Friday, January 31, 2014

Professor Bonnie

I took one of those silly quizzes that my friends were taking on Facebook.  It's called What Career Should You Actually Have?  The ten questions are pretty ridiculous, but I muddled through them, choosing something each time.  The quiz rumbled and shuddered (I may be slightly exaggerating) before popping out the answer.  Now you know the career I *SHOULD* have had before retirement.  Wait!  I really DID this.

"You are a thinker, in constant search of knowledge and answers to life’s most illusive questions. You love to analyze everything, testing out theories and pushing mental boundaries. Basically you’re an Einstein, but then again you probably already knew that."
Analysis (it's what I do)

Spell check is challenging the word "illusive" as possibly misspelled, so let's define these words:
illusive ~ adj. (literary) ~ deceptive; illusory; misleading; unreal.

elusive ~ adj. ~ eluding clear perception or complete mental grasp; hard to express or define; puzzling, baffling.
Elementary, my dear Watson!  The maker of the quiz quite likely used the wrong word.  Indeed, she or he should have referred to "life's most elusive questions."  Analysis complete.

If you want to take the same quiz, click here.  Maybe it will also tell you what you already know.

By the way, can you name the "professor" in that photo above?  That's Professor Minerva McGonagall of Hogwarts.

Book Beginnings ~ it begins with waiting

The Summer Before the Dark ~ by Doris Lessing, 1973, fiction (London, Turkey, Spain)
"A woman stood on her back step, arms folded, waiting."
I read this book about forty years ago, when it was first published.  I had that first one, on the left, the original hardcover published in 1973.  The one I currently have in my hand is the 1983 paperback, with waving plants on the cover.  But I think that 2009 trade paperback with Nobel Prize sticker on it is the "best" cover — a sort of haunting foggy darkness that feels oppressive.  Here's a synopsis of the story:
Kate Brown is faced for the first time in twenty years with the prospect of being alone.  Her children are grown; her husband — a successful neurologist — is going to work for some months in an American hospital.  Urged by him to take a job, she finds herself acting as interpreter for an international conference on food, becoming substitute mother to all the delegates, flying off to Turkey for another conference, to Spain for an affair with a younger man — all the traditional outlets.  But this summer of exploration, freedom and self-discovery, during which she rejects the stereotypes of femininity — that, like her conventional clothes, do not fit her any longer — becomes more than a private stocktaking.  What Kate discovers in this time of crisis enrages and appalls her as it brings her face to face with herself.  At the beginning of the novel, Kate Brown is a fashionable and competent woman in a suburban garden.  By summer's end the woman she was — living behind a protective camouflage of feminine charm and caring — no longer exists.
I divorced my husband in 1973, plunging myself into poverty and becoming a single mother of three trying to finish my bachelor's degree.  I was learning all about the gender gap in the 1960s and 1970s, when it would cost me almost as much in childcare as I could earn — as a woman.  I kind of went crazy in the 60s and 70s, while all around me hippies and flower children were exploring the sexual revolution.

In 1979, I began teaching about racism, sexism, and  EEO compliance to managers of a federal agency. (EEO, or Equal Employment Opportunity, was our country's new mandate.)  I became a radicalized defender of women's rights, trying to explain women's lib (that's "lib-eration," folks) and the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) to uncomprehending people like my ex-husband.  When I read him the twenty-four words of the ERA, he was astounded.  "That's all it says?"  He had been brainwashed into believing it required lots of things it didn't, like women being drafted and sharing uni-sex public bathrooms.  (Count the words in quotes in this ERA illustration — twenty-four words.  I carried these words around with me on something like a business card, just to disillusion detractors.  My ex's reaction was the best:  "That's all it says?  That doesn't seem so bad.")

