Thursday, January 5, 2012

Book reviews (warning: herein lie spoilers)

So December went...okay. How's seven out of ten sound? Not great? Thought so.

I finished all but Eating Animals, Intimacy, and The Town that Food Saved. I am almost finished with the first two, but I'm going to save The Town that Food Saved for another time. Maybe in the spring, when I am looking forward to our community market opening up again for the summer season. It seems that it would be more timely then. And the excitement of the season might help push me past the very, very slow way the book starts.

Here are the seven (nine? I can't remember which of these wasn't on my official list - hey, maybe I read more than I thought. Or I'm dipping into November?) that I read:

An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor - I love this book. I want this life. I also love that she started the chapters with quotes, and their sources ranged from Thich Nhat Hanh to Louis L'Amour.

Good People by Marcus Sakey - I picked this book up off my shelf one night and said, "I'll just read a few pages before bed." Four hours later, I was finished and exhilarated. I could not put it down. It started fast and was fast and intense all the way through. If you like a quick read with a lot of action, this is a good choice.

Madapple by Christina Meldrum - I like the way that the story was told. I would have loved this in junior high, although my Southern Baptist upbringing would have ensured that I was scandalized by it - not by the adult themes - just the spiritual mystery. Of course, that would have made me love it more (and hide it from my mother).

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett - A common critique of avid readers is that we spend all of our time with our noses in books, reading about the world instead of experiencing it. I suppose I get the point. When it comes to the Amazon jungle, though, I'm at peace with that. Through this book, Ann Patchett gave me as much of a jungle experience as I ever need to have, and I am richer for it (without the threat of malaria or death by snakebite, thank you very much). And on top of that, I got a graceful discussion of research ethics. Amazing imagery and, as always, amazing characters. I loved it.

Bossypants by Tina Fey - I laughed until I cried at least five times. I especially loved her chapter where she responded to comments posted by online "critics." I already had a lot of respect for her, but now I would list her as one of my heroes.

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown - I can't quite put my finger on why I didn't like this one very much. It was okay. The best description I have heard of it was one reviewer on Goodreads who said, "All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is not all rainbows and ice cream sundaes as the cover of this novel depicts, but more closely resembles a train wreck that also catches on fire, blows up, and then drowns." So if you're into that, then, um, give it a read?

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson - This book started slow and ended slow. It read like a soap opera. The characters weren't interesting to me, so the dramatic things that they did and the dramatic things that happened to them weren't interesting to me either. It wouldn't be a bad beach read. The writing wasn't terrible. I made it through. But that's it.

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami - I love the way he writes. Every time I read it, I stumble across passages where I stop and think, "Wow. I bet that was beautiful in its original language." Alas, I do not know Japanese. Why can't I learn everything?!?! I haven't read a lot of his stuff, but I like what I have read. The reviews I've read list this as one of his not-so-great, but I enjoyed it. When I was about halfway through, I found out that it was number four in a series. Oops. So maybe next I'll go back and read 1-3. It was easy to follow anyway.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - The first forty pages were painful. So many people had recommended it - even people who don't typically read a lot - so I was confused. I found myself exclaiming aloud, "Natalie read this? Natalie?!?" The first forty pages took just as long for me to read as the last 420 pages. I say this not to discourage you from reading it but to illustrate how very, very worth reading the last 420 pages of the book are. They are so worth getting through those rough (albeit necessary) first forty. This was my favorite book that I read this month. More than Murakami - more than Patchett - I loved this book.

Books for this month:

1. Intimacy by Henri Nouwen
2. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
3. Good Things by Mia King
4. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
5. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson
6. Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum
7. The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman
8. A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren
9. What the Other Mothers Know by Michelle Gendelman, Ilene Graff, and Donna Rosenstein
10. A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents by Liza Palmer

I'm on Goodreads. Add me if you want to keep up with my progress throughout the month or just keep up with books I read in general. Or just want to add someone on Goodreads.

Suzanne's bookshelf: currently-reading

The Cloister WalkAmazing Grace: A Vocabulary of FaithGood PeopleAn Altar in the World: A Geography of FaithMadappleState of Wonder

More of Suzanne's books »

Why, hello there...

