Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lying about Books

So I read on Cam's Commentary that Susan Hill had posted about the Museum and Library Authority’s study whose results seem to prove we all lie about the books we've read. Well, duh. I just love these organizations that spend lots of time and money doing research in order to tell us such things as all humans giving birth these days are female.

I mean, didn’t we all lie out of desperation at some point during high school or college? If we weren’t lying to our teachers and professors (I was bored to tears by some of the assignments, either being too young or too unsophisticated to understand them, or else just because they really were boring. I definitely wasn’t one to continue reading anything that didn't grab my attention, but not once did I ever say, “This bored me senseless, and I didn’t get past page 10” to any of my teachers), sometimes we were lying to impress a potential significant other (the study says this is still the case, with men being the main culprits. However, this female was guilty of that one once, only because I knew he wasn’t a big reader -- why on earth did I want to impress a non-reader? The mysteries of youth -- and would never catch me out in such a lie). We all grow up, though, and, I hope, eventually come to realize there are just way too many books in the world to read everything. Some of us even become bold enough to say, “Why would I waste my time on that?”

The list of the ten most-lied-about titles (apparently those books people most often say they've read when they haven't) really intrigued me, though. It’s all over the place, and as Cam noted, is missing The Bible. I agree with her that this (ironically, huh?) has got to be one of the most lied-about texts out there, especially since it’s been translated into just about every known language and forced on people throughout its history. Anyway, here’s how I stand up to the list.

Lord of the Rings – nope. My fourth-grade teacher read aloud The Hobbit to our whole class. Never read it myself, despite trying, and could never get into the others. My brother (who’s had the same problems not being able to get into Tolkein as I have) and I have a theory that Tolkein is just too earnest for the likes of us. Strangely enough, though, I adored all three of the movies (I think that had a lot to do with the cinematography).

War and Peace – it was a gift from Bob, and I read it on our honeymoon. I’m going to be annoying here and say it’s one of the best books ever written, without going into details as to why. I often wonder why it’s become the quintessential lengthy novel, though. There are plenty of longer classics out there (A Dream of Red Mansions, for instance. The version I have of this is three volumes long).

Wuthering Heights – not until I was in my thirties. And I have to admit I wasn’t all that impressed. It was a compelling read, but I found myself thinking: this was what all the fuss was about? I was expecting something much more of Heathcliffe, to fall madly in love with him. Instead, I found him to be a cruel, petty baby. My mother’s response to my reaction? “You were too old to be reading it for the first time.” She was right. I should have read it when I was a teenager, like most girls do, you know, the age at which we’re so easily enamored of cruel, petty, babies just because they’re wrapped up in “hot” bodies.

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus – whatever can be the reason to lie here? Do you think the surveyors got confused and didn't realize this was really a People-magazine lie (everyone reads it, but no one wants to admit it)? Or am I missing something? People actually want others to think they’ve read this book? Really. This one usurping The Bible, as well as such things as Roots (nope. Never read that one, either) or Plato’s Republic (only excerpts for school and can’t begin to tell you what they might have been) is truly mysterious. Anyway, I’ve picked it up and read bits and pieces of it, basically unimpressed.

1984 – this is embarrassing, but I honestly can’t remember (I'd be a truly impressive date, huh? Gee, the woman's already got Alzheimers). I know it was assigned for a course I took in college, but I often skimmed books when I was taking multiple lit courses and knew I could get away with it. I’m pretty sure I only skimmed this one, but I seem to know so much about it, that seems odd. Maybe it’s just such a part of mainstream culture at this point, I didn’t need to read it. It doesn’t matter, though, because I plan to read it soon. Bob has convinced me it would be a good idea to read three of the big modern dystopias in sequence: We (a book I’d never heard of till I met him), Brave New World, and 1984.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – yes, but I’m way, way behind in my Harry Potter reading (mainly because, as I’ve mentioned before, I think, reading Rowling sends me back to re-reading favorites from my childhood. And then, last year, I discovered Alan Garner, who is much, much better, although darker). I’m very grateful, though, to all those of you who are huge fans and who keep the plots secret for those of us like me.

Great Expectations – nope. Despite loving what I have read of Dickens, I haven’t really read much of his stuff. Bob’s been urging me for years to read both this and A Tale of Two Cities.

Jane Eyre – twice. Love it. Love it. Love it. (Again, she annoyingly says without telling you why, but this isn't the time for "why." Come over for a pot of tea, and we can spend the whole evening talking about "why.") Maybe because I read it for the first time at the right age (19)? But I don’t think that’s so, because I still loved it the second-go-around nearly ten years later.

The Da Vinci Code – “Why would I waste my time on that?”

The Diary of Anne Frank – they really meant Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, right? Which makes me wonder even more about this survey. Did they mean the script for the play or the book? I don’t know many people who read scripts, so why would anyone lie about that? If we’re talking about the book, I read about a fourth of it when I was a teenager, thinking it was going to be right up my alley, but it apparently wasn’t, as I didn’t stick with it. I don’t remember why. It’s yet another one I’ve been meaning to try again for years now. If we’re talking about the play, nope and probably never will.

There you have it: four out of the ten that I’ve knowingly read cover-to-cover, one I’ve earnestly tried and have just as earnestly given up on, two I couldn’t care less about, and the others are on my TBR list. So, would you ask me out on a second date, or do you think I'm a liar?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Top Ten List of Blogging Goals

This one came from Mandarine who picked it up from Lorelle . The end of January is always a good time to reassess goals for the year, and blog goals seemed like a good idea. So here are my goals for this blog (and others) this year:

1. Finally embrace my inner litblogger, instead of pretending she doesn’t exist, and maybe even dedicate entire posts to books I’ve just read, like others do.

2. See if I can find a local chapter of M.A. (Meme’s Anonymous) and start attending support groups. Of course, this will have to wait until after I’ve designed and posted the “Meme Meme,” “The Food and Books Meme,” “The Valentine’s Meme,” etc.