In that world, in that time, I first read this book by Doris Lessing — and never forgot it.  I joined a consciousness-raising group and read most of the books now listed as classics of women's liberation, including these:
The Feminine Mystique (1963) ~ by Betty Friedan,
The Second Sex (1949) ~ by Simone de Beauvoir,
In a Different Voice (1982) ~ by Carol Gilligan,
The Women's Room (1977) ~ by Marilyn French,
The Bell Jar (1949) ~ by Sylvia Plath,
Diary of a Mad Housewife (1967) ~ by Sue Kaufman,
Beyond God the Father (1973) ~ by Mary Daly,
and Our Bodies, Ourselves (1973) ~ by The Boston Women's Health Book Collective.
And now it seems like it's time to re-read this book and explore once again "the summer of the dark."  (CORRECTION:  That's an interesting — Freudian? — typo.  I should have said "the summer before the dark."  Maybe those summers were darker than I remembered.)

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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Blogiversary ~ seven years!

Oh, my!  This date almost slipped my mind.  It's been — one, two, three, four, five, six — SEVEN years since I started blogging.

2007 ... My very first post was about Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake.
2008 ... I missed my "end of January" blogiversary by a day.
2009 ... I completely missed the day because I was sick enough to require open-heart surgery.
2010 ... I nailed the day with a blogiversary post.
2011 ... I went to church and remembered to post about my blogiversary.
2012 ... I had learned how to schedule the post for "1:30 AM" to match the 1-30 date.
2013 ... I completely missed the day (again) because of pain med confusion as my broken shoulder healed.
At least that's my best guess, a year later.  I don't think "blogiversary" has crossed my mind since 2012.
2014 ... Another year behind me.  What now?  A couple of years ago, I asked you readers what "memes" you liked — and not one single person responded.  A better gauge is the number who comment on the actual memes, like the Booking Through Thursday that I posted earlier today or the Book Beginnings on Fridays.  I think I'll just keep doing what I've been doing, which is basically posting what I'm interested in, whenever I feel like it.
I've got on my blogging shoes, so I'm ready to keep running this blog.

BTT (#40) ~ multi-tasking

Deb @ Booking Through Thursday asks:
"Do you do other things while you read?  Watch TV?  Cook?  Brush your teeth?  Knit?  (For the record, I’m guilty of all of the above.)  Or is it a quicker question to ask when you DON’T read?  (Please tell me you don’t read while you’re driving.)"
I apparently don't read like other book bloggers.  I guess it's possible to read a novel while doing these other things, but — as I say under my profile photo on the sidebar — "I read to explore ideas."  Do I do other things while reading?  Yes.
I underline important points in the book.
I look up what I wrote about a similar subject earlier, so...
I can connect the two thoughts.
I do sometimes read while eating (or eat while reading).
But, no, I don't read while driving.

Compassion ~ Karmapa and Karen Armstrong

His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa said,
"The absence of compassion is the greatest danger facing human beings today."  (Posted on Facebook on January 29, 2014.)
Karen Armstrong, who wrote the 2010 book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, would probably agree with that.  I had never heard of Karmapa until yesterday, but I like what he says, including this:
"Being a Buddhist involves three things — giving up harming others, benefiting them, and taming one’s own mind.  If you possess these three, you are a Buddhist."  (Posted on Facebook on July 1, 2013.)
How would you define compassion?  I think it involves these three things he named:  not harming others, doing what's good for others or will benefit them, and taming my own mind so that I learn to "do unto others as I would want them to do unto me."  And I think it takes practice.  That's why I'm studying Armstrong's book with friends, so I get in the habit of right thinking about myself and others.  Let me know if you'd like to discuss the book with me.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Library Loot ~ January 29-February 4

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 ~ by Michelle Markel, 2013, children's history
When Clara Lemlich arrived in America, she couldn't speak English.  She didn't know that young women had to go to work, that they traded an education for long hours of labor, that she was expected to grow up fast.  But that did not stop Clara.  She went to night school, spent hours studying English, and helped support her family by sewing in a factory.  Clara never quit.  And she never accepted that girls should be treated poorly and paid little.  So Clara fought back.  Fed up with the mistreatment of her fellow laborers, Clara led the largest walkout of women workers in the country's history.  Clara had learned a lot from her short time in America.  She learned that everyone deserved a fair chance.  That you had to stand together and fight for what you wanted.  And, most importantly, that you could do anything you put your mind to.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages us to name the books we checked out of the library.  Click here to see what others got this week.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Rod iron

I'm on a neighborhood listserv, where neighbors send out lost dog emails, yard sale notices, or questions like "Is this your kitty who showed up on our porch?"  The other day a really confusing one went out, saying the person wants to sell a bunch of stuff, including a "rod iron mirror."  Only after I said it out loud did I come up with any idea of what the writer may have meant.  Is it a wrought iron mirror like the one here that I found with Google's help?  That's my guess.  These pieces may look like they were originally rods of some sort, but "rod iron"?  I'm astounded at how often people have no clue what they're talking about.

