Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Thompson, Craig. Blankets. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2007 (2003).

(This is the first book I read for the Graphic Novels Challenge.)

One of the things I'm going to have to realize as I explore the graphic novel genre is that these books are...ummm...well...graphic. I mean, it's one thing to read about a teenaged boy "pleasuring himself" (or "'guilting' himself" as the case may be in this book). It's another thing to get a few illustrated panels devoted to it (no matter how discreet they are). The verdict's out on how I feel about that (well, except that I feel like a minister's wife or something, drawing attention to it). I imagine it could be very distracting, but in the case of this book, although it was a bit disconcerting, it really wasn't. And the flip side of seeing things I may not want to see is being shown things without the author having to explain them (gee, a picture really is worth a thousand words), something Thompson does superbly.

Oh, and yes, I literally stayed up all night reading this one -- yet another "accidental read" (I used to think I was the only one in the world who ever reads books accidentally until Ms. Book World mentioned it a few times in posts, which assured me I'm not). This one arrived in a package from Amazon filled mostly with books for Bob. I was in the midst of being swallowed up by My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel (a heart-wrenching, poignant, and beautifully-written memoir of a young woman with dyscalulia), barely able to put that one down to attend to such basic needs as water and toilet. Then, I made the mistake of "seeing what this Blankets is going to be like when I get around to reading it," and opened it up just to read the first few pages. 250 pages later, I really did have to put it down to eat dinner (it was nearly 10:00 p.m., after all, and I don't live in Greece or Italy, where dining at such hours is customary).

I can definitely see why this one has garnered so much high praise. Thompson drags the reader right in with his descriptions of night-time struggles between two brothers sharing a bed. And, later in the book, he so well captures the often-ambivalent emotions of children when a new bed is bought, and the boys no longer have to sleep together. He then pulls you along with very familiar feelings: an older sibling's guilt over not protecting a younger sibling, an adolescent who doesn't fit in no matter where he is, hypocritical adults, as well as adults who turn a blind eye to obvious problems and wrongs, and, of course, the main story: a first love.

Thompson so well captures the ups and downs of a first love, one that we, of course, know can't last (it's a first love, not a last love) set against the backdrop of Christian fundamentalism. I love some of the questions Craig asks as well as many of the conclusions he draws. For instance, he says, in considering the Bible, "It suddenly struck me as absurd that something as divine as God's speech could be pinned down in physical (mass-produced) form." (p. 549) So, we see, it's really more than a typical love story. It's a coming-of-age story in which a boy comes from an innocent acceptance of all he's been taught in Sunday School to a just-as-innocent rejection of it, but not without feeling guilty. Along the way, he meets a girl who helps him get from one age to the next.

Her name is Raina. When Thompson portrays Craig and Raina spending the day in her room with Craig painting and Raina writing, I defy the reader not to be taken back to that first realization, whenever it was, of how intimate such a day, a day of few words and little physical touch, can be. Didn't you, like Craig, think you'd discovered something no one else had ever known?

As far as the drawings go, I didn't think Raina was as well-drawn as Craig. He was much cuter and more appealing than she was (wonder what that might have to say about subconscious narcissism on the artist's part. Maybe nothing at all, but I would have expected it to be the other way around -- for this great love to whom he was so attracted to be more appealing. Then again, maybe she is to straight male readers or lesbian female readers). He drew the little boys extremely well, their wide-eyed expressions dead-on depictions of the way children I know view this world. I didn't like his religious representations. I'm sure he meant for them to look like illustrated Bibles sold on the street or religious tracts, but I found them too jarring (I know that was the point, but it was overkill).

All-in-all, this was a great first choice for the genre, and I'm looking forward to reading more. (Oh, yeah, and one other thing: I've never read a 582-paged book so quickly!)

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Conversation

Emily had just arrived back from a week of being up in New England. The previous night, she'd had a wonderful dinner with fellow bloggers Becky, Hobs, and Dorr along with other non-blogging friends and relations. Wish you all could have been there. On top of this lovely evening, she'd recently been extremely jealous, reading all about Bloglily's trip "across the pond" in which she got to meet up with some of her blogging friends. So, needless to say, Emily sat down, her mind full of meeting blog friends, with The Reverend (with whom she had managed to book a date on his busy calendar. This was supposed to be dinner out, but she was too tired and happy to be home with him to want to make the effort to decide where to go -- since they're still learning their way around the area -- and he was quite sick, so they decided a martini and defrosted leftovers were a much better idea). The conversation eventually went something like this.

Emily: So, we're going to have a blogger meet up in Philly this summer.

Bob: Why in Philly? Why not here?

Emily: Because summertime is a hard time to get rooms here, and unless we want to put up people in pews in the church, I think Philly would be a better place for people to base themselves. Besides, I'm posting this publicly. Weirdos who are not part of my blogging community might decide to join us, and I'd rather that happen in Philly.

Bob: But don't you think everyone would rather come here? (My thought bubble reads, "")

Emily: Look, everyone will be welcome to come out here afterwards, if they'd like. It isn't like Philadelphia is in California. Anyway, forget where we're all going to be meeting. I just want to make sure I plan it when you think you'll most likely be able to come, given that you seem to have about ten weddings to officiate this summer, and I'd love it if you could be there. I mean, you know, you're the leading man in my blog, and it seems you ought to be there.

Bob: Well, if everyone might end up coming out here, why do I need to go in there? (Is anyone else married to one of those sorts of men that makes you think, "Good thing we have women. If it were up to men alone to keep the species going, we would have died out before we'd even gotten going, because no one would ever have ventured outside their comfy little caves to meet others?")

Emily: Because they might not all come out here, and I'd kind of like you to meet everyone who decides to come.

Bob: Okay, I'll check my calendar and see what might be good. What's the agenda going to be?

Emily: What do you mean "what's the agenda?" We're just all going to meet up, and you know, talk about books and other interesting stuff.

Bob: I've got an idea. (Bob, the man who has read a total of maybe three of my blog posts has an idea. Everyone, please, listen up.) This should be a brainstorming session. You can all explore together how you're going to give validity to your little corner of the blogging world. If you're going to compete with publishers for the reading public's attention, you 've got to figure out how. Blogs need some sort of a vetting system, like publishers supposedly have. (Hmmm...maybe he hasn't been tuning me out after all when I talk to him about blogs and blogging.)

