hit me like a ton of bricks the first time I heard it.  Released in 1972, "I Am Woman" became the anthem for the women's liberation movement.  That was the year I made up my mind about getting a divorce, though that was a scary thing for a mother of three who was still trying to finish a college degree.

I remember I was in the car, listening to music, about to leave the downtown area of Chattanooga on my way home. I was in the right lane, stopped at the light beside the Read House, when "I Am Woman" came on the radio. I was so excited and energized by the song that, when the light changed, I turned right -- instead of going home -- and circled a couple of blocks to get to the music store on Cherry Street.  I parked, put money in the meter, and went inside. The folks there had never heard of the song and, anyway, it would take awhile for the sheet music to come out, they informed me, looking at me like I was crazy. And I was crazy! I wanted those lyrics, I wanted that music, I wanted to sing! Oh, how I wanted that feeling of being strong! Invincible! WOMAN!

Yes, I certainly understand how "I Am Woman" became the anthem for the women's liberation movement in the 1970s.

Just as "Sister Suffragette" epitomizes for me the first wave of feminism – as women fought for the right to vote, "I Am Woman" embodies the second wave – when women fought for legal rights and equality with men.  According to some of what I've been reading, we are now in the third wave.  Does anyone have any ideas about what song might inspire today's young women?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Teaser ~ Donut Days

Today's teaser is from a YA (young adult) book.  The first words in Donut Days by Lara Zielin (2009) grabbed my attention.  Here they are, from page 1:
I'm no Biblical scholar, but I'm pretty sure Adam -- as in the guy who named all the animals in the Garden of Eden -- wasn't a hermaphrodite.

Turns out my mom had a different opinion.

If I'd known my mom was going to give Adam a sex change in front of the entire Living Word Redeemer congregation, I would have stayed away from her Friday night service.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Northern Light ~ by Jennifer Donnelly, 2003

I enjoyed Jennifer Donnelly's novel The Tea Rose and was eager to read this one. It's 1906 and Mattie (short for Mathilda) is 16. She has been accepted at Barnard College and manages to get a paid job at a hotel in the Adirondacks to save a little money. That summer a young woman is drowned by her lover, a murder that was the basis for Theodore Dreiser's novel, An American Tragedy.  Donnelly grew up hearing this true story from her grandmother and was fascinated by the young woman who died.

I read this one for the Women Unbound reading challenge, looking for ways to connect the novel to the theme of feminism and women's studies.  Mattie's father couldn't see any reason for a girl to go to college and become, of all things, a writer.  But that's what Mattie wanted desperately to do.  She assigned herself a new word to ponder and use every day, and she paid attention to details.  Nevertheless, she was (almost) resigned to the inevitable, that she would end up like her friend Minnie, with children and a husband and responsibilities that would "keep her from reading for a good long time" (p. 97).  But still she thought of words, words, words.
"I thought of my word of the day.  Can a girl be unmanned? I wondered.  By a boy?  Can she be unbrained?"  (p. 78)
 The murdered girl was pregnant, putting her in an impossible situation in 1906 -- or even 1956, when I was 16 -- so I could understand the letters written to her lover, begging him to come and (in a sense) rescue her.  She wanted to go away with him, but it was obvious to the reader that the young fellow wasn't interested in marrying her and settling down.

Meanwhile, we are following Mattie's life that summer.  Her beloved teacher gives her a book of poetry that had been called "an affront to common decency," "a blight on American womanhood," and "an insult to all proper feminine sensibilities."  Mattie assumes it must have "curse words in it for sure, or dirty pictures or something just god-awfully terrible," but it was just poems.  But what poems!  Even though the author doesn't tell us so, exactly, it's obvious the poems might give women ideas.  (These paragraphs are from pp. 207-208).
"One was about a young woman who gets an apartment in a city by herself and eats her first supper in it all alone.  But it wasn't sad, not one bit.  Another was about a mother with six children, who finds out she's got a seventh coming and gets so low spirited, she hangs herself.  One was about Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, setting fire to her loom and heading off to do some traveling herself.  And one was about God being a woman instead of a man.  That must've been the one that made the pope boiling mad."
And then Mattie thinks the unthinkable, and it's WAY outside the box!
"Jezzum ... What if God was a woman?  Would the pope be out of a job?  Would the president be a woman, too?  And the governor?  And the sheriff?  And when people got married, would the man have to honor and obey?  Would only the women be allowed to vote?  Emily Baxter's poems made my head hurt.  They made me think of so many questions and possibilities."
And that's why the book was so very dangerous -- to the status quo.  I rate this one 9 of 10, an excellent book.