Let's look at the two words.
wrought ~ adjective ~ worked; produced or shaped by beating with a hammer, as iron or silver articles.

rod ~ noun ~a stick or staff of wood or metal; a fishing rod; a stick used for measuring.
One's an adjective, and the other is a noun.  Not at all interchangeable.
Cross-posted on my word blog.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Salon ~ pinkish edition

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes ~ by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein,  2011, children's
Beatrice Bottomwell is a nine-year-old girl who has never (not once!) made a mistake.  She never forgets her math homework, she never wears mismatched socks, and she ALWAYS wins the yearly talent show at school. In fact, Beatrice holds the record of perfection in her hometown, where she is known as The Girl Who Never Makes Mistakes.  Life for Beatrice is sailing along pretty smoothly until she does the unthinkable she makes her first mistake.  And in a very public way!
Not All Princesses Dress in Pink ~ by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple, illustrated by Anne-Sophie Lanquetin, 2010, children's
Not all princesses dress in pink.  Some play in bright red socks that stink, blue team jerseys that don't quite fit, accessorized with a baseball mitt, and a sparkly crown.  Princesses come in all kinds. Exuberant text from Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple paired with charming illustrations prove that girls can jump in mud puddles and climb trees, play sports and make messes — all while wearing their tiaras.  Not every girl has a passion for pink, but all young ladies will love this empowering affirmation of their importance and unlimited potential.
I learned about both of these books from A Mighty Girl.  Click on either book title to see what else you can learn about it.


My great-granddaughter Shelby, at six weeks old, with her mother.  This little princess does seem to be wearing some pink.


I'm currently trying to finish two books this week and also reading a third with some of my friends:
But my TBR stack just keeps growing.

And because I'm a Facebook reader, I find good stuff like this from Aunty Acid.

Facebook's Sunday Salon page links to other bloggers writing about books.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Five ~ Church Olympians

Deb @ RevGalBlogPals brings us today's Friday Five:
"With the Olympic Games in Sochi just around the corner, I started thinking about all the athletes who attend the Games and never win a medal.  The hours of practicing, sacrifice and dedication don’t get noticed by the media.  Yet, for the love of their sport, they persevere.  Then I began to reminisce about the 'Olympians' in the Church.  Perhaps you can think of faithful ones who never get up to preach, sing or read, but faithfully come, week after week, to serve.  It seems to me they deserve a medal of sorts.  So, for this week’s Friday Five, share stories or memories of those 'medalists' of the Church who have encouraged you in their faithfulness."
"The Olympic symbol, better known as the Olympic rings, consists of five intertwined rings and represents the unity of the five inhabited continents (Africa, America, Asia, Oceania, Europe), according to Wikipedia.  "The colored version of the rings — blue, yellow, black, green, and red — over a white field forms the Olympic flag.  These colors were chosen because every nation had at least one of them on its national flag."  My five church Olympians are all from one country (and one town, where I met each of them), but they are from five different churches in Chattanooga and three denominations.  hese five win gold medals for the categories beside their names.

Chuck in Nicaragua with a child he befriended
1.  Chuck Cardwell ~ driving the church bus, collecting supplies for Nicaragua all year long, and going on mission trips to Nicaragua at least once a year.

2.  Donna Carey ~ agreeing to be church treasurer, even though both her degrees are in the humanities, not numbers-related.

3.  Michael Moss ~ doing audio-visual work, such as manning the camera (as shown here) and running the sound systems.

4.  Jane Yelliott ~ beautifying the church with tile mosaics filling opposite walls of the front entrance and a painting of the church in her Sunday school class.

5.  Charles Dunlap ~ mowing the lawn, repairing whatever is broken, and generally doing whatever odd jobs are needed around the church — and the community.

