Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Faith, A Novel by Jennifer Haigh...family and emotions around a headline-grabbing news backdrop

I confess...I was particularly excited when Faith by Jennifer Haigh popped up as one of the books available to me as an advance copy from the Harper team.  I read and enjoyed The Condition, a novel that is nominally about a woman with Turner's syndrome but is really more broadly about family.  I did also read Mrs. Kimble but it honestly doesn't trigger much in my memory.

Faith again revolves around a family, in this case primarily three siblings, after the eldest (by a good bit, and from a different father) becomes one of the many priests accused of sexually molesting a young boy.  The sister is the primary narrator (though they take turns) and waivers at different points between total faith in her brother's innocence and a good deal of doubt.  The other brother has a family of his own and tends more towards anger, fear, and the belief that children don't generally lie, all of which is complicated by his own marital issues.  We also meet their parents (well, it is the priest-brother's step-brother), including a father deep in alcohol-related dementia.  The mother who is bringing the charges is also explored in depth and is a stark contrast to the primary family as, despite a loving mother, she has a history of drug issues and picking dangerous men.

I was again impressed by Haigh's deep understanding of family dynamics.  She explores both the complexity and the beauty of family, an exploration aided by using the viewpoints of multiple family members.  As with The Condition, I appreciated that the story was about much more than the obvious topic (Turner's and the accusation).  I enjoyed the read, though my rating varied a bit over the course and I can't put my finger on why (from 3.5 to 4).  I ended with a solid 4, not just as a rounding matter but because it is a book I can see myself revisiting, because the characters had a lot of richness, and because it helped me consider an ongoing news story from a different view.  This is NOT an action-packed book but there's a lot of emotional depth and I'd recommend it to people who enjoy character-driven novels that explore emotions and family dynamics.

For more on the book and links to other blogger reviews, visit the TLC tour site.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

reading more....State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

I confess...I post my blog entries on FB and yesterday did spark some debate so I'm more inspired to write a book review that I'd been waiting on a bit (have another I'm nearly done reading and have a tour one due to post next week). 

I once again feel the need to emphasize that I'm a tough grader.  And I really want half stars...I'm not limited on my blog entry but I crosspost to Goodreads and Amazon, both of which have only whole star options that go up to five stars.  State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (who also penned Bel Canto which I enjoyed very much) is another 3.5 star book for me.  I'm opting to round down here, a decision that really only came after the final pages of the book.

Marina is a research scientist with both an M.D. and PhD (I have many smart friends, the one I think is smartest is an MD/PhD so they impress me).  She is working for a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota and is having a tryst with her older boss when they get a letter that a colleague has died.  This colleague had gone to the Amazon to check on research done by another colleague (and a former teacher of Marina's) who is studying a remote tribe and is not really providing progress updates.  After a request by the colleague's widow and her boss, Marina travels to Brazil and eventually the tribe in search of answers about both the researcher and the research. 

I found a lot of the book interesting and enjoyed the different settings (MN lab, the city in Brazil, the remote location of the tribe).  I thought the places were well-developed, at times moreso than the characters.  I also found the research topic interesting and it raised some good questions about what we should and shouldn't do physically and about the complexities of research funding.  The prose was easy to read but I didn't find it as engaging as I found Patchett's work in Bel Canto.  I tend to be a reader of characters and style and felt more like this was a plot book....nothing wrong with that, just not my style. 

So, through most of the book it was a solid like but definitely not a love, which put it in 3.5 stars territory.  However, I really didn't like the way the ending went.  It felt like the author rushed to wrap it up neatly in 20 pages and just did so to make it all clean and "complete."  I tend to prefer messier endings.  So, it got rounded down to 3.  It's an easy read and I'd encourage folks to read it if they want a book that's easy but does have depth to the story and raises issues worth talking about.

This was another book provided by the lovely folks at Harper whom I thank for feeding my book addiction and leaving me the money for my red wine.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

rambling from relationships to memorial day

I confess...I often have blog thoughts while driving or treadmilling but they fly away when I'm near my computer or suddenly lack the substance to hold a whole post.  I try to keep this space about me and my thoughts (and opinions), but my world does include other people.  I try to respect their space and focus the sharing on my side of things but that's never going to be entirely clear cut.  One thought that keeps popping up in my musings is that I've talked a lot more about MM in five months than I did about X in the years prior.  There are many reasons for this.  I've already rambled on more than once about a lot of my pet issues (right to choose, equal marriage) and my basic life journey (food/body struggles, health matters) and don't need to retread the same ground many many times (only one "many" will suffice).  And there's the reality that in more recent times talking about X would have been tough since it would often have been more about struggles than good things.