Damn him. I'm the one who's always supposed to be right. How come he so often usurps my position? It will, of course, be a great opportunity for great minds to get together and brainstorm a Blog Revolution, helping to give blogs the credibility as a valid means of creating and publishing that they are due. We'll show all those naysayers a thing or two. Not that we don't already all try to do that online, but one thing I've learned from my telecommuting experience is that there's nothing that equals face-to-face brainstorming. However, it will also be a wonderful time for us all to get together to discuss books and other interesting things (especially for those of you who might think of yourselves as less revolutionary types). And anyone who wants to take a day trip from Philadelphia out to Lancaster County to do some very "touristy" things in one of Pennsylvania's most "touristy" areas and to have a cup of tea (or two) with us after we've planned our revolution, you are more than welcome.

Right now, I think we are looking at the first and second weeks in August as possibilities. Although I know weekends are better for everyone else, unfortunately, given the nature of Bob's job, a Monday or Friday would probably be best for us. I'd like to know if this works for others. Please email me and let me know at emilymb95 AT gmail DOT com. Meanwhile, as soon as I get an idea of how many of us there are likely to be, I will begin in earnest my research on good places to stay and meet in Philadelphia.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I Think It's Called "Obsession"

"What on earth is the matter with me?" That's a question you've been known to read from time-to-time on this blog. Those of you who know me in real life, have heard me ask it, what, oh about a billion and six times, right? Well, I'm asking it yet again. You see, I've been up visiting the office this week, and one thing I love about the office is that there's a great little independent bookstore here (quite different from the independent bookstores in and around my new home town, but that's a topic for another post). I almost always make it a point to stop in when I'm in town, so I wandered over there the other day at lunchtime, and (gee, what a surprise, huh?), I ended up buying two books. I can already read many of your thought bubbles: "Well, what's wrong with that? That seems like a perfectly sane thing to do."

Well, here's what's wrong with it. First of all, I've already bought four new books since the beginning of the year, only one of which has been read yet. A friend just lent me a fabulous collection of stories (I have to plug it here for those of you who like such things. It's called Tales of Horror and the Supernatural by Arthur Machen, probably out of print. I haven't checked). My mother just sent me a bunch of Georgette Heyers. And, you know, I've got a few challenges for which I'm reading books. You see, add the four library books I also have, and I probably have enough to read just from what I've listed here to get me through to summer. Even if I didn't have all these new and borrowed books, the bookshelves Bob and I had custom-built finally arrived last week, and we've now unpacked all our books (or almost all of them). While unpacking them, I decided we have tons and tons of fabulous books I really want to read and that I really don't need to buy anymore. Then, I commented recently over at Stef's that I'm resolved to buy only one new book for every three I already own and actually read. I have not read three books of my own since making this decision. My two new purchases put me in deficit mode. I now have to read nine books before I can buy another one.

You know, my low tolerance for it means alcoholism and liver damage will never be a problem for me. Drug addiction? Nope. Working myself into an early grave? Not me. Death by bought-and-unread books tumbling from the shelf? Now that's a real possibility. Seriously.

Here's the other problem with my purchases (or I should say one of my purchases). Not only have you heard me often ask what's wrong with me, but you've probably heard me, even more often, bemoan the length of my TBR list (which I'm now beginning to refer to as my TBR tome). So which book did I choose to buy from my TBR list? Why Anne Fadiman's Rereadings. Terrific choice, right? I need nothing more than I need a collection of essays about books I haven't read written by many authors whose books I haven't read. One could say, "Well, you know, it's a great way to find out about books." Yes, it is, but it isn't as though I don't read blogs, or that Slightly Foxed is some rag to which I subscribe that never mentions a single book worth reading, or that I'm someone who can browse the shelves at a public library (even a tiny little public library with a very small collection) and walk out the doors empty-handed. Have all my friends and family members suddenly taken a vow never to recommend a single book to me again? Nope (although maybe they should). In other words, I'm not living in a book-recommendation desert, gasping for at least one new title (although some might think I am, the way I often seem desperately to accept anything anyone throws my way).

Oh well, let's look on the bright side. I will probably whiz through Rereadings in no time. I've already read one of the four books I bought this year (Blankets, on which I will be posting soon, for those of you who are curious about my first foray into graphic novels). The other book I bought this week is a YA novel I've been meaning to read A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. YA novels tend to be very quick reads. Thus, I will be down to a mere six book deficit in no time, right? And, of course, I never said that picture books don't count. It's been quite some time since I read Curious George or Ferdinand the Bull. Until then, though, maybe I'd better stay out of bookstores.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Eva's Reading Meme

So, I was tagged by none other than Eva herself for the Eva’s Reading Meme. Hmm, a meme. A meme about books. Twist my arm. Ouch!

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews? Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. People whose opinion I really admire have talked about what an interesting book it is. I’ve read short pieces written by the author in other works. I’m somewhat intrigued. I even once checked it out of the library, because one of my authors said to me, “You’ve really got to read it, Emily,” but it sat around for three weeks, unopened, and on the bottom of the pile. Is it just me, or does it bother anyone else that the subtitle is “A Rogue Economist [no plural] Explores the Hidden Side of Everything,” and then it’s written by two people (I know, I know. The editor in me is well aware of the fact that if I were to read the damn thing, I’d probably realize that one of them is the economist and one of them is the actual writer getting the economist’s thoughts down on the page, but still…).

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be? I’m tempted to say Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum for dinner at her mother’s house, but then I’d probably find a dead body hanging out of the trunk of my car (the car that would then be blown up shortly after the dead body was found). So let’s think of someone a little bit safer (why did Mina from Dracula immediately spring to mind while I typed that? What on earth is the matter with me?). Let's make it a dinner party with no dead bodies and no chance of blood-suckers tapping on the windows, please, at Cassandra Mortmain’s castle (a place I’ve always wanted to visit) in Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, and we will also invite Emma Woodhouse from Emma, and then we’d better give Emma someone to matchmake with Cassandra, huh? How about Harris from Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat? For some reason, of the three men, I'm particularly fond of Harris. If he's there, I guess we'd all have to take a boat ride around the moat after dinner. Wouldn't it be a fascinating evening? I can imagine a novel coming from it, a novel set in a castle where bloodsuckers might come crawling up the walls and in through windows and a moat where a dead body might be found floating. (All right, there's no hope for me.)