New Year's Resolution Reading Challenge ~ update

Although I added a few extra steps to this reading challenge hosted by Joy Weese Moll @ Joy's Book Blog, I haven't reached even the goal of four she suggested.  Here are her four, my three, and my progress climbing the ladder.  Notice I've only managed to review one of the three books I've finished reading.

Resolved:  1 book
✓  Evolving in Monkey Town ~ by Rachel Held Evans, 9/10
Determined:  2 books
✓  Whistling in the Dark ~ by Frederick Buechner, 8/10
Committed:  3 books
✓  Knocking on Heaven's Door ~ by Katy Butler, 9/10 
Passionate:  4 books
Ardent:  5 books
Fervent:  6 books
Ridiculously addicted:  7 books

How far will I go this month?  I think two more books.  I'm close to finishing Zealot by Reza Aslan, and  Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott is a relatively short book.  Barring something unforeseen, I'll definitely reach "passionate" and possibly my added level of "ardent."  Wish me reading luck.

Obviously, with only one week to go, I won't reach the level of "ridiculously addicted."  As I look at the books I thought I'd be reading, I see one has changed completely.  Instead of Embracing the Human Jesus by David Galston, my face-to-face group has decided to read Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong (2010), which I'm also reading with my Book Buddies online.

Beginning ~ with a fatal fall

The Sunday Philosophy Club ~ by Alexander McCall Smith, 2004, mystery fiction
"Isabel Dalhousie saw the young man fall from the edge of the upper circle, from the gods.  His flight was so sudden and short, and it was for less than a second that she saw him, hair tousled, upside down, his shirt and jacket up around his chest so that his midriff was exposed.  And then, striking the edge of the grand circle, he disappeared headfirst towards the stalls below."
I've been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, so it's time for a novel.  Occasionally, I like to read a mystery, and this one is by the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Sounds good to me.

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

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Library Loot ~ January 22-28

A Perfectly Good Family ~ by Lionel Shriver, 2007, fiction (North Carolina)
Following the death of her worthy liberal parents, Corlis McCrea moves back into her family's grand Reconstruction mansion in North Carolina, willed to all three siblings.  Her timid younger brother has never left home.  When her bullying black-sheep older brother moves into "his" house as well, it's war.  Each heir wants the house.  Yet to buy the other out, two siblings must team against one.  Just as in girlhood, Corlis is torn between allying with the decent but fearful youngest and the iconoclastic eldest, who covets his legacy to destroy it.  This is a stunning examination of inheritance, literal and psychological:  what we take from our parents, what we discard, and what we are stuck with, like it or not.
The Sunday Philosophy Club: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel ~ by Alexander McCall Smith, 2004, mystery fiction (Scotland)
Isabel is attending a concert in the Usher Hall when she witnesses a man fall from the upper balcony.  Isabel can’t help wondering whether it was the result of mischance or mischief.  Against the best advice of her no-nonsense housekeeper Grace, her bassoon playing friend Jamie, and even her romantically challenged niece Cat, she is morally bound to solve this case.
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages us to share titles of books we’ve checked out of the library.  Add your link any time during the week, and see what others got this week.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Knocking on Heaven's Door ~ by Katy Butler

Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death ~ by Katy Butler, 2013