3. Quit coming up with ideas for new blogs and stick with making the two I’ve got going the best they can be (well, and keep the third one going at Halloween when it’s time to write another ghost story). However, I’m still so tempted to do a “Don’t Waste Your Time on These Books” blog, only because I wish someone would do it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a site solely devoted to helping you create your NTBR list right along side your overwhelming TBR list? Anyone who wants to steal this idea from me and take on the challenge of creating such an animal, please feel free (or if someone’s already doing it, please let me know. Maybe it really needs to be a joint blog). Someone could also take on the challenge of “Don’t Waste Your Time on These Movies.”

4. Speaking of challenges: don’t be so afraid of them, and maybe come up with a few fun ones of my own.

5. Provide more links to great blogs in my posts, so people read them, and they don’t die. Some blogs I really enjoyed just eight short months ago have already died, and I can’t help feeling I should have provided lots more positive feedback (yes, of course, it is all up to me!). But seriously, if we all fessed up, we’d all agree how important comments are, and how disappointing it can be to be a “newbie” who doesn’t get any. I was so lucky to get positive feedback early on. I’m sure I wouldn’t have remained as diligent if I hadn’t.

6. Stop worrying who might be reading my blog and that I might offend people. It’s an unnecessary worry that can so inhibit a writer. I don’t tend to write particularly offensive stuff; it’s not possible to please everyone all the time; and if I’ve offended people, it really may have more to do with them than with me.

7. Become even more convinced that I can write and that people actually want to read what I write. Blogging has come a long way in helping me to accept this, but I still have that little inner voice that loves to make occasional appearances by whispering, “Who do you think you’re fooling?”

8. Learn more about the technical aspects of blogging. I think it’s about time I got past patting myself on the back, because I. Know. How. To. Italicize.

9. Contribute more posts, and encourage others to contribute to What We Said . Creating that blog was such a great idea on Bloglily’s part, and I’d hate to see it fizzle out. As a matter of fact, I think it could be grown into something much bigger than it actually is.

10. No blogging after 8:00 p.m. This will give me more down time, which I need. It’s important for the brain to slow down in the evening, and computer interaction does anything but slow down my brain.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Violent Movie II"

I keep swearing I’m going to stop watching violent movies, that I don’t want to support what I’m convinced are the tactics (blood and guts) that those who aren’t creative and imaginative enough resort to in order to prove a point. My high horse is convinced I’m glued to his saddle, a place where I will babble on (with no encouragement whatsoever from any audience stupid enough to stop by a high horse) about how fifty years ago, people made movies and wrote books that were provocative, terrifying, brilliant (even), and they didn’t have to show you a bloody head rolling around God knows how many feet from its detached body. They didn’t waste time composing sentences that describe exactly what the bits of brain on an axe look like. I’m not someone who holds any warm feelings for censorship committees, but I do sometimes wish we lived in an age in which something called “taste” sort of had the upper hand over something called “shock value.”

Now, I have to admit here that I’m probably someone who leans more on the side of “squeamish” than “sadistic.” After all, I was the child who was thrilled not to be allowed to see Jaws when it was released. I had absolutely no desire to see it, and I couldn’t believe how many of my eleven-year-old classmates had been taken to see it by their parents. Even more shocking was a friend of mine who had been to see The Exorcist a few years earlier (she had to have been lying, right? Didn’t it have a controversial X rating or something? Danny, help me out here). However, I grew up (if you can call subjecting yourself to horror movies “growing up”), and in high school, I was a huge fan of slasher movies, never thinking they’d been scary enough until I was coming home after the midnight showing and had to get from my car into our house, which sat next door to a very scary wooded lot (oh yes, and don’t forget that baby buried in the basement once I’d made it inside). Nobody who has spent time watching such things as Platoon; The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover; Shallow Grave; and Munich can believably state that she doesn’t like violent movies, most especially when she will also tell you that A Clockwork Orange is one of her all-time favorites.

But I’m getting old. And I’ve learned from those who are older than I, like my father, that when you get old, you no longer want to see these upsetting things. Life is upsetting enough without having to be shown things you never would have thought of on your own to add to the misery.

Thus, no more violent movies. Oh, but did I happen to mention the fact I have a husband? A husband who religiously reads the "Arts and Leisure" section of The New York Times? A husband whose memory could put to shame all the elephants in Africa, and who carries around in his head long lists of movies he wants to see, because they received high praise in that section five years ago? A husband who has decided we’re going to stop waiting for every movie to come out on DVD and adding many years to its release date before viewing it (especially since we have a wonderful little movie theater in our town hall that shows, for only two bucks, many movies just one week before they’re released on DVD, and barring that, matinees are a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon)? Oh, yes, and the most important thing: a husband who wants his wife to watch every single movie with him?

That’s how I’ve managed to find myself twice in the past few weeks sitting in a theater, covering my eyes through what seems like half the movie, and yet, emerging from the theater saying “That was great. What a terrific movie!” The first was when we went to see Flags of Our Fathers (this was a bribe. He promised me if I’d go see this one with him, we’d go see Dreamgirls while it’s still in the theater. No, we haven’t seen Dreamgirls yet. “It’s up for a million Academy Awards. It’ll be in theaters forever”). I’ve seen Flags of Our Fathers, and now (violence? Who said anything about violence?) I’ve got to see Letters from Iwo Jima. I’d had no idea there’d been so much controversy surrounding that photograph from Iwo Jima. And talk about a movie that just really brings home the horror of war, outlines what a political game it really is, one that doesn't ever have any real "winners" when it comes to the damage done to those who actually do the fighting, and showcases how young and innocent those soldiers really are. I haven’t read the book, but I’d like to now, and for those of you who just can’t stand really, really horrific movie war scenes (think worse even than Saving Private Ryan), the book is probably the way to go. For the rest of you: don’t miss this one. It’s now out on DVD.

I have only myself to blame for sitting through some hideously sadistic scenes, hands over face, the second time around. I was the one who saw previews for and decided we had to go see Pan’s Labyrinth, a movie that looked as though it was a must-see-on-the-big-screen sort of film. I was right. A small screen wouldn’t do this movie justice. What I didn’t know when I chose it, though, was what a brutal movie it was going to be. I don’t want to say I naïvely thought it was going to be some sort of new Bedknobs and Broomsticks for grownups (then again, maybe I do want to say that), but I will say maybe I ought to be reading the "Arts and Leisure" section a little more religiously -- or at least glancing at it -- before I make my movie choices. Nonetheless, this was probably my favorite movie of the past year. Within the first five minutes, I’d leaned over to Bob and said, “I already love it.”