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave? Moby Dick. I’ve tried. Really. I was even (almost) inspired to try one last time when Ian was reading it a couple of Thanksgivings ago and mentioned how good and funny it is. Then I came to my senses, and thought, "why try a third time?" I know, I can already hear someone saying, "Third time's a charm." Please be quiet.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it? I used to pretend I’d read Wuthering Heights, when I really hadn’t (I mean, how can one make it through both high school and college as an English minor and not read that one?). Once I finally got around to reading it (about five or six years ago), I was extremely disappointed.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book? I can’t think of a book like that, but along the same lines (sort of) there is an author I thought I hadn’t read and even mentioned this when she came up as an author for the Outmoded Authors challenge, and that’s Dawn Powell. Lo and behold, sometime later, I was looking back through one of my old book journals and discovered I actually had read a book by her.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (If you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead and personalise the VIP) If I didn’t want the job, the VIP would be George W. Bush, and I’d have him read Edward Gibbons’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, yes, all of it. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be able to read it. If I did want the job, the VIP would be some independent filmmaker, and I’d have him/her read Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? and finally turn it into a brilliant movie, which it’s just begging for someone to do. Then I’d be hired to go on and recommend all the books I think ought to be made into brilliant movies. What fun!

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with? Oh, Spanish! I want to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Carlos Fuentes in their own language. And then, greedy one that I am, I'd beg for her to come back and give me Russian as well.

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick? I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (This is quickly becoming the meme in which I plug that book, isn’t it?)

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)? I’m discovering graphic novels and that I like them, which would completely shock the Emily of ten years ago. She's in there somewhere (along with that thirteen-year-old Emily who can't believe I listen to NPR, although thirteen-year-old Emily is beginning to think I may be redeeming myself reading these graphic novels), desperately trying to disassociate herself from me.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free. Go visit the Pierpont Morgan Library in NYC, his actual library, not the museum part (although, go visit that, too, as it's great fun). All that leather (both the bookcovers and the furniture). All those bookshelves. The ladders to climb them. The huge fireplace. Nothing like it. And, of course, it’s in New York!

(I think I love this Good Fairy. I hope she visits me soon.)

Eva’s rule is that everyone who does this meme has to tag four people, so I’m tagging:
Biblio Addict and Dorr, to guarantee one post from each of them in which they don't write an intriguing review that makes me add yet another title to my TBR list
Ian, because he never does memes
Becky, because she doesn't post often enough, and I know her arm needs twisting as much as mine did

I’m hoping each of you will manage to cover everyone else on my blog roll when you start tagging.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Math Gene by Keith Devlin

Devlin, Keith. The Math Gene. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

(This was the fourth book I read for the 2007 nonfiction five challenge and the fifth and final one on which I'm posting.)

If I'd written about this book when I was halfway through it, I would have said, "Everybody, quick, drop everything you're doing and read this book." That's how important I felt what Devlin has to say is. I get so tired of hearing people divide us all into two groups: "math people" and "reading people." As Devlin explains, many claim we're either born with a "math gene" or we're not. Similarly, we are born with a "reading gene," or we're not. The former is an innate ability for mathematics, the latter an innate ability to read and write. Of course, my first response to such an assumption is: why do so many more people claim not to have the math gene than claim not to have the reading gene? After all, if it's nothing more than genetics, we should have many, many more mathematicians wandering around in our midst than we seem to have. Likewise, we should have many more illiterates with college degrees. Devlin, I'm sure, at some point, asked that very same question, because one of his basic arguments is that it's the same "gene," if you will.

This book provides a very convincing argument that as humans evolved, we developed a need to communicate with each other, but we needed to do more than merely communicate. We needed to acquire language in order to survive. He conjectures that the reason our brains are so large is that they grew in order to accommodate this need for language. He also theorizes that as the brain developed features to help us speak to others and to understand what they say, it was also developing, right along with them, the features that help us do mathematics.

I was fascinated and riveted throughout most of the book. Devlin stresses that doing math well, like playing tennis or playing the piano well, takes work and effort. He hypothesizes that many people who think they can't do math are just people who lost interest in it and, thus, weren't willing to put in the effort (my personal take is to blame poor teachers or poor teaching methods, not the lack of a "math gene" for this loss of interest). I can very readily relate to what he says. When I was a child, I quickly lost interest in both tennis and piano, and I could claim to lack "genes" for both, but basically, I just wasn't willing to put in the time and effort to learn either one, when I wanted to spend my time reading, writing, riding my bicycle, and climbing ropes.

The math geek in me was fascinated by the chapter in which Devlin describes the arithmetic of transformations of shapes. I won't try to explain it here. I'd lose half of you, because you quit putting in any effort in math by the time you were eight, and the other half would be thinking, "That was a revelation to her?" Suffice it to say that I found it very cool. I'm someone who had definitely lost interest in math when I was young. However, I've regained an interest rather late in life, am having to play "catch up," and revelations such as this one that make me see shapes and arithmetic in a different way are now great fun.

Devlin also cites a lot of interesting brain and psychological studies, and he provides a mini-lesson in linguistics. I love him for that. Even if I didn't love him for that, though, how could I not love a man who says the following?

"Mathematics is not about numbers but about life. It is about the world in which we live. It is about ideas. And far from being dull and sterile, as it is often portrayed, it is full of creativity." (p. 76)

Where I quibble with him, though, is when he talks about other animals and what they can or can't do. I don't think we really have much of a clue at all about other animals, and I'm pretty sure it's a mistake to compare our abilities with theirs. Our only real point of reference is how we do things, which makes for biased comparisons. For instance, I'm not completely convinced that all other species that have developed a means of communication are only doing that: communicating, whereas humans alone have something called "language," with which we can do much more than merely communicate (for example, predict that the moon is going to be full on a particular date due to the patterns we've observed as to when a full moon occurs and inform others of this fact, often through representations of pictures of moon shapes, say). We barely have a grasp of how many species inhabit this planet along with us, let alone have we studied each and every one of them all that closely, and we don't have to go back too far in history to meet people who didn't think nonhuman animals could feel pain.

Also, the subtitle of this book is "How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip." He talks about math being like a soap opera for mathematicians, with numbers being the characters and the "stories" of those characters (their relationships, etc.) being mathematical ones. He starts separating mathematicians from non-mathematicians at this point, and it's very difficult not to start envisioning these mathematicians who do have some sort of special "gene" that enables them to understand these mathematical soap operas. And I definitely would like to be able to ask him more about his "fiction and garden metaphors." He says:

"One drawback with both the fiction and garden metaphors is that the people who write novels and design gardens have considerable freedom in which to exercise their creativity. In contrast, mathematics is highly constrained, with mathematical creativity being that of choosing what to investigate and how to carry out an investigation." (p. 264).