Having taught college ethics classes, I ordered this book to read about medical ethics.  Katy Butler's father told his exhausted wife, “I’m living too long,” yet doctors refused to disable his pacemaker, condemning him to a prolonged and agonizing death.  Katy, a journalist, set out to understand why.  The book deals with questions like these:
  • When does death stop being a curse and become a blessing?
  • Where is the line between saving a life and prolonging a dying?
  • When do you say to a doctor, “Let my loved one go?”
This book is a blend of memoir and investigative reporting that lays bare the tangled web of technology, medicine, and commerce that dying has become.  I signed up for the New Year's Resolution Reading Challenge on December 13th, ten days after Jane — one of my closest friends — was told to put her affairs in order because she probably wouldn't see the end of the month.  She didn't, dying on December 29th.  I chose to read this just-arrived book to sort out feelings about death and dying.  Jane's quick death was not like what Katy Butler's father went through:
Katy Butler with her parents, Val and Jeff
"We hadn't created this mess.  My father's drawn-out dying and my mother's suffering [tending him around the clock at home] were the consequence of our culture's idolatrous, one-sided worship of maximum longevity.  As far as I was concerned, this violated the way of the universe and was a moral crime.  Why were we the ones being judged?" (p. 196).
Here's how dying was for another family Butler writes about in the book.  After a daughter insisted on turning off her father's pacemaker, after a doctor agreed to order it, after hospital staff questioned the doctor's orders, and after the hospital bioethics committee ruled it would be "kind and compassionate" to deactivate the pacemaker, this is how one man died (from pages 263-264):
Bella, who was her father's legally appointed medical decision-maker, took him back to her duplex.  A team from the device manufacturer came out and, after some hesitation, deactivated the device.  Bella and her daughter pushed two beds together in the living room, in front of a window overlooking the ocean, and stayed with her father as he grew weaker, sleeping with him throughout the night, their hands entwined with his, heads resting together.  He died peacefully, one week and one hour after the pacemaker was disabled, in her home, in her arms, surrounded with love.  Thanks to his daughter's extraordinary efforts, medical overdoing was undone, and he died the Good Death that our ancestors so prized — in the bosom of family, at home, and in a state of acceptance.  It was an expression of a new Art of Dying for a biotechnical time:  one requiring discernment, resisting Fast Medicine's default never-quit pathway, and honoring death.

The decision was Slow Medicine at its best — a shared decision that took into account the suffering of the whole family and did not focus reflexively on fixing an organ or extending a life.  It empowered the people who carried the burden rather than doctors who would perform a heroic intervention and then leave the family to pick up the pieces.  It accepted the reality of her father's twin terminal illnesses — dementia and heart trouble.  It was not made in isolation by an exhausted daughter but with the support and validation of a larger moral community.  It was the fruit of unusually harmonious cooperation between a family and a medical institution.  It was, in its own way, loving, beautiful, and holy.

This is one possible path to death.
My friend Jane Yelliott's death was like this, backed up by Slow Medicine.  Her doctor said he would recommend to Jane what he had recommended to his own father — palliative care so she wouldn't be in pain.  Jane wanted to die in her own bed, and she did, slipping away peacefully in her sleep.

Jane was an artist who lived fully, right up to the diagnosis of aggressive Stage IV liver cancer at age 87.  When she died, unfinished work was still on her easel.

I rate Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death 9 of 10, excellent.

Interview with the author, October 30, 2013.
New York Times article What Broke My Father’s Heart, June 6, 2010.

NOTE:  This is one of my books for the New Year's Resolution Challenge for 2014.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday Salon ~ life goes on

Tomorrow, my face to face group will meet to start our discussion of Karen Armstrong's Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (2010).

I had hoped to have finished reading The Case for God (2009) as part of my background reading, but I haven't even cracked it open yet.  I know why I haven't been reading much and only got three posts written for the entire first half of this month — one of my best friends died December 29th.  Jane had asked me to do her funeral, which was actually a memorial service on Saturday, January 4th, followed by her burial at National Cemetery on Monday the 6th.  Then I could turn off my "official role" and grieve.  Nothing seems quite right anymore, though I have been going through the motions.  Something makes me smile, and I want to tell Jane about it — or I'm out running errands and want to call Jane to meet me for lunch.  I miss her — a lot — but life must go on.

My grandson Jamey turned 21 last week.  Here he is at his birthday dinner, sitting beside 4-year-old Raegan, who loves her Uncle Jamey.

I bought a new dryer, after the old one went "snap-clunk" in the middle of drying a load of clothes.  The new one arrived the same day the apartment complex decided to reinforce the balconies above my patio, starting early in the morning.  That involved setting up scaffolding which completely blocked my patio and the door that was the most direct way to bring the new dryer from the delivery truck in the parking lot.  (And remove the even heavier OLD dryer.)  The result was that we had to move furniture and boxes of books to allow entrance from our other door — NOT the way we had intended to spend our day.  But it's nice to have a dryer again.