Not only was it visually stunning (when I had my eyes open), but the use of myth and the questions raised concerning mythology and religion, as well as how children’s views of the world differ from adults’ views – are often much more “raw-ly” realistic, despite what we might think, and despite how we might mock their interest in the fantasies they use to deal with life, while ignoring our own use of fantasies to do the same -- were explored in ways that are just plain rare in popular culture. I’m someone who absolutely loves to watch a movie that raises more questions than it answers. Give me an ending that has me going, “Well, it could be this, or it could be that. Do you think we were meant to interpret it this way? Was that such-and-such at the end?” over one in which everything is wrapped up in that neat little package with the pretty ribbon any day. If you like all these sorts of things yourself and think you can stomach a few torture scenes (or at least can go with some sweet person who will let you know when they’re over), “run, don’t walk to the theater nearest you.”

Meanwhile, I think it’s time for something like Happy Feet or Charlotte’s Web.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Eating My Words (One of My Favorite Meals, It Seems)

“I’m not a big fan of karaoke, even at midnight, when everyone’s drunk and it seems appropriate…but in the middle of the afternoon, when no one’s drunk, and you’re at a party with your colleagues?” This is an exact quote from an email I sent to a friend of mine who used to work at my former company with me. We’ve both moved onto greener pastures, and I was debriefing her on that company’s Christmas party this year, for which I inexplicably received an invitation. I’d decided to go, because I still have quite a few friends who work there whom I don’t get to see nearly as frequently as I’d like (or used to). If I’d known karaoke was going to be on the agenda, however, I might not have been so quick to accept.

In fairness, I’ve never actually been to a karaoke bar, nor stuck around long enough at a regular bar that does karaoke on Tuesday nights after 10:00, or whatever. But I’m very aware of what they are and what they’re like, which is why I don’t hang out in them. I’m someone, as you know, who can’t stand the notion of getting up and speaking in front of a bunch of people, let alone singing. And when I drink, depression of my hypothalamus exaggerating this tendency in me, I’m even less likely to want to do such things.

I’m also someone who is extremely uncomfortable watching others make fools of themselves, and I’m sorry, unless you really are Aretha Franklin, Debbie Harry, or Tina Turner, chances are, you really can’t dance and sing like them, no matter what you might think. Thus, you’re going to look like a fool when you get up on that stage and drown out the music (which always seems to fade into the background like the ending of an old 45 record the minute someone grabs a microphone) with your off-key warbling. Yes, I’m sure your mother did say you were going to be a star one day. What I want to know is: how many martinis had she had when she told you that? I want to know, because I want to replicate her experience right here and now, so I can see if I can hear what she heard, since, Sister, it certainly hasn’t come through yet.

So, you may wonder what I was doing at another party less than a month later singing karaoke. Eating my words; that’s what. I think they were, “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.” When our friends told us they’d gotten a free karaoke machine and were having a party, I didn’t believe we’d really be singing. After all, I’ve been to a few other parties with these machines, and they’ve always sat in the corner, quietly, where such things belong.

However, I’d forgotten that this party was being hosted by our friend Rob. Rob is rivaled only by Bob (does “Robert” mean “determined?”) when it comes to determination. He and his wife had somehow missed the opportunity to use this thing at their last party, and he was bound and determined that we were going to use it this go around. Before I knew it, I was sitting on the couch, mesmerized as all the words to all these old songs flashed on the television screen, and I found myself saying, “Wow, I never knew that’s what that line was.” And then he said to me, “Here, hold this for a second,” and I looked down to find he’d put a microphone in my hand.

Well, the next step was to start belting out some of these songs. I mean, how can you hear such things as “December 1963’ and not want to sing? I was cursing the evil manufacturers of this horrid machine. But then, as we all sang “Blowin’ in the Wind,” I realized this wasn’t really karaoke. No one was up on stage alone, American Idol fantasies running through their heads. We were a chorus of horrible voices. It was like an old-fashioned hootenanny.

A hootenanny. I’m about as familiar with one of those as I am with a karaoke bar. Somehow, though, like a kid forever stuck in middle school, this is the generation into which I was born. Not the one that sits around at hootenannies protesting wars, making up songs, and pretending to be Joan Baez, nor the one that hops up onto stage all alone, pretending to be Britney Spears, but no, the one in which the campfire is a large-screen television; the songs are as familiar as a bowl of Frosted Flakes; and everyone shares the stage together, laughing at how bad they are.

Perhaps it’s not quite such a bad generation after all: we’re all looking forward to being eighth-graders next year and ruling the school.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The True Biblical Scholar is Discovered

You know the Bible 93%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

I had no idea until today that I'm a true Biblical scholar. I used to be the person with a sieve of a brain, the one who ran around saying things like, "you know, what's-his-name from the Bible, the one who did that great thing we always hear about. Come on! He's the one from the Old Testament in that book that comes somewhere after Genesis, I think. No, it's not God, someone else..." I never would have predicted I'd do so well, having only read the Bible all the way through once and having hated Sunday School when I was a kid (as a matter of fact, I was a little afraid to take this quiz, sure it would be full of questions such as "Who was Beruchna's fourth daughter-in-law?").

Maybe the fact I'm married to someone who was the first at his seminary to make a 100% on his Presbyterian Bible Content ordination exam (don't tell him I told you that. He's embarrassed whenever I talk about it. Besides, we true Biblical scholars know it's a sin to brag about our husbands) is somehow rubbing off on me? I'll say, though, that the questions are heavily slanted in favor of those of us who are/were raised Christians. A fair test would not have had so many questions concerning The New Testament (19 out of 42, and it's really 19 out of 40, since the first two questions are about age and gender -- very important Biblical questions, I know) when one considers its length compared to that of the Old Testament. But who am I to quibble over such things? Oh, wait a minute. I'm a true Biblical scholar, that's who I am.