I think, though, that a lot of the difference is simply that it is new.  And that it feels very right.  But those two lovely things occur in a very real world with two very real adults who have very defined selves.  I think it is more challenging to start a new journey in your 30s.  It can be wonderful because you know yourself and what you need and can see past the type of things that make the checklists of our teens and twenties.  But it can make it challenging to blend your stories.  I am extremely happy with MM but we do have our differences...some of which are fun, others a challenge.  It's a journey.  A great one overall but i has its moments of struggle.  And I know me, I flee from discord, so I need the deep breaths and perspective. 

This is not inspired by a recent disagreement.  There were some a few weeks ago but those cooled.  I have been thinking about Memorial Day though and the fact that I never imagined myself with a military guy.  I have always been a pacifist and pretty anti-interventionist in the foreign policy realm.  But I have always maintained that one can be anti-war and still support the troops.  Of course, we need them.  And I'd like them nice and safe (moreso now than ever).  There's not a big issue here...at least from my side (can't speak for him)  I respect MM's job and his commitment to our country and his fellow military people.  I agree with him that I'd rather have a battle "there" than "here"...though I'm not sure I am ready to leap from that to agreeing with our current wars.  I know he has knowledge and experience that I never will and I admire that and respect that.  And think the uniform and the commitment is sexier than I'd have admitted as a loud liberal in my college days.

With the holiday pending, I want to stop and appreciate people who sacrifice for our country and support it bravely.  Thank you, MM, and other the other military men and women who offer themselves as a line to protect the rest of us.  I may not support all our wars, but I support you and the other brave defenders who carry out actions when called upon. 

And I admire the folks who stay home and "lend" their loved ones to the nation's call.  If I'm ever saying goodbye, I know I'll be a mess even if he's less likely to be on the front line.  And I know I'll need the support of others who have been brave before me and their guidance in being a supportive partner while maintaining my own sanity.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

knowledge and wisdom

I confess...I had an obsession with quotations for many years.  They adorned my college walls where others had photos or music memorabilia and I had an index card box stuffed with them.  One favorite was a line from Tennyson: "Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers."  I still hold this true but I'd takes it further and add "Knowledge is learned, wisdom is earned.  Knowledge comes in a moment, wisdom builds in a lifetime."

I think I have a lot of knowledge and a bit of wisdom. With both, there are pieces I feel like I've always held, pieces I've accumulated, and pieces I'm still working on.  I think it is a mistake to assume wisdom always trumps knowledge, they are just different.  So it is easier for me to share based on time-frame than the knowledge/wisdom line.  I don't believe I have insights that are more valuable than anyone else, but I have a little forum so I will share.  And it is me, so there will be bullet points.