Click to enlarge the pictures
Rory, a story teller from Ireland, invented Story Cubes.  I'm fascinated by these, and there's even a blog about Rory's adventures in taking his cubes to different places all over the world.  The cubes can be used as ice breakers at meetings or to get children to open up and tell stories.  Though there are several sets available, I chose to show you this one because I especially like the cube at bottom center that shows a person reading.  (Of course!  After all, this is a book blog.)  Pick a couple of the pictures on these cubes and tell me a story in the comments.

The Sunday Salon's Facebook page links to other blogs.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Five ~ too late?

Read the wonderful story of Malcolm's mural
Jan brings us our RevGal's Friday Five today, belatedly:  "Have you ever been late?  List five ways you have been late, remembering it is Never Too Late To Love!"

1.  Of course I've been late.  For years, it puzzled me why I was consistently late for one particular get-together.  So often late to arrive, I'd gotten teased about it.  I finally sorted things out when I admitted to myself that I really, really, REALLY didn't want to be there.  I hated attending that annual event and was late because everything in me was resisting.  I felt obligated and went a few more times, always watching myself to see what was going on.  Being there never got better; in fact, it got worse, to the point that I started dreading it weeks — nay, months — before the event.  Now I honor myself enough not to put myself through that anymore.

Lake Junaluska
2.  United Methodists meet annually at regional conferences, with each church sending one lay person for every pastor.  My conference meets in June at Lake Junaluska in North Carolina.  The two of us from my small church were traveling in my car, so naturally I was driving.  We were running late, and I was driving a bit over the speed limit.  (You see where this is going, don't you?)  I was not enough over the limit to be pulled over, normally.  But the woman with me pointed out the window at the police car as we passed, and the cop flipped on his lights and came after us.  After I got the ticket, my friend said quietly, "I think I'm the reason you got that ticket."  Well, not completely.  I was, after all, speeding.

3.  Late for work, yup.  When I was a single mother of three after my divorce, I was often two minutes late to work.  Truly, two minutes.  But being such a stickler for honesty, I would work late to make up for it.  Often I worked two HOURS overtime, and that's without any additional compensation of my minimum salary at the time.  My boss knew it, but those two MINUTES bugged him.  He looked for any excuse to complain about my work.  One day, he fussed and complained about my overloaded desk, and I stayed until 11:00 at night to complete everything.  In my defense, I want you to know that when I quit, it took THREE people to cover my job responsibilities.  Yup, three.  I think they may have missed me.

4.  Night owls stay up late.  I remember when my ten-year-old son wanted to stay up all night.  We played Battleship (the board game, the original) for hours, and I never beat him once.  When light began to appear at our windows, he was overjoyed.  I can still see his ear-to-ear grin and his bouncy joy, even though he is now 50 years old.  I understood exactly how he felt, since I have always preferred being awake late into the night.  I really am a night owl and thought I'd be able to do as I pleased when I grew up.  But then I had to work, and I had children to tend, and ... and ... and.  Maybe when my children were young it was the quiet that beckoned me.  Maybe it's just me.  Now I'm retired and can sleep late to compensate for my late nights reading a book or writing a blog post or surfing the Web.  I'm just on a different schedule than the rest of the world.

5.  I almost hate to share the worst occasion of my lateness, but I think I'll do it.  This happened many years ago.  I woke up one Sunday morning and looked at the bedside clock.  It was five minutes 'til 11:00 a.m.  For those of you who may not know, I'm an ordained minister.  When, boys and girls, is the "sacred hour" for most churches?  Oh, yes, 11:00 on Sunday morning.  I was pastoring a church (I'm now retired), and it was five minutes before the weekly service started.  Five minutes!  I couldn't even dress in time, much less drive to church and preach at the appointed hour.  I grabbed the phone, told the parishioner who answered the phone in my office that I wouldn't be there, and they actually managed to do the whole service without me — all at the last minute.  (Rather humbling, if you think about it.)  The good news?  There was a first-time visitor there that morning, and she told me later she was so impressed with the preacher's honesty (that I admitted I had overslept) that she decided to continue coming.  I'd never have known it made her smile, except that she became my friend and laughed when she told me the story.

Beginning ~ with "what if?"