Actually, I'm thrilled to have discovered this fact. I mean, any day now, I could suddenly find myself being known not as "Emily," but merely as "the minister's wife," a fact that is, at times, leaving me a little nervous. I wouldn't be so nervous about this if people didn't keep asking me, "So, do you think you can handle being a minister's wife?" That question in and of itself is one to which I'd answer "Of course. What could possibly be so hard about it?" with blessed assurance, if I hadn't been so self-assured in my positive response when asked four years ago, "So, do you think you can handle being the wife of a seminarian?" and had then gone on to discover I'd make a miserable widow at this point in my life.

At least, from now on, when asked this question, I can say, "Well, I do happen to be a true Biblical scholar, you know," thus maybe intimidating my inquisitors so much they won't notice I swear just a little too much for a minister's wife and that "Irreverent" is my middle name. I mean, does it matter if my house isn't spotlessly clean and I'm no good at hosting ladies' teas on a moment's notice if I happen to know which book of the Bible is a book of poetry or who was eaten by a big fish? Obviously, people will be flocking to me to set them straight when they can't remember whether or not Dr. Seuss wrote the Book of Acts.

On second thought, from now on, I think I'll just start saying, "Of course I can handle being a minister's wife. After all, I'm 'awesome!' I'm 'fantastic!' What are you?"

Things Fall Apart in a nutshell: What on earth took me so long to read this brilliant book? I can't fathom how Achebe managed to cover so much in so few pages and, likewise, to do such a fabulous job of taking me into a culture about which I basically knew nothing, getting me to care so much about it. Not since I last saw the movie Black Robe have I been made to think so hard about the clashes and misunderstandings between different cultures, which are in many ways more alike than diferent, when well-meaning missionaries take up residence.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The "Bossy One"

When Ian posted his first account over on our joint blog (by the way, he posted an ancient passport photo of us the other day, which is funny, for those of you who are interested), he began his post by saying the blog had been my idea and that I'd been the one to come up with the rules. Boy, I sound bossy, don't I? If I'm honest, I have to admit I probably was (and maybe still am) a very bossy older sister. Anyone with a lesser strength of character than Ian probably would have killed me before we reached puberty.

As a matter of fact, my family happily labeled me the "bossy one," when I was still quite young, a label I find very ironic. After all, I haven't met too many older siblings who aren't bossy (Bob, the oldest of two boys is extremely bossy -- although he calls it "taking charge"), and I'm the one who had two experts to show me how it's done. By the tender age of three or four I'd learned that I couldn't just come knocking at the doors of my sisters' "houses," a motley crew of raggedy stuffed animals and dejected old doll "children"by my side, announcing I'd come for tea. Nor was I allowed to wear bellbottoms once everyone knew straight legs were the "in" thing. Even if I loved them, Abba and Leo Sayer were off limits as far as my musical tastes were concerned. And God forbid I should prefer to read The Hardy Boys over Nancy Drew (I compromised and found the wonderful, little-known Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series when they weren't paying attention). I have to hand it to them, my sisters kept me on the straight and narrow. Thank God, really. I mean, who would want to have to admit she once had Leo Sayer in her record collection?

What I find most ironic about being the "bossy one," though is that now that I've spent a number of years as an adult with the label "boss," I've discovered I don't really seem to possess whatever it is that others have that makes it easy for them to tell people what to do. There are many things I love about being a boss, but delegation is not one of them. I'm absolutely horrible when it comes to delegating tasks, somehow thinking the whole world is going to come to an end if I don't personally dot every "i" and cross every "t."

At the beginning of every year, I find myself making the same workplace resolution: "learn to delegate." But, you know, in January, we've all just come back from the holidays, and many have been away, and everyone's so busy trying to catch up. And, well, it's just easier to do these few little things myself. Then January turns to February, and February turns to March, and oh my God, two people have quit. Well, how can I possibly ask anyone to do anymore than he/she is already doing? Until we have some replacements, everyone is going to have to pick up the slack.

By summertime I'm maybe realizing my problem is that I can't tell the difference between asking and telling. After all, I've never questioned a boss of mine when he or she has asked me to do something. I've just gone and done it (as quickly as possible). And there's a difference between "work-place asking" and "non-work-place asking." Asking a colleague to write a letter for me that doesn't need my signature is very different from asking someone to help me solve all my psychological problems. Somehow, though, I'm not very good at distinguishing between different types of help, always assuming that if I'm asking for help it either means A. I'm no good at doing things myself or B. I'm extraordinarily needy. Finally, I seem to assume that no matter what I'm asking, it's going to be a huge imposition on the other person (God forbid I shouldn't just carry all burdens myself instead of sharing the load a little with others who are supposed to be sharing the load).

And then there's "telling." Truth be told, I don't think I've ever had one of those types of bosses you see on TV or in movies who just orders people about. I think I can only count a handful of times when I was actually told to do something. Yet, even then, I didn't freak out or immediately start looking for another job. I just accepted whatever it was as part of the job. When it comes to telling those I supervise what to do, though, I tend to find myself thinking, "Well, who am I to tell them what to do?" I seem to have had some sort of complete memory lapse that keeps me from responding, "You're the boss, that's who." I've forgotten that in this society, it's perfectly acceptable for the boss to, well, boss others around. In fairness to me, before you start to think I'm a complete wuss who shouldn't have this job, I currently work for a wonderfully nonhierarchical company where we don't just give lip service to the idea of "teamwork," we live it, and where the notion of "bosses," although we use the terminology, is pretty foreign. Of course, players on teams typically help each other out, though, don't they? And they're not afraid to ask for that help (or even to yell to others on the field to do what needs to be done), are they?

So, this year, as I sit here worrying about the mounds of work I've got accumulating, is going to be different. I'm going to learn, once and for all, the true art of delegation. I'm going to imitate those who do it with finesse, finding themselves surrounded by adoring colleagues who love working for them. February's on the horizon. Everyone just might be starting to come out from under all that post-holiday pileup soon...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Commuting Telecommuter

A while ago Mandarine, who was reading some of my early posts (and flattering me by comparing me to chocolate) came across the post in which I was complaining about working from home, a place where I had easy access to my kitchen full of food. I know. I know. To complain about such a thing when people are starving all over the world seems quite petty, but what I was really doing was worrying that I was going to get fat, which is a concern when one lives in a country that suffers from such high rates of obesity and, thus, unnecessary health problems. We middle class Americans, it seems, have evolved into such spoiled creatures and have been fed such unhealthy food, laden with things like trans fats, all our lives that our natural mechanisms for keeping us from overeating seem to have gone the way of the appendix -- they're useless. Although I've never been fat, I'm not immune to this problem, especially when I know good food is available.