How many of you who write fiction out there would ever claim it isn't highly constrained? Gardening is even more constrained. For instance, if you happen to live where I do, no matter how creative your imagination is, you're not going to be planting orange trees that you expect to bear fruit, and you're certainly not going to be out trimming your roses this time of year.

These are mere quibbles, though (because, of course, I have to be ornery). Overall, especially for those who don't want to put a lot of effort into math, I'd say this was an extremely interesting read with some fascinating points and theories. So, I won't say, "Everyone, quick, drop what you're doing and read this book." I will say, however, "If you think you hate math, give this one a try. It might make you think differently. And if you don't think you hate math, you'll probably enjoy this one immensely, as I did."

Is It a Pencast or Is It a Meme?

I still don't REALLY know how to do this, so if you want to read this without going blind, you're going to have to click on each image, which will enlarge it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Look Back at My 2007 Blog Goals

Mandarine has inspired me to take a look back at the goals I set for myself in 2007. I did this once already about halfway through the year, but thought it might be interesting to do it one more time before really saying goodbye to 2007, so here we go:

Blog Goals: Final Analysis

Goal #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.

How I Did: Well, I kept writing about books all year, but has anyone else noticed that I still adamantly stand by the claim that I am not a litblogger? I think I need to stop doing that. It’s just that I don’t put myself anywhere in the same league as the likes of Dorr, Hobs, Litlove, Stef, etc. I don’t even put myself in the same league as Charlotte, who posts on books about as often as I do, but when she does, her posts are really, really good. However, I’ve got my arms firmly wrapped around Litblogger Emily in a loving embrace as we kick off 2008, because soon you will be reading book reviews for the following three books: The Math Gene, Friends and Relations, and Blankets.

Goal #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.

How I Did: Didn’t find a local chapter. Didn’t stop being drawn in by memes. Plan to keep doing/creating them in 2008. Oh well, I don’t think I’ve yet reached the point that my work/home/social life is suffering, so it’s not a REAL addiction, is it? (Or am I just in denial?) Wait a minute. What's that I hear? I think it may be that food meme, spotted over at Cam's , just calling my name..

Goal #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).

How I Did: Ian and Emily (“What? There’s such a blog?” I hear you ask) just sort of fizzled. For some reason, he and I thought our memories would vary much more than they do, and we both seem to have the impression that the blog was somewhat boring. Maybe it was only boring to us. Correct us if we’re wrong, and you might convince us to revive it. Meanwhile, in ’08, I plan to post more than one ghost story. Stay tuned to see whether or not I do so.

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

How I Did: Took on nonfiction five and outmoded authors in ’07. Well on my way with graphic novels and science in 2008. Didn’t come up with any of my own in ’07, but I’ve got a definite couple of ideas for ’08, if anyone is up for them.

Goal #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.

How I Did: I did this, what, maybe twice? And then I just went back to linking to all the same people to whom I already link. However, Litlove is so kindly taking this one over for me with her new Best of New Writing on the Web. And Charlotte’s zine introduced people to new writers this year, as well, I think, so I don’t need to worry so much.

Goal #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.

How I Did: This worry has become more, not less of a problem, but for reasons other than offending my readers. I’m absolutely convinced that someday, someone from the church is going to discover this blog, even though most of them are over the age of 60 and refuse to pay for high speed internet access. It would not be a pretty thing for someone from the church to discover this blog.

Goal #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?”

How I Did: All right, you all have gone a long, long way towards convincing me of this, what with including me in web zines, etc., but I’m still stubbornly listening to what I now know have always been not one, but multiple little insecure voices who took up residence in my head when I was seven years old, wandering around, who quietly whisper among themselves instead of to me (but I can STILL hear them), “That’s no good. Who’d want to read that? What was she thinking when she wrote that?” However, someone told me that’s the mark of a good writer: never being satisfied with your own writing. Apparently, once you’re satisfied, you stop trying, and then you’re doomed (funny the things people tell you, isn’t it?). Anyway, I think everyone’s goal for 2008 should be to keep me unsatisfied, so I don’t stop trying.

Goal #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.

How I Did: Mandarine says I’m no longer allowed to refer to myself as a Luddite, and well, you know, Mandarine knows everything (AND he’s a rocket scientist), so I’m going to listen to him.

Goal #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.

How I Did: I failed miserably, but so did all the rest of you. Come on, get on the schtick and write, please! (And thank you, Ms. Make Tea, for helping to revive this one in '08.)

Goal #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.

How I Did: I did very well with this one. Maybe slipped up a few times when I couldn’t sleep, but overall, I think it was probably one of the most worthwhile goals I had, and I’m sticking to it this year. It may be the whole reason I logged in so many more pages of reading print books this year than I did last year.

So there you have it: a number of sort-of-accomplished goals, a couple of fully-accomplished ones, and one "failed miserably." Not too bad, but note I won't be setting any goals in 2008. Goal setting seems too much to resemble planning when it comes to follow-through for me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A New Challenge, A Winner, and The Answers

I’m taking on another challenge. This one is the Science Book challenge.
After all, how can someone who in some contexts is known as the executive editor of math and science possibly not take on this one and encourage others to do so? Here are the rules:

  1. Read three nonfiction books this year related to the theme "Living a Rational Life", broadly construed. Each book should have something to do with science, how science operates, or science's relationship with its surrounding culture. The books might be popularizations of science, they might be history, they might be biography, they might be anthologies.
  2. After you've read it, write a short note about the book; 500 words would suffice. What goes in the note? The things you would tell a friend if you wanted to convince said friend to read it, too. Naturally, you can read some of the existing Book Notes for ideas.
  3. Don't worry if you find that you've read a book someone else has also read; we welcome multiple notes on one title.
  4. Get your book note to me and I'll post it with the other Book Notes in that section at Science Besieged. Email, comments here, or the Book Note submission form all work.*
  5. Tell two other people about The Science-Book Challenge. (Note: I’ve now told a whole slew of you, I hope, so that one’s already done. I'm hoping at least two of you will also take on the challenge)

And these are the books I’ve chosen:

The Double Helix by James D. Watson (I've been meaning to read it for years. This seems like a good year finally to do so.)

Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human by Matt Ridley (I figure a book about genes and a person's environment is a good one to follow The Double Helix.)