All Clear ~ by Connie Willis, 2010, fiction (England)
"By noon Michael and Merope still hadn't returned from Stepney, and Polly was beginning to get really worried.  Stepney was less than an hour away by train.  There was no way it could take Merope and Michael — correction, Eileen and Mike; she had to remember to call them by their cover names — no way it could take them six hours to go fetch Eileen's belongings from Mrs. Willett's and come back to Oxford Street.  What if there'd been a raid and something had happened to them?  The East End was the most dangerous part of London."
That is definitely a beginning that pulls me in.  However, now that I have this book checked out of the library, I see that it's the second of two volumes that make one novel.  Yes, that's what it says.  One novel.  I can't start in the middle.  The first volume — Blackout — is available, and there's even a copy in my branch of the library system.  However, there's a problem.  Blackout has 491 pages, and All Clear has 641 pages.  Yes, I can do the math!
491 + 641 = 1,132 pages
Reading 491 pages, once I get volume one, would take a lot of time.  Then reading the second volume would take another long time.  There's no way I can finish this "book number two" before it's due, so I'm taking this hefty volume back today.  I'll read it eventually, but I am currently in the middle of reading five other books.  Before I take it back, though, I can see you (and I) want to know more.  Here's a summary:
In Blackout, award-winning author Connie Willis returned to the time-traveling future of 2060 — the setting for several of her most celebrated works — and sent three Oxford historians to World War II England:  Michael Davies, intent on observing heroism during the Miracle of Dunkirk; Merope Ward, studying children evacuated from London; and Polly Churchill, posing as a shopgirl in the middle of the Blitz.  But when the three become unexpectedly trapped in 1940, they struggle not only to find their way home but to survive as Hitler’s bombers attempt to pummel London into submission.

Now the situation has grown even more dire.  Small discrepancies in the historical record seem to indicate that one or all of them have somehow affected the past, changing the outcome of the war.  The belief that the past can be observed but never altered has always been a core belief of time-travel theory — but suddenly it seems that the theory is horribly, tragically wrong.

Meanwhile, in 2060 Oxford, the historians’ supervisor, Mr. Dunworthy, and seventeen-year-old Colin Templer, who nurses a powerful crush on Polly, are engaged in a frantic and seemingly impossible struggle of their own — to find three missing needles in the haystack of history.

Told with compassion, humor, and an artistry both uplifting and devastating, All Clear is more than just the triumphant culmination of the adventure that began with Blackout.  It’s Connie Willis’s most humane, heartfelt novel yet — a clear-eyed celebration of faith, love, and the quiet, ordinary acts of heroism and sacrifice too often overlooked by history.
As you can see, that summary from the dustjacket doesn't really say a thing about All Clear.  Clearly (pun intended), I must first read Blackout in order to know what's going on.  I hope to get back to these books, one of these days, but the thought of 1,132 pages overwhelms me right now.

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

Friday, January 10, 2014

Beginning ~ with the fall of Jerusalem

The Dovekeepers ~ by Alice Hoffman, 2011, fiction (Israel)
We had been wandering for so long I forgot what it was like to live within walls or sleep through the night.  In that time I lost all I might have possessed if Jerusalem had not fallen:  a husband, a family, a future of my own.  My girlhood disappeared in the desert.
Someone (in a Facebook group I'm in) posted this question:  "What book has impacted you these past few years?"  One woman wrote simply, "The Dovekeepers."  So I moved it to the top of my TBR stack.

Masada today (click to enlarge photo)
This book is not set in modern Israel, but in 70 CE, when nine hundred Jews held out for months against Roman armies on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert.  The ancient historian Josephus says two women and five children survived.  This novel recounts a tale of four bold and resourceful women, who are all dovekeepers.

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

Friday, January 3, 2014

Beginning ~ with a child who dies

In the Country of the Young ~ by Lisa Carey, 2000, fiction (Maine)
She was only a girl — an unwanted, invisible child, crouched within the beginning of her life — but when she died, it changed everything.
I read one of Lisa Carey's novels years ago, and I'd like to read it again.  This one is new to me, and the first sentence draws me in, making me wonder what's going on.  Making me sad that a child dies, an unwanted child at that.  I'm caught.  I want to know more.  I've been reading nonfiction, so this is my first novel of the year.

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