Not too long after I wrote that post about food, I discovered The Shangri La diet, which has managed to dull even my cravings for chocolate a bit (a miracle worthy of the Second Coming), and I quit worrying. Nevertheless, we all know that exercise is as important (if not more important, if recent articles in The New York Times are to be believed) for a healthy body than the food we eat, and advice as to what we need to do has remained far more consistent over the years than all the nutrition fads. I mean, with the exception of telling people that aerobics isn't enough and that some form of strength training and stretching are also important, exercise requirements don't change that much.

Does anyone else hate those nutritionists at the FDA as much as I do? They'll tell you for years and years and years that the most important things to eat are pasta and bread, and then, when everyone has gained two hundred pounds, come back with "Oops, we meant whole grains!" Or you'll read a headline that peanuts are the best thing for you, and just as you're getting ready to race out and buy three cans of Planters dry-roasted, you'll read on to find out they have to be raw and unsalted (blech), and that, oh yeah, because they're high in fat, you should really only eat five a day. But those five a day are really going to change your life! Exercise, on the other hand, remains stable. I can pretty much guarantee that as long as I'm moving and sweating for at least 30 minutes a day, I'm doing what I need to do.

The problem is, as I noted in another one of those early posts: I despise exercise for the sake of exercise. I like to hike. I like to ride a bike (although my bike needs major repairs these days, having been abandoned for years, when I worked in an office and didn't have much time to ride due to my long commute, and had thus joined a gym near the office. I keep saying I must get it fixed -- not being someone who has the patience or ability to do such things as taking apart and putting together bikes the way Hobs can, even with all ten of my fingers uninjured. I've ridden Bob's bike a few times, but it's way too big). I like to swim. Sometimes I like to run, if the terrain is relatively flat, and it's the right temperature. And that's about it. I don't like to play any competitive sports. As a matter of fact, I basically don't like to exercise with other people. And thirty minutes a day is an awful lot of time -- time that can be better spent doing just about anything else.

Then along came Mandarine with his brilliant suggestion. Why not continue to commute to work? Get outside and walk, run, or bike "to and from work" every day. I could map out my own route, and make the commute as long or as short as I wanted. So, because I have plantar fasciitis (a runner's foot injury that takes forever to heal) and can't run, and as noted above, my bike isn't in good working order (although now winter has suddenly hit the Northeast, I'm not sure I'd enjoy biking much right now anyway), I'm walking. I have a twenty-five-minute, one-way commute, which is still less time than I was commuting by car in the old days, and my afternoon commute is wonderful, because Bob and Lady usually join me for that one. This frees up my lunch hour, which I used to spend exercising, for other things, and I'm getting fifty minutes of exercise everyday instead of only thirty. I still do yoga twice a week, so there's my strengthening and stretching settled. And I can listen to books on tape again, something I'd pretty much abandoned since I moved home to work.

I've discovered an added benefit, as well. Since it's winter, and dark practically 24 hours a day, I can't commute to work until 7:00, which gets me there at 7:30. I wake up at 6:00, so this gives me a full hour to write every morning. At the other end, I have to quit working by a certain time in order to get that afternoon commute in while it's light. This means I have a period in which I truly separate my work day from my evenings. Of course, this will change come spring, but I'm hoping in the summer, when the pool's open, I can start "swimming home from work." Since we don't have central air, I can imagine I'm going to be dying to get in the pool by the time 5:00 rolls around.

So, all-and-all, a practice I'd highly recommend for all telecommuters, and one that my dim brain never would've come up with on its own. Who says we bloggers don't benefit in untold ways from each other?

Hans Brinker in a nutshell: (I've decided that as I finish reading the children's and adult's classics I've chosen for 2007, I'll try to summarize them in a few sentences at the end of posts): a gem of a story that was really like two stories in one (Hans's story and a story about a group of boys' adventures in different cities in Holland) and was chock-full of interesting details about Dutch life in the 19th-century, amazing since Mary Mapes Dodge had never been there at the time she wrote it. Also, a little-known fact (or at least I didn't know it, which may not actually make it "little-known"): the "legend" of the Little Dutch Boy who sticks his finger in the dike was completely created by Dodge for this book and has no basis in any Dutch legends.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A New Blog

My brother Ian and I have decided that this year we’re going to join forces out in the blogosphere. This is somewhat of a huge and scary step for me. You see, Ian happens to be the funniest human being I know. That’s saying a lot, because I tend to surround myself with very funny people (many of whom, if they’re reading this, I’ve probably just insulted by choosing Ian over them).

I know. You’ve read one paragraph, and you’re thinking, “Oh God. Emily’s finally proven once and for all that she’s a madwoman, fixated on her brother, having no idea she’s biased, and he’s a no-talent loser.” But ask Bob. Everyone knows how in-laws are supposed to feel about each other. He’ll tell you that Ian is the funniest human being he knows.

As a matter of fact, I’m very happy he’s my brother. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to claim him as a human being I know. It may be that I would have been lucky enough to have crossed paths with him at some point, possibly even have been introduced to him. However, I would have been far too intimidated by his brilliance, story-telling ability, and ironic wit (not to mention his championship ability to pun, rivaled only by my sister Lindsay. Don’t get the two of them together), to have done more than blush, maybe say “hi,” and then do something like trip over a dog who would’ve bitten me, thus providing fodder for a hilarious rendition of that crazy woman who tripped over Sam, the world’s most docile Basset Hound, and had to be taken to the emergency room, a story that would walk into rooms of bored-looking party guests and leave them in stitches, begging for more, for years to come.

My mother, being not at all a typical mother in her overenthusiastic convictions concerning the genius quotient of her children, used to engage in fantasies that equated her three daughters and one son with the Brontës. This was a fantasy that flattered and enthused me until I began to read all the research surrounding the Brontë children and discovered, they may have been extraordinarily talented storytellers and writers, but oh man, were they weird. Happily, I can note that although both my sisters have published books, not one of us has written a gothic romance.