What Counts: How Every Brain is Hardwired for Math by Brian Butterworth (forget genes. Let’s move onto my favorite topic: the brain, accompanied by my second favorite topic: math. This seems like a good follow-up to The Math Gene, which wasn't about genes, either, and which I read – and still have yet to write my post for everyone – for the nonfiction five challenge last year.)

And now for the winner:

Nobody managed to beat Dorr at the first lines meme quiz, so she’s the winner of the book of her choice (let me know which book I reviewed or mentioned at any point last year that you’d like to have, and it’s yours, Dorr). For those who are curious, but don’t want to have to wade through all my blog posts to get the answers, here they are:

1. What mischievous trick did the Hobgoblin perform on an unstormy but dark night in February, according to my story?

He made the parking lot where my car was parked and my car disappear and then reappear.

2. What is one of the “givens” I was handed out from the bottom of the barrel?

You could choose one from these four:

a. If there's a stall in a crowded women's room that won't lock, that's where I'll end up

b. Blizzards will only strike on days in which I’m supposed to be somewhere far away

c. I will never get sick at a convenient time when I’m dying for an excuse to lie abed reading Agatha Christie, eating crackers, and drinking tea for a few days, but rather when I’m traveling, have company, or have tickets to some once-in-a-lifetime event.

d. My plane will always be departing from gate Z99. (This is the one I was addressing in that particular post).

3. What were the three choices Bob and I had back in May, and which one did we choose?

a. Stay in CT

b. Move to VA

c. Move to PA, which is the one we chose. Verdict still out on whether or not it was the right choice. I'm pretty sure it was, but sometimes I have my doubts, depending on what day of the week/month it is, and what I’ve spent the day doing.

4. What [finally] happened to me? Hint: I was in an airport.

I ran out of reading material.

5. Who was Smarty Larty?

He was a very smart (and apparently arrogant) fish in a story I wrote when I was a child.

6. When I finally came back on the scene, after an absence during my move, with what meme did I present everyone?

A moving meme that died on the vine (I guess only those of us who are in the midst of a move care to visit the topic, although a couple of stationary people did decide to do it, and their answers were fascinating).

7. What was I shamelessly plugging in November?

My ghost story (everyone who participated got this one right.)

8. What were two of the things I wrote about that drive me nuts on a regular basis?

You had a choice from these seven:

a. Rachael Ray

b. Christmas music in November

c. Indestructible plastic wrapping

d. Trucks

e. Books with tons of typos/grammatical errors

f. People who have their Christmas shopping done in early December and want to know if I’m “ready for Christmas”

g. Never-ending stacks of boxes that need to be unpacked (By the way, we’re down to only two in the actual house. The attic and basement are still disaster areas, however.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Midwinter's Day Dream

(And don't forget, while you're gazing at my naval with me, wondering if there might be a little more fat around it than there used to be, that today is your last chance to win some stunning prose from me. Yes, you might actually win a book, any book, I discussed all last year, but, as Mandarine so helpfully pointed out yesterday, you may not go back through my blog and look for the book of your choice until you've taken the quiz.)

All right, I am finally having to admit, now that it’s mid-January, which means it’s technically been winter for almost a month, that I’ve moved to a place where winter doesn’t happen. Actually, that’s not true (she says, as she peers out the window and notes a few light snowflakes sort of making a fleeting appearance before they get drowned out by huge raindrops). We do get the kinds of winters I ran away from North Carolina to escape. You know, the sorts in which it’s damp and dreary and always just hovering above freezing, so the rain is frigid but never turns to snow long enough actually to amount to anything. It makes for great curl-up-by-the-fire-and-read days, but after a while, if you’re like me, you get depressed. You long for more than a dusting of snow. You remember that snow days are even better than rainy ones for curling up by the fire and reading, because they have the added benefit that when you look up and out the window, what you see is beautiful, all that white contrasted against the dark tree branches. You’re extremely jealous of your friends up in New England as they moan about being dumped on yet again. You cry when you remember blizzards in NYC and make the mistake of reading The Alternate Side Parking Reader, getting descriptions of suspensions of alternate side of the street parking (okay, maybe you’re not really crying over the parking. Maybe you’re just PMSing, which is making you cry over the fact that you miss New York so terribly, and nothing seems more wonderful right now than New York when there’s a blizzard, and the snow has yet to turn black and ugly, and you can walk down the middle of the streets on your way to Riverside Park, AND you don’t have to worry about moving your car).

I refuse to succumb to the depression, though. I’ve decided that if it’s not going to be winter here, then I’m going to take advantage of it. Thus, on the days in which it isn’t raining, and the temperature is in the upper forties or low fifties (which seems to be often), I have a new afternoon commute (for those of you who may be new to this blog, I “commute” to my home office every day by walking each morning and each afternoon). This new commute is inspired by the fact that I once read an article that noted the best way to get your exercise is to do what you did when you were a kid (this article was obviously referring to the days when kids like me used to spend hours of their free time outdoors playing instead of in basements sitting at computers). When I was a kid, I used to walk, run, dance, skip, climb trees, climb ropes, swing, bike, play around in the creek, and play on the monkey bars.

I started my afternoon commute the other day with iPod in hand, at first following the normal route past the horses, goats, Shetland ponies, and cows who all stare at me, that crazy human who often calls out “hello” to them as she passes the farms where they live. This time, though, I decided instead of merely walking, I’d walk for two songs, run for one, walk for two, etc., and when I got to the end of the road, instead of turning around and heading back, as I normally do, I’d turn towards the town park. Funny thing, I discovered that some of the songs had me almost skipping and dancing when I wasn’t running. I ran and walked/skipped/danced under the covered bridge (lest you think New England is the only place that has covered bridges), past the roaring (due to all the recent freezing cold rain) creek, and onto the asphalt trail that leads through and around the park. I got to the swings just as I was finishing up a two-song walking (or was it a skipping and dancing?) session and climbed aboard a swing to pump it back and forth while listening to the next song (as an alternative to running). When that song came to an end, I jumped off the swing and made my way over to the monkey bars to hang and try to make my way across them (my upper body strength ain’t what it used to be. Maybe after a few weeks of this, I’ll actually be able to make it all the way across that horizontal metal ladder – images of Jodie Foster running the FBI obstacle course in Silence of the Lambs might help spur me on, I hope) for another song. Then, dropping down from the bars, it was time to make my way back home during the last two songs.