Truths I've Always Held (i.e. stuff I feel I knew quite young)
  • Nothing is more fundamental than being true to yourself.  I have regrets and wonder about roads not taken, but I've never regretted that I have always been me.  It didn't always make the road easy.  High school sucked...and there are things I'd change, but I wouldn't compromise being true to who I was.  It hasn't always been easy, but I think I've done (and do) it well.  This is not an excuse to never grow, to never change..the truth that is a person is always evolving.  I'm always a work in progress and I'll never be a static figure.  I think that's kind of cool.
  • Honesty is usually better (and much easier).  Of course, I've bent truths and occassional outright lied, I can't deny that.  It is usually in an effort to simplify things or save feelings.  But I think I'm fundamentally pretty honest and I'm proud of that.  A nice bonus...it is a heck of a lot easier than remembering lies.
  • Material goods are overrated and the simplest ones can be the best.  I never had long birthday or holiday lists.  I never wanted too much.  I know this has frustrated gift-givers, even more so given my holiday season birthday.  The bonus is that I could generally count on getting what I asked for, maybe eve outside of gift season, since I asked so rarely.  At the same time, it was the simplest objects that I appreciated the most.  I get much more pleasure out of a comfy blanket or a stuffed animal (Teddy (insert MM's real name here) is wonderful when I'm in pain) than a flashy cell phone and prefer a comfortable pair of PJ pants to a name designer piece.
Truths I've Found
  • Exercise is key and anyone can become a bit of an athlete. I'm never confident with the word athlete since I'm more of a gym rat than a sports star, but I barely moved in my youth so this is definitely a big change (and I'll always talk about my sole half-marathon). I've talked before about this journey so won't go on too long. I don't know that I'll ever truly love exercise, but I do love both it's mental and physical results. I do know I overdo it, but it the value of movement is definitely something I've learned since my college days.
  • It sounds silly but, as a woman, learning to deal with my hair better might qualify as life changing.  I gained 15 minutes a day when I figured out the key to blow-drying the thick mane (upside down first to dry underlayers, flip for drying the rest and to avoid crazy volume) and the recent discovery of a great product makes me less terrified of damp weather.  My hair will always be one of the first things people see and getting closer to being at peace with it is great.
  • Be loud when it comes to your health.  Again, I've treaded this ground before (and that's just one sample).  But I spent way too long assuming the pain (and, risking TMI, needing to get up multiple times at night to avoid accidents for at least the first three days of my period) was normal and just had to be endured.  Right now, I'm running low on pain medicine.  I worry a LOT about dependence and the appearance thereof, but I still am sending follow-up messages (contact may be out) because I know I need it.  Once you are an adult, your body is your responsibility and you, not any doctor are the expert. 
  • More than anything else, the key to a solid relationship is in the down time.  It is easy to have a blast at an amusement park or during a night on the town.  For a relationship to thrive, it is much more important that you are content with the same sort of simpler day or average weeknight evening.  X needed much more action and interaction than I did.  There's nothing wrong with that, but it didn't match with me.  MM may be watching a car auction while I read a book or I might be watching The Middle while he plays online, but we are both happy and content spending Saturday on the couch.  I think the word "content" carries a negative connotation and I don't like that.  Nights out, days away, and other such things are great and important.  But much more time is spent in everyday life and finding contentment there is a key to joy and to a successful partnership.
  • Intelligence is multi-faceted.  I think part of this I've always known, but I think I've built on my understanding over the years.  I took many education classes in college, the type of small college that puts the liberal in liberal arts, and they very much emphasized the idea of multiple intelligences.  I've also always known I'm smart but also appreciated that my intelligence is a specific variety....I can solve puzzles and communicate concepts but I have a weaker memory and a total lack of spatial intelligence (I might actually get lost in a paper bag).  I am proud my intelligence and see it has value, but I don't think it is any "better" than a gift for music or for figuring out what's making the car rattle.
Truths I'm Learning
  • Find peace with your body.  I won't say you have to love it, I'm not sure I'll ever be there and I'm guessing I'm not alone in that.  It is also important to look at it with honest eyes and to work on keeping it healthy.  The wisdom is in finding a happy peace where you treat it with respect which includes showing it appreciation and keeping criticism constructive.  I often tell people they shouldn't talk to themselves any worse than they'd talk to their move loved friend.  I say it, I have a ways to go before I truly live it.  But I'm working on it.
  • Find a career path that provides balance.  I think some people find a job that defines them and brings them joy and satisfaction, in addition to a paycheck.  I'm not sure that everyone will find that and I'm not even sure it is quite what everyone should strive for.  I am working on finding a job that I can fit into a full, complete life.  It might be amazingly satisfying or it might simply be a job that enables me to fully enjoy other parts of life and fully realize my true self.
  • As long as a fundamental level of respect is maintained, political and other differences can be something to appreciate.  Definitely still working on this one but I never would have believed I could fall in love with someone who has such different views than mine.  But I know my heart so I'm learning how to find the balance.
I know other stuff too....much of which will come as soon as I hit post.  Another piece of knowledge is that I can come off as snobby in a way, especially intellectually.  So I'm nervous posting this.  Please don't think that I feel like I'm any wiser than you.  I'd love to hear you share what you know, have learned, and are learning.  I think the digital age has a lot of drawbacks but also think it can be so valuable in helping us share and learn from (and with) each other.

Monday, May 9, 2011

How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Stephen Marche

I confess...I post short reviews of most books I finish on Goodreads but try to write longer reviews for the Harper books (and post those here too).  I figure they were kind enough to provide me a copy and they place no restraints on what I say so they deserve a bit more space.  I just don't have as much to say this time.