My mother, however, was focusing on that storytelling quality of the Brontës, having herself been raised in the pre-tell-all-and-make-everyone-pathetic-victims-of-extreme-dysfunction-not-the-least-bit-worthy-of-admiration era. And, yes, I have to agree that all four of her children are capable of telling good stories. This isn’t the least bit remarkable, though, considering the fact we’re English, Scottish, and Southern.

Everyone knows the Anglo-Saxons were spinning marvelous yarns back in the days when America was nothing more than a many-legged monster ready to swallow up anyone stupid enough to go sailing off the edge of the world. And if you’ve ever been a child visiting relatives in Virginia, sitting on the porch of a house nestled between Poe’s Ragged Mountains and The Blue Ridge, cicadas, Bob Whites, and Whippoorwills singing in the background, while the adults sat around trying to outdo each other with one story after another, well, you’d know it’s pretty hard not to develop a knack for creating your own.

Those porches and gatherings of relatives are few and far between these days, but we do have the blogosphere. Ian was the first one in our family to venture into it, tempting me, but I wasn’t ready yet. He then walked out of it for a while, and that’s when I began my own exploration. At this point, he’s made a reappearance.

Now we’d like to do a little homesteading, building at least the porch, if nothing else, where we can tell a few stories. We both realize we have plenty of shared experiences, but that they don’t always sound the same when we begin to relate them. Like a game we used to play with friends as children in which we’d all sit in different parts of a room, a piece of paper and magic markets for each of us, choosing a theme, like “a farm” and then taking turns announcing something associated with a farm that would go in that picture, no one allowed to see what the others were drawing until we’d announced we were “done,” our stories surprise us with how completely different they are. And I love hearing his versions.

So here’s our plan: each month, we’ll choose one shared topic. He’ll blog about it. I’ll blog about it. Our only rule is that we can’t read what the other has written until we’ve written our own. My guess is they’ll be so different, you may be hard-pressed to recognize them as having the same foundation. We’ll see. You can visit us (we’ve got lemonade and homemade cookies and lots of wooden lounge chairs) over here, and I’ve written my first post. Now it’s his turn.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Calvino Meme

I wish I could be like my friend Danny and resist a meme, but I just don’t seem to have that kind of willpower, or maybe it’s that I don’t have his kind of originality and have to depend on others to tell me what to write about on a regular basis (although Mandarine has been busy giving me tons of non-meme topics that I'll have to start addressing soon, so I can't really use that as an excuse). This meme was absolutely impossible for me to resist. Just before I came across it over at Litlove's place, I'd written about how The Thirteen Tales plays with readers in a way I hadn’t enjoyed since my last reading of If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, one of my long-time favorite books. Lo and behold, around the time I was composing that statement, clever Kate was devising this meme based on the scene in the bookstore in Calvino’s book. So, here you have it: the meme I couldn't resist (as if there has ever been one I could). It also happens to be my first of 2007:

Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages
I once mentioned for some other meme I think that Le Miserables falls into this category (I've been meaning to read it ever since I first saw the Broadway play about fifteen years ago). The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen is another one (obviously not nearly as long in this category, but getting there, since we own the advance reader's page proofs picked up at some book conference just before it was published). I often worry I might suffer some huge feeling of disappointment that has nothing to do with the books themselves, though, were one of these two actually to be moved from this category, their being so used to being neglected and my being so used to neglecting them. Maybe they should be moved to a new category like “books I’ve been planning to read for ages, but let's be real, and acknowledge there’s probably no bloody way in hell I’ll ever get around to doing so.” Then I could just admire them from afar, no feelings of guilt whatsover when I stop by to pet them occasionally, knowing they're no longer looking hopefully up at me trying to convince me they're well worth my spending time on them.

Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success
The Melendy Family by Elizabeth Enright, which is a bound volume of the first three books that involve Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver and all their adventures. I once found it on some used bookstore web site for $100, which I wasn’t desperate enough to pay at the time, although now it’s beginning to become something about which I think, “what’s a $100 for such a worthy cause?” since it’s just completely disappeared, as far as I can tell. Anyone have a copy they want to sell me?

Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment
Do sample maunscript pages for books about math that haven’t yet been published but will be in 2007 and 2008 count? If not, I've got a few books on multiple personality disorder I've checked out of the library and am referring to for a fiction piece I'm writing.

Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case
All the really basic cookbooks like The Joy of Cooking, as well as comfort books for bad days like I Capture the Castle and Three Men in a Boat.

Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer
Summer time is for re-reading Ross MacDonald, preferably out in a hammock up in Maine with a gin and tonic.

Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves
Any book published by Persephone Books. They look so nice all lined up together, and they are guaranteed, thus far, to be fabulous reads. I wish I owned the shop (actually, at this point, I wish I could just visit the shop, or that they'd open an American branch in New York).

Books That Fill You With A Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
Anything to do with the brain. Bob and I have been fighting over the double issue of The Economist, because it’s got many interesting articles on this topic.

Books Read Long Ago That It’s Now Time To Reread
I’d love to re-read The World According to Garp, which I read for the first and last time when I was fifteen, and for years, claimed it was my favorite book (it was the book that brought me firmly into the world of reading contemporary adult literature). I can’t imagine what my reaction to it might be today.

Books That If You Had More Than One Life You’d Certainly Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered
Native Son, which would be a re-read. It had such a huge impact on me, and yet it was such an incredibly difficult read, I’m not sure I could handle it again, like watching A Clockwork Orange (one of my all-time favorite movies, but one I decided after the third viewing there was no need to ever subject myself to the pain of watching again).

Anyone who wants to keep this meme going on your own blog, I hope you will. Meanwhile, I've realized after having lunch with Dorr today and laughing about how I'm not a lit blogger (during the period when I wasn't busy spilling my cranberry juice and seltzer all over myself), I've gone and yet again, written about books. I also have an unprecedented, for me (I think), five links in this post. Slowly, but surely, I must be getting over my technophobia.

Monday, January 08, 2007

We're Off to See the Wizard...