My new afternoon commute was an hour long, twice as long as it usually is. In the old (snowy, Connecticut, commuting-to-an-office) days, a twice-as-long-as-it-should-have-been commute would have meant a very grumpy Emily walking through the door. Instead, we had an exhilarated, almost giddy Emily walking through the door. No wonder kids are often so much happier than adults. Someday, I’ll ride my bike to the park. Maybe I’ll stop and play in the creek…(Oh, and if you’re wondering what the perfect soundtrack for this little adventure of mine was, it was Michelle Shocked’s Arkansas Traveler. If that doesn’t get you skipping and dancing, I don’t know what will.)

Snow and colder temperatures are in the forecast for later this week. Can you believe I’m almost hoping the weather forecasters are wrong?

Monday, January 14, 2008


All right, everyone. You have until midnight tomorrow night to take a stab at winning a book from me. Remember, not only the one who gets the most correct answers, but also the one with the most creative answers will win. Right now, Dorr is winning, which makes things nice and easy, since I'm (lucky me!) going to be seeing her (along with the oft-mentioned-in-first-lines-of-the-month Hobs) when I'm in Connecticut a week from Friday.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Good Topic for a Sunday, I Suppose

And now I guess I ought to go read some Moltmann to see if it's really true, since I've never heard of the guy. I was hoping for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but I'm not heroic enough, I suppose. I'm happy to see I'm in company with Paul Tillich, and phew! that I don't have much Jonathan Edwards in me (I wonder what it is that we do have in common?).

Which theologian are you?
created with
You scored as Jürgen Moltmann

The problem of evil is central to your thought, and only a crucified God can show that God is not indifferent to human suffering. Christian discipleship means identifying with suffering but also anticipating the new creation of all things that God will bring about.

Jürgen Moltmann


Friedrich Schleiermacher


Paul Tillich


John Calvin






Charles Finney


Karl Barth


Martin Luther


Jonathan Edwards


Friday, January 11, 2008


Come on, Everyone. Led Zeppelin did it. The Police did it. Let's revive What We Said in 2008. I've posted over there today.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Working My Plan

Remember how, spurred on by a request from Bloglily, I went about in early December devising a plan for myself, one that apparently impressed quite a few of you? Well, I don’t either. You see, it seems that when I was busy creating that plan, my memory was on a nice little solo holiday. She’s just returned in a very relaxed frame of mind, not tanned, because we don’t tan, but obviously having been somewhere like the Caribbean where well-developed plans are not taken seriously, “9:00 a.m.” really means “between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m.,” and if you show up at noon, well, that’s “no problem, mon.” I think it’s awfully unfair of her not to have invited me, but she claims I wouldn’t have remembered to come and that she needed a break from constantly having to remind me of every little thing. I could argue that she’s certainly been falling down on her job for about ten years now, but that’s an argument for another day.

Ms. Memory took one look at my plan, and after rolling around on the floor, roaring with laughter for about ten minutes, she picked herself up and announced, “Man, do you ever need me! What were you thinking when you devised this thing?” I reminded her that since she was off sipping Mai Tais, twirling fancy little umbrellas around in glasses while flirting with dive masters, I haven’t the foggiest notion what I was thinking back then. Here are just a few of the things she has kindly informed me that I seem to have forgotten while composing such a plan in her absence:

1. I have a job that does not adhere well to certain business hours. I have authors and prospective authors who have jobs that do, and who can’t “meet” with me by phone at 8:30 a.m., which is what would be most convenient for me. They ask me to call them in the evenings or on the weekends. I call at 6:00 p.m., and they don’t answer. They return my call at 8:00 p.m.

2. I have to do things like attend meetings in Baltimore, or meet all day with authors who live a two-hour drive away to help them pull manuscripts together. This means leaving the house at 6:00 a.m. and often not getting home until 7:00 p.m.

3. It was the Christmas season. Bob is a minister. We are new to our church. We had many, many events the minister and his wife were invited to attend and that we felt it wasn’t a good idea not to attend as we get to know our congregation. This meant plenty of Saturdays and Sundays in which “resting” was out of the question in favor of such things as helping at the church bazaar, speaking at the annual church Christmas dinner, and making centerpieces for tables.

4. We live in Pennsylvania, where dinner is typically served between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m. We get invited to other people’s houses for dinner a lot.

5. We volunteer to do things like help feed dinner to the homeless when it’s our church’s turn to do so, which often means having to leave the house by 4:30 p.m.

6. Elderly members of our congregation die. We have funerals to plan that fall on odd days of the week, and we feel obligated to visit grieving members of the families in the evenings.

7. People call us. Did you notice there was nowhere on my plan for hour-long phone conversations with friends and family members? Ms. Memory referred to that as a “Freudian slip,” reminding me that I’m not a big fan of the telephone.

8. We’re the sorts of people who buy Christmas trees, get them all set up in their stands, place them in a nice spot in the library, fill the stand with water, and discover half-an-hour later that the stand is leaking water that’s beginning to run all over the beautiful, recently-sanded, hardwood floors. Again, did you notice anything on my plan about “dealing with inevitable catastrophes?”

9. Bob’s aunt and uncle live close by. On a fairly regular basis, they invite us to do things like go to plays and concerts on odd nights.

10. I’m a night owl by nature. I can get into bed by 9:30, some nights, maybe, but rarely will I turn out the lights before 11:00, especially if I’m reading something really good. I seem to have been reading nothing but really good books all month, some of which kept me up well past midnight.

Oh well, no problem, mon. I’ve got almost all of January to try again, keeping all these things in mind this time. And if things don’t work out in January, there’s always February or March, right? Maybe I’ll get truly organized sometime during this lifetime. Until then, I think I’ll fix myself a Mai Tai, pretend I’m on a beach somewhere where I can close my eyes and dream about cute little Beatrix-Potter-looking mice busily mapping out their best-laid plans for each day and smile down on them like a Cheshire Cat.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

2007 Stats

I just did my favorite six reads of the second half of 2007, and earlier this year, I did my favorites of the first half, but I’ve included some favorites for specific categories here.