How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Stephen Marche is a short book looking at how Shakespeare influences the world.  Each chapter focuses on a specific arena such as adolescence, sex, and race.  It was a quick read and the right length for the project...Marche avoided the pitfall of writing more than an average reader would want to read.  He makes some good arguments but I just don't always buy his thesis.  There are a few moments in which I do see a causal relationship between Shakespeare and the topic at hand.  My favorite example is the individual who, aiming to populate Central Park with every bird named in Shakespeare, released 100 starlings into NYC.  There are now 200 million.  I am less convinced that Shakespeare invented adolescence or had a direct impact on Lincoln's assassination.

I'd give it 3 stars..which translates into an "okay" that has a significant favorable bent.  Solid and held my interest, just not sure he got my vote for his thesis. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

mind dump

I confess...my mind's been on lots of tangents of late and I know I'm going to think of a zillion things to add after I hit "Publish Post".  
  • I hope that they also commemorate Osama's death with candlelight vigils.  I do understand the celebrations, but feel very mixed about them in many senses.  I don't want to criticize the celebrators, but think a vigil for the many lives taken by terrorism is a better response.
  • On the way home today, I passed two elderly couples walking and holding hands.  It made me smile.  A few months ago, I'd have followed that smile with a bit of tears because I worried I'd never have that life partner (though I do know I'm projecting stories on them...maybe they just met!).   Now, I saw them and had a smile, followed by a feeling of hope that I may have found that person after all.
  • I did write to the hotel manager where I had the encounter I wrote about here.  The manager investigated and responded that the woman was actually a guest who had been staying there for years and he saw that she could easily be mistaken for a staff member given her knowledge of facility and general behavior (she was also wearing a shirt from the hotel but he didn't mention that).  He said he couldn't say more due to customer confidentiality.  I am assuming that this woman has a complex history, likely involving some form of mental illness or other problems.  It does put the encounter in a new light.  But, in my defense, she DID wear a polo from the hotel.  I know they can't control guest behavior, but it seems wise to discourage the confusion.
  • The judge said the divorce will enter 30 days from the hearing.  That falls on Saturday May 28.  Realistically, that means it becomes legal on Tuesday May 31 due to the weekend and holiday.  But I still plan to "observe" the event on the 28th.  PA wine stores aren't on my favorites list, but I'll take a look in the nicer aisle and get a treat for me (and for MM who has been great about this mess).
  • The 31st is also when I am part of another Harper Blog Tour.  Being me, the book is read and the review written.  4 of 5 stars...once again glad to be able to give a positive review on a tour book.
  • I got ill at Weis yesterday (grocery store).  I think it was either dehydration or a medicine issue...I'd been unsure and might have missed a Lexapro dose the night prior.  I felt iffy when I left the gym and really light-headed at the store.  As I walked out, I started shaking and eventually found as out-of-the-way spot as I could and threw up just a bit.  I looked up to see a man watching me.  I stood up and was shaking like a leaf, definitely visible.  I got to my car, put in three bags, and had to stop to sit.  I was still visibly shaking but finally got the sodas loaded too.  I looked up to see the man still staring at me.  Thanks, parking lot man.  I know he couldn't tell what was going on, but an offer to help load or to call for help would have been a bit more human.  When I got home, I looked ill enough that MM asked if he could take me to a doctor.  I rested and felt better later, not 100% today but pretty decent.
  • We took the heating blanket off the bed.  I enjoyed it...usually we turned it on a bit before lying down to make the bed toasty and we turned it off before actually falling asleep...but I am happy that it is finally warm enough to put it away.
  • I bought these sandals this morning.  Normally $59 but a sale via the Today show made them only $18!  I've spent more than usual lately, but really have needed the goods since it had been a long time since I bought much beyond the weekly essentials.  My mom and grandmother were huge sale seekers and joked that "sale" would be my first word.  It was "cracker" (yes, food even then) but I do appreciate a good deal.  Especially if I can remember the deal so I can brag later.
  • Life Tip -- The dryer apparently works better when you turn it on.
  • Actual Life Tip -- My favorite random tip of late that involved the little bags that you get with clothing that have spare buttons in them.  They are perfect for holding a few pills.  I use them in my purse and my gym bag. 
  • I'm in a funk about job stuff and just feeling like throwing up my hands. I work so hard. I bring lots of skills and I'm a fast learner who is eager to be a productive part of an organization. Why won't anyone pick me?