Last month, one of Bob’s and my dearest friends, who also happens to be brilliant and beautiful (sorry, Fem, I can’t remember the third adjective LC used to describe you. Let’s pretend for alliteration’s sake it was “bold,” which fits), was on her way back from a three-month stint in Vancouver and stopped by for an all-too-brief visit with us before heading on to her home country of Northern Ireland. Fem was in seminary with Bob during his first year there, and the conversation when the three of us get together always centers around the theological and the psychological, two subjects that have been near and dear to my heart since I was a teenager. This is great fun for all three of us, but sometimes we need a break from all the intensity.

A break is exactly what we were taking the second night she was here when Bob had prepared some of his infamous margaritas (neither Fem nor I hold our liquor very well, so one of these was really enough, but we all decided to have more than one). While we two women were amusingly trying to figure out if we could still touch our noses with our arms stretched straight out to our sides (I’ll let you guess as to whether or not we could), Bob decided to browse the T.V. listings in The New York Times to see if there were any movies we might like to watch that wouldn’t be too taxing for our pickled brains. This was when Bob and I were astonished and thrilled to discover that Fem, who grew up in rather unusual circumstances (at least, by our narrow American standards), had never seen The Wizard of Oz, which happened to be featured that evening.

Can you imagine getting to see that movie with an adult who’s seeing it for the first time? We immediately announced, “Oh, you have to see it!” Of course, the thought bubbles above our heads were announcing what we really meant, “Oh, we have to have the experience of seeing this with you!”

We hadn’t seen the movie probably in over ten years, but it doesn’t matter, does it? It’s as familiar as your bedroom exactly the way it was when you were eleven years old would be if you could walk back into it today. Bob and I were at our most obnoxious, proving how well we knew the whole thing and not wanting her to miss a thing with all our “Now, pay close attention to this part"-s when, for instance, Dorothy is talking to all the farmhands who will eventually become the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Fem was, as always (and in a way only those I’ve known from the U.K. can be), graciously patient with us, especially when we kept asking such stupid questions as “Do you know this song [Somewhere Over the Rainbow]?” and “What about this one [Follow the Yellow Brick Road]?” I didn’t realize it would happen, but I found myself feeling envious of someone who’d never seen the movie. Imagine not knowing you’re inevitably going to reach the “I’m melting” and “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” lines.

Probably 95% of the movies I last saw over ten years ago would be like first-time viewing experiences for me if I were to watch them now, but not this one. Watching The Wizard of Oz every year when I was growing up was a family ritual as steadfast as celebrating each family member’s birthday. I can pretty much mark my changing bedtimes by marking the points at which I had to go to bed (even on such special occasions as W.O.Z. Night, I only got to stay up half an hour past my strictly-enforced bedtime). I can still remember the thrill of the first time I got to stay up past the meeting of the Scarecrow. Needless to say, the first parts of the movie are more vivid to me these days than the latter parts.

So, Fem was doing her best to keep from telling us to shut up when Bob suddenly started telling us all kinds of things about the movie I never knew (and am still not sure are really true. They sound suspiciously like theories imposed on the movie in hindsight, sometime during the sixties), like how following the yellow brick road had been a metaphor for capitalism's directive to follow the money (yellow gold) or that the Wizard represents a de-bunking of religion and God. And why had I never paid attention to the fact that the witch’s guards resembled Russian soldiers (could be because I hadn’t seen that part of the movie as much as the first part)? And, then Dorothy tells us “there’s no place like home,” home, of course, being good old America, where capitalism reigns.

This was our break from intense conversation? Capitalism, religion, politics and war, childhood memories…It doesn’t sound like much of a break to me. I guess that’s why we had to take a real break the next evening and go see Little Miss Sunshine, that light little comedy that didn’t inspire any thoughts of anything of a psychological or political nature whatsoever, especially for two feminine feminists and their masculine feminist companion.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Joys of Oral Presentations

I deeply admire those of you who make a living basically by getting up and giving oral presentations every day. I can’t think of much I despise more than having to get up in front of a group of people and talk. Maybe getting up in front of a group of people and singing and dancing, but no job I’ve ever had as ever required me to do such a thing.

I just got back from a trip that involved giving a presentation to four different groups of people, and I’m feeling like I need about a week to recover. I will admit I’ve come a long way since my first semester of college when I got up in my Spanish 101 class to give a presentation and literally froze, thus inspiring the sort of pity no one wants to inspire in their classmates the first semester of college. I even have to admit that I often get praised for my presentations these days (as I did after these four), thus making me one of those people I hate, who complain about how bad they are at something and then demonstrate how splendidly they can do that thing. But I think I can explain why people praise me. It’s because I’m so deathly afraid of looking out at the audience and finding most of them sleeping that I’ve learned to weave the art of personal storytelling into my presentations, a talent I learned from Bob, who does a splendid job of this, much better than I could ever do. People don’t expect it, so it doesn’t matter if your delivery is terrible, as mine so often is; if it’s unexpected, it will keep them from being too bored, and then they’ll tell you your presentation was good.

The thing is, though, if you pay attention to me, you can tell how nervous I actually am. There are those who will tell you they hate giving oral presentations, that they’re always so nervous, and then they get up and do it as if they were doing something as natural as strolling through a park on a sunny day. Where’s the nervous fidgeting? The tucking of nonexistent stray hairs behind the ears? The obviously shaking hands as they hold up something to demonstrate? Where’s the tripping up over such extremely difficult words as “the?” I see it nowhere in evidence. And sure, they might tell you they have butterflies in their stomachs, but what’s the big deal about nice little butterflies gently fluttering their wings? I’d find that far preferable to the baby pterosaur who’s so obviously trying to hatch itself out of my stomach.