Total number of titles read: 62
Total number aborted after reading at least 30 pages: 4 (I loved Ghost Story when I started it, but happened to misplace it for too long a period of time just to pick it up and read it again without starting over – it’s possible to do that with some books, but not with this one with all its many different characters and stories to keep track of -- so I will read it all the way through one day, perhaps next Halloween season. That is, if I don’t misplace it again. Maybe I didn’t really misplace it. Maybe some ghost wanted a little reading of his or her own. 326 pages of Jane Fonda’s My Life So Far, which I read for a book discussion book, was enough to get the picture, so I didn’t think it was necessary to read the other 200+ pages. I was fascinated at first, but it began to get old when it was too much about her movies and not enough about the personal stuff that really intrigued me. I didn’t manage to finish Theodore Dreiser’s Hoosier Holiday before it was due back at the library, but I will buy it and finish it one day, too. It’s something to be read slowly and savored. Karen Armstrong’s A History of God had too many sweeping generalizations and inaccuracies picked up on by someone who recently attended seminary vicariously through her husband, and it’s the one book I didn’t finish that I really just didn’t want to read at all after 34 pages. It’s a shame, because I was mesmerized by her The Spiral Staircase.)
Total number of pages read: 23,706 (Yes, I’m actually anal enough to keep track of page numbers and to look up page counts of recorded books to include them as well. I'm well ahead of last year's 17K or so -- too lazy to go look up the exact number right now -- in this category.)
Number of books written by women: 24 (Overall favorite was Gone with the Wind.)
Number of books written by men: 37 (Overall favorite was Old School. I thought I was going to be pretty even between men and women, but obviously not. I'm going to blame it on all those of you who've been posting about books written by male authors that end up on my TBR list, because, of course, it can't possibly be my fault.)
Number of books written by multiple authors: 1 (It happens to have been written by a man and a woman. This was a Christmas read called God Rest Ye Grumpy Scroogey Men, which was cute, but I was a little distracted by trying to figure out exactly what sorts of “Christians” the authors were, a problem I seem to have whenever I read something with a Christian slant.)
Number of books written pre-16th century: 5
Number of books written in the 16th and 17th centuries: 0
Number of books written in the 18th century: 0
Number of books written in the 19th century: 7 (Favorite was The Lady of the Lake.)
Number of books that were written in the first half of the 20th century: 9 (Favorite was Gone with the Wind.)
Number of books that were written in the second half of the 20th century: 22 (Favorite was Lolita.)
Number of books that were written in the 21st century: 19 (Favorite was The Time Traveler’s Wife.)
Number of books of poetry: 1 (Lady of the Lake was the only one. I must remedy that in 2008. Recommendations gladly accepted.)
Number of drama: 4 (Favorite was Prometheus Bound.)
Number of children’s books: 15 (Favorite was The Wizard of Oz.)
Number of books written by American authors: 41
Number of books written by non-American authors: 21 (Favorite was Things Fall Apart.)
Number of collected works that included both male and female authors, as well as works from various centuries: 0 (This is obviously a category left over from last year. I think I’d like, in 2008, to remedy my lack of books read in this category as well. Again, recommendations gladly accepted.)
Number that were listened to as opposed to being read: 10 (One of which was finished by reading it. Favorite was Dracula. If you haven’t listened to The Recorded Books version of this, do. It’s brilliantly done. For terrific effect, I highly recommend listening to it while running through the woods, heart rate accelerated, when it’s just a little too close to dusk for comfort. A close second was Lolita.)
Number of re-reads: 8 (Five of these were actually first-time-listens of re-reads, which I’ve actually discovered is a great way to re-read a book: Lolita, Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Lords of Discipline, and The Turn of the Screw.)

Some sort of goals for 2008, besides the ones already mentioned:
Read some contemporary drama
Read more 16th-17th-and 18th-century works

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Cooking, Composing, and Reeling from Disbelief

Cooking for me is a truly enjoyable and creative pastime. When I’m not tuned into my iPod, either listening to a book, or trying to keep from chopping off my fingers while dancing to Van Morrison, I often find myself separating eggs or stirring white sauce while composing bits and pieces of stories and blog posts in my head. I did a lot of cooking over Christmas, and two separate, but similarly-themed posts took root during this period. They both centered around blogging.

The first post was one in which I was embracing the reader in me. My reader, who is really nothing more than a sneaky, voyeuristic writer in disguise, is one who can’t seem to read anything without having one of three thoughts: a. that was absolutely horrible. Why did I waste my time with it? Certainly, I could easily have taken that [story, point, theme, etc.] and written something so much better. b. This is a good thing to read, because there’s absolutely no way on earth I’d ever attempt to write something like this, and it’s so awe-inspiring. and c. I think I’ll go kill myself now. This is exactly the sort of thing I’d like to write, but this author is so far superior in every way that my measly little attempts ought to be used for nothing more than lining the bottom of the litter box. Here are some prime examples to help you understand what I mean: a. Jackie Collins and Michael Crichton b. Leo Tolstoy and Margaret Atwood. c. David Sedaris and Susan Jane Gilman.

I don’t really like being this sort of a reader. Besides being extremely narcissistic, it can somewhat dampen the enjoyment of reading. However, if I can embrace it, perhaps I can rein it in and move past it, or at least stick it in some fenced-in area somewhere that it isn’t so likely to go galloping wildly about, leaving hoof prints and ripped pages between the covers of my books.

I’m not doing a very good job of reining it in, though. As a matter of fact, it’s found a new field in which to run and muck about: the blogosphere. If you take a look at the links on my blog, each and every one that is another blog, falls into one of these reading categories. Those that fall into the “a” category are the ones that are noticeably absent. These would be things like celebrity blogs, certain political blogs, and certainly many religious blogs. I waste enough time blogging. No need to waste my time with these.

So, now we get to the Tolstoys and the Atwoods of my links. I can happily read blogs like Book World, The Hobgoblin of Little Minds, Loose Baggy Monster, Tales from the Reading Room, Cam’s Commentary, Striped Armchair, The Library Ladder, Of Books and Bicycles, and So Many Books, because all of those authors are extraordinarily well-read and are doing things that I’m not attempting to do: writing extremely eloquently about books (or books and bicycling). Sometimes they write about other things (and sometimes I write about books), but for the most part they are literary critics and book reviewers, and I am not. Charlotte’s Web and Bloglily both fall into a sort of “iffy” category, but I will pretend I can happily read them, because they write about cooking (well, with the exception of today) and baking and being a mother, as well as their own eloquent thoughts on books, and I’m not writing about those things, either. Jew Eat Yet is what I would want to write if I knew half as much about the Jewish faith and culture or about film and other areas of pop culture, but I don’t, so it’s another one that can be happily read and enjoyed, knowing I’d never attempt to create such a blog. The Havens is mostly about gardening, and I’m a complete brown thumb, so I can enjoy reading her and sometimes wish she would come create a beautiful garden for me, but again, I would never try to write about gardening, not even my own disastrous attempts at it. She says to “come in and rest a while,” and I most certainly do. Mandarine is also in a category of his own, a scientist and (as I once noted) 21st-century Renaissance man, and reading his blog is very much like browsing through some of my favorite nonfiction sections of the library where I would never dream of trying to have a book of my own. Marissa’s blog is something different, as well: it’s more a reflection of her as a photographer, marking significant events in her life and enjoying her family and friends, not as a writer.