This year, I am going to focus on pursuing things I love. Of course, I tend to do that anyway, so these resolutions are going to sound familiar. Lately, though, I've been wondering what exactly I love about them. Growing up, I was that child that was always asking, "Why?" So, at the risk of being even more of a navelgazer than I already am, I've chosen three things that I love and intend to pursue more passionately in the coming year and, in doing so, hopefully will discover more about how they fit into my life, the world, purpose, etc.

1. I love words. And I am not alone in this. We give words so much power that they often seem to have a mind of their own. Barring natural disasters, every memorable thing that has happened in history started by someone saying something. I am awed and humbled (and sometimes a little terrified) by what words can do.

There are a few practical ways that I can pursue this love. The obvious two are reading and writing. As mentioned sometime last month, I am choosing ten books a month to read (thoughts on last month's reading and the list for this month coming soon to a post near you). I also want to be more intentional with my writing. I want to write something every day. I want to have one of the things I'm working on ready to be submitted for publication by the end of the year.

I also want to listen more. I get to hear a lot of stories in my line of work, but I want to pay more attention. I also want to use words more wisely. I don't know how to do this yet. I don't know what it will look like. We'll see.

2. I love feeding people. I was going to say, "I love food." But that's not really true. I mean, I like food. I enjoy it. But if we're just talking about food and me? I have pretty simple tastes. Left alone, I could live quite happily on soup, sandwiches, cereal, popcorn, and the occasional bean burrito. The thing that I actually love about food is how it connects me to other people and the world.

I like trying new recipes so that I can share them with other people who are looking for alternatives to their standard fare. I like having people over for dinner (maybe - MAYBE - even more than I like going out for dinner. Maybe.) I like knowing where my food comes from and that the people who grew it/made it were treated and paid fairly for the work that it entailed. I am concerned about people who are not blessed with the ridiculous bounty that I tend to take for granted and would like to do more to end this injustice.

3. I love justice. I love it when real equality triumphs over mere lip service. I love it when the work people do actually yields the security their work merits. I love to see wrongs righted and people restored to wholeness. I love a God who proclaims that mercy is justice. And I will never be satisfied with a world where these things are out of the ordinary.

More on this later.

I hope that your 2012 is full of promise and happiness!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mini Staycation

Originally posted on livejournal on January 23, 2011.

The first week of school went by quickly and without incident. It also went by without interest, so I will move on.

I have learned one thing so far with my New Year's Resolution. Meaning to be restful and actually being restful are two different things. I put up a calendar in my office to keep track of how I'm doing with my vitality month, and yesterday I realized that the answer is "not so well." It takes such simple things to restore me. I think that, because they're both simple and things that I love to do, I just assumed that remembering to incorporate them into my days would be easy. It turns out that, unless I plan them into my schedule, they don't really get done. Not as regular habits, anyway.

This weekend has been awesome. I had people over for a Scentsy party on Friday night, and I made dinner. We spent most of the evening talking. I have spent the rest of the weekend basking in my cleaner living room, watching the third season of Lost, eating leftovers from the week, reading things that require no attention span (Bad Marie, Little Tales of Misogyny, and a collection of short essays written by women about exes entitled What Was I Thinking?, just to balance things out), and sleeping. I went out for a little while to celebrate a friend's birthday last night, but other than that I have not left the house. It was just the sort of weekend I needed.

I haven't decided if I've given up on sending out cards. I can't really call them holiday cards any more. Unless the holiday I mean is Valentines Day. It's one of those things that I want to do, but other things seem to keep taking priority. I am in desperate need of simplifying my life. I find lists on how to do so inspiring. Ironically, they're mostly lists of more things to do when the logical key to simplicity is to do fewer things. I purposely forsook one of my daily resolutions for the month today (clean a little every day), and I feel just glorious about it. Perhaps it's just as important to know when to take a break from a good habit as it is to develop it.

My Happiness Project

Originally posted on livejournal on December 31, 2010.