And then there’s the dry mouth. If I’m not tripping over the pronunciation of “the,” my tongue is sticking to the roof of my mouth so firmly, I’m sure all that’s going to come out is a few grunts. That would be even worse than a reenactment of the frozen Spanish 101 student. I could hear it going down in the history of the company, “Remember that time when that woman, what was her name? Emily or something? She stood up in front of us, sounding like a pig?” I’m drinking all the water in the pitcher that’s been provided and wondering how others also manage to make that seem so effortless. I mean, people stand up at podiums and casually incorporate sips of water into what they’re saying, as if their notes say, “pause for sip of water,” and it flows beautifully, not looking the least bit out of place. I’m busy looking down at my notes and wondering, “Can I possibly make it through these next ten pages of notes without anymore water, and if not, where can I fit in a quick sip?” all the while praying my shaking hands don’t end up spilling the water all over those notes. Finally, I quickly reach for the glass in desperation, unable to keep from noting everyone’s expectant faces during this unwanted interruption.

I suppose, as some would ask, yes, it does get easier with time and with practice, but I'm not sure it's actually getting easier. I think what’s really going on is an experience similar to the way I’ve heard women with children describe childbirth. After each one of these painful events, as time goes on, I completely forget the pain. I’m lulled by the joy my job provides me about 85% of the time. And just like the mother who decides she really wants to have another baby, seeming to have a complete memory block when it comes to the fact she screamed throughout her last labor that she was never going to do this again, once I’ve forgotten, I will find myself doing things like volunteering to run entire summits on my area of expertise. Then again, maybe it has nothing to do with a memory lapse similar to a mother’s and more to do with drinking a very potent margarita in Fort Worth, TX. Oh well, whatever it is, for the time being, I can collapse and enjoy my job until the labor pains come again.

Friday, January 05, 2007

One Last Look Back at 2006 or Ripping Off Someone Else's Brilliant Idea

Others are much better at coming up with interesting ideas than I am, but I figure as long as I give them credit, it isn’t stealing when I take their terrific ideas and run with them . Thus, I’m giving Dorr (better known as Dorothy W. to those who don’t insist on coming up with nicknames for everyone) credit for analyzing the books she read in 2006, providing us with some great statistics. What a wonderful thing she did. I couldn’t get it out of my mind until I’d analyzed my 2006 list, changing it a tiny bit to make it my own. So here are the results:

Total number of titles read: 63
Total number aborted after reading at least 30 pages: 2
Total number of pages read: 17146 (You may wonder how I manage to have this number. Well, it’s a definite sign that I’m weird and/or that I work in publishing. When I record the books I read, I give a full bibliographic record, including copyright date(s), publisher, and number of pages. You can assume this number is a bit misleading, because some of the books I read had indices, and I promise you, even I’m not enough of a geek to read through all those. But it’s a close approximation. I thought about doing a “number of publishers” category as well, but I didn’t want to have to bother to look up all the various imprints, and I figure that since most trade books are published by imprints of one of the big three publishers, the number would probably just be 3. We’ll ignore the fact that I read quite a few books that are old and were published by houses that no longer even exist.)
Number of books written by women: 33
Number of books written by men: 29
Number of books that were written in the 19th century: 3
Number of books that were written in the first half of the 20th century: 10
Number of books that were written in the second half of the 20th century: 22
Number of books that were written in the 21st century: 27
Number of books of poetry: 6
Number of children’s books: 15
Number of books written by American authors: 34
Number of books written by non-American authors: 27
Number of collected works that included both male and female authors, as well as works from various centuries: 1
Number that were listened to as opposed to being read: 4 (we have big debates in our house as to whether or not this counts as reading a book. I claim it does. After all, the art of storytelling has been around far longer than the accessible written word has been, and the accessible written word is just a form of storytelling for the masses. The question should really be: does reading a book count as listening to a story?)
Number that were re-reads: 4

And now, I’ve realized, based on these numbers, there’s a lot of b.s. I may need to rethink next time I start spouting it off, such as:

“I read books all the time.” The better statement is, “I have no idea what the hell I’m doing with all my free time.” I mean, 7146 pages? I know I’m a slow reader, but even at my rate, that’s at most about 45 minutes of book reading a day. That’s not all the time. That’s about how long it takes to cook and eat dinner, and I don’t go around saying, “I cook and eat dinner all the time.” I’m scrapping all my other New Year’s resolutions in exchange for one: increase this number to at least an hour a day.

“I don’t read much written past 1950, and forget anything written since 2000.” Well, that’s certainly a bold-faced lie, isn’t it? In fairness, when I make that statement, I’m usually referring to fiction, but I’m afraid to go back and categorize how many of those post-1950 titles were fiction, because getting caught in yet another lie would just be too depressing.

“I have no problem starting a book and deciding not to finish it, and I do it all the time.” Yeah, just like I read books all the time.

“I used to read mostly books written by men, but that’s changed, and now I much prefer to read books written by women.” So, have there been a lot of sex change operations going on in the world of writers lately or something?

“I don’t read poetry much.” Well, six out of 63 still isn’t all that much, but when I say that, I’m usually thinking, “maybe one collection a year, if that.” Then again, I’ve lately been saying “I’m going to make a concerted effort to read more poetry,” and it looks like I did so in 2006, so maybe there’s one lie I haven’t been telling.

“I need to expand my horizons, because almost everything I read is written by American authors.” That would be a completely true statement, if I’d add “…by American and British authors.”

“I read children’s books, but usually only ones I enjoyed as a child.” Well, this statement was skewed this year, because I discovered Alan Garner, and have a friend who happens to own almost everything he ever wrote, an author I would have loved as a child, if I’d known he existed, as well as Neil Gaiman, who wasn’t writing when I was a child, and I read the third Harry Potter book (yes, I’m very behind in reading Harry Potter, but mainly because every time I read one, I’m driven to go back and read things like the E. Nesbits I loved so much as a child, and which I find to be superior to Harry Potter. I mean, I dare you to find any character in children’s literature more wonderful than The Phoenix in The Phoenix and the Carpet. He's the Platonic kiddie lit character, much more enoyable as an adult than I remember him being as a child). But, I’ve now learned that it’s fun to discover children’s authors I’ve never read, and I’m hoping to read more in the future.

“I re-read books all the time.” Another flat-out lie, if this year’s statistics are any indication. Good thing I don’t, though. What a waste of my measly 45-minutes a day, when there’s so much out there yet to be discovered.

All right, and now we can finally put 2006 to rest, I think.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! I'm off to Texas for a sales meeting and probably won't have much blogging time, so talkatcha when I get back.