New Year's Resolution time! I don't want to do anything that puts a lofty numerical goal on me, because while the Six Lists of One Hundred Things resolution from this year was successful in many ways (overwhelmingly so, in my view), I did not fulfill even one of those lists to a hundred. And the last few years have been like that. I will find at the end of the year that, although I've accomplished/learned much, I will have failed on a technicality. So this year, I'm taking away some of the technicalities, because I don't really work like that anyway. I'm leaving room for the goals to breathe - to expand and contract as necessary throughout the process.

So, I read The Happiness Project (Gretchen Rubin), and I liked it. And as I happened to read it around the time I started pondering what my New Year's Resolutions were going to be this year, it played an integral role. In the section on getting started, she said, "I had everything I could possibly want - yet I was failing to appreciate it." Well, I may not have everything I want, but that's no excuse. I'm still woefully slack in appreciating what I do have. So my resolution this year is to take on my own sort of Happiness Project. I'm even stealing the title. It's not that I'm particularly unhappy (although I could definitely list a few areas of my life where I could stand to be happier - couldn't we all?), but I am restless and dissatisfied (even more so than usual). I would like to spend the year tunneling out of that, or at least putting it to good use.

I identified eleven areas where I see a need for improvement, giving me a month to jumpstart each one (and December to practice all of them). I haven't thought through all of them yet, so I will just post at the first of each month to detail the additions of the month (you know you're excited).

January: Vitality

I borrowed her first month, because vitality seems essential to all other goals. So in January, I'm going to focus on this relaxation-action dialectic and see if I can't find some sort of balance between the two. I started by asking myself when I can remember feeling the most relaxed and when I can remember feeling the most energized. The answer to both questions was the same - the vacation to Cape Cod. In looking back at my writing that week, I found several key elements on which I usually don't focus in my everyday life - cooking (or, more specifically, eating) foods made from wholesome ingredients, sharing drawn-out meals (and perhaps a bottle or two of wine) with people, reading, writing, being outside, having an uncluttered living space, seeing new places, praying. So my vitality goals to start in January are as follows:

1. Eat more vegan meals. I know that this is not everyone's ideal diet, but one thing I learned this past year is that it's the diet that gives me the most energy. I am not at the place yet where I am committed to go full vegan, but I want to be more mindful of how I fuel my body.

2. Do something to unclutter my living space every day. Whether this means loading things into the dishwasher or putting away clothes/shoes or organizing CDs or adding things to the Goodwill pile, I have a few minutes a day to spend on where I live. I'm currently relishing the tail-end of my luxurious two weeks off. Some of these days have been productive. And some days, I have sat in front of the television and watched the first season of Lost. And I feel rested and energized. Rome was not built in a day, and my messy apartment will not become suddenly spotless in one day either. I've tried several methods before, but I think that this one is more practical for me.

3. Have someone over to dinner at least once a week. This was my favorite part of every day at Cape Cod - the evening meal. We would sight-see or lounge all day, but then we would gather for a meal and sit around and talk. I miss doing this. Besides, having people over will give me a little extra incentive to stick to my uncluttering. I definitely tidy up for company.

4. Read something. Write something. I'm simply more focused when I'm exercising my mind, and these are the primary ways that I enjoy doing it. I would like to read and write something every day, but I'm not going to be a stickler about it. More specifically, this year I'd like to re-read at least one book I have loved (Starting with the book of Isaiah in January. The Chronicles of Narnia, The Stand, Crime and Punishment, and The Eye of the World are a few others that spring to mind) per month and finish my Fishbowl story.

5. Take at least one long walk a week. I define a long walk as anything that takes me more than half an hour.

6. I would like to visit a new place every month. My budget won't allow for that visit always to be out of town, but there are plenty of places nearby that I haven't seen. There are B&B's I can't recommend because I haven't stayed there and wineries I haven't toured. I think it's time to explore them.

Prayer is vital. I want to have a month to focus solely on prayer, so that will lead us into February.

Friday, January 9, 2009

First post!

Ah, one more blog to keep up with. :)

That is all.