But now we come to the David Sedarises and the Susan Jane Gilmans, those who are doing exactly what I want to do and who make me feel, on a regular basis, that I ought just to close down this little blog and do nothing but spend time with them. These would be, Everything Inbetween (which is really The Public, The Private, and Everything Inbetween), Ian’s Blog, Make Tea Not War, Feminine Feminist, Froshty Mugs (well, when those two actually write), Musings from the Sofa, QC Report, and the Alternate Side Parking Reader. They’re funny. They’re ironic. They see the world the way I do (especially, for some reason, Ian and Froshty), and they are so damn talented at putting words together to describe that world.

The second post I composed while mashing potatoes, making gravy, and checking on the Yorkshire pudding was one in which I was thinking about my part in the blogosphere. It was all about my feeling so lucky to be hanging out with all these talented writers out here, wondering how I’ve managed to fall into this world and have been so accepted. I was comparing myself to someone who might have sat at places like the Algonquin Round Table as just some welcomed non-writer, someone’s little sister, maybe, living vicariously through all that talent. Or maybe I’m like Mrs. Strickland in Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence, which I’ve been reading. When asked by one novelist (worried he ought to know and doesn’t) of another novelist who Mrs. Strickland is, the other novelist says, “She gives luncheon parties. You only have to roar a little, and she’ll ask you.” (Maugham, W. S., The Moon and Sixpence, New York: The Modern Library, 1919, p. 22). Am I the one “giving luncheon parties to a bunch of artists?”

This was all before New Year’s Day. Then New Year’s Day arrived, and what did I do? I checked Cam’s Commentary to discover that not only did someone list my blog as a daily read in her survey of favorites but actually included me in the same sentence as QC Report. Well, to tell you that this alone would have convinced me that 2008 is going to be a much better year than 2007 would be the absolute truth. But then, later in the day, I happened to wander over to Litlove’s new blog The Best of New Writing on the Web and was completely awed to discover I’d made it into this very first issue. I’d say 2008 is going to be a banner year with this sort of a start! So, maybe I’m the one everyone’s coming to sit with at the round table, and maybe my luncheons are so popular because people just can’t get enough of me? I find that hard to believe, but I do want to say thank you so very much to whomever it was who nominated and voted for me for these two humbling spots.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Favorite Reads of the Second Half of 2007

(This is supposed to be a Francis Friday -- photo and commentary from Francis first Friday of every month. However, I am having difficulties with the camera battery -- seems I probably ought to go buy a re-chargable battery -- so that will have to wait. Meanwhile, I give you this poor substitute instead.)

So, here are my six favorite reads for the second half of 2007.

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffennegger
Every so often, I pick up a contemporary novel and am able to lose myself in it without criticizing every gimmick the author seems to think it’s necessary to embrace in order to be published these days (half the time, the author is right about that, so I can’t really blame the author. I need to blame the publishing industry, I’m sure). This one falls into that category. Those of you who know me already know how charmed I was by this love story, as it seems for a while there, I was mentioning it practically on a daily basis either on my own blog or in comments on others’. Just a flat-out fantastic read from beginning to end. If you haven’t read it yet, I wish I were you and had it to read for the first time all over again.

The Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum
If you only know the movie version, and if you happen to love that, read this. Ten times more ironic and insightful than the movie. Oh yes, and ten times better than Harry Potter (I promise). And all kinds of interesting things that never made it to the movie version. I loved it and plan to read more Oz books in ’08.

Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
I can’t believe it took me this long in life finally to get around to reading such a fabulous book. I’m pretty sure one of the reasons I liked it so much is that I wasn’t really expecting I would. I saw the movie in college, wasn’t all that impressed, and thought both Scarlett and Rhett were pretty ridiculous. I didn’t think I was going to be able to conjure up an ounce of sympathy for either one of them and thought I’d have to find other things to appreciate about the book. Oh how very wrong I was! Margaret Mitchell did a brilliant job on both a micro and macro level of portraying complete loss and the struggle to rebuild something new.

Babycakes – Armistead Maupin
This was actually my favorite of the Maupins I read this year. So funny, but so devastating. Maupin certainly develops as he goes along with these Tales of the City books. The ones written in the 1980s are quite different (and better, I think) from those written in the 1970s.

The Man Who Was Thursday – G. K. Chesterton
You may have recently read my take on this one. What a wonderful gem of a book. Thank you to the Outmoded Authors challenge, which is just what I needed to get me to read it.

Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
I got past the fact I couldn’t finish Stern Men. I got past the hideous title of this book. I listened to all those of you out there who’ve been reading it and raving about it. Conclusion? You were all right! Although I had my quibbles, I enjoyed it immensely. But how come I don’t remember any of you saying it’s fall-out-of-your-chair-laughing funny? I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on that before I started reading it. If you've missed it, you can read some more detailed thoughts inspired by this book here.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

First Lines Meme with a Twist and Resolutions

I like this meme, which I think I first saw over at Dorr’s. What better way to start the new year than with a look back at the previous year’s blogging adventures. I’m even going to make this fun for you. You see, in going back over this year’s posts, I realized just how bad my senility already is. There’s so much I did, and so much I wrote about that I never would have remembered if it weren’t all right there for me to see (and I thought it was bad that I’d forgotten things from twelve years ago that I found in my attic). Does anyone else out there scroll through his or her blog and think “I wrote/did that?” How could I have forgotten so much that happened just this past year? So, here’s the fun part for you. Let’s see if any of you, without searching through my blog, can better remember some of the inane things that I decided to address in 2007. In appropriate places, I’ll prompt you with questions, and then you’ll have the chance to win a prize.


Happy New Year, everyone!

(Well, that was a very original way to start the year, wasn’t it?)


It was not a dark (well, maybe it was a little bit dark) and stormy night. But I was accompanied by a Hobgoblin.

(Question #1 for you: What mischievous trick did the Hobgoblin perform that night, according to my story?)


Hobs has requested that we all write about the meaninglessness of the phrase “Support our troops,” which I am all too happy to do. We live in an age of meaningless words and phrases.

(Dorr, I promise I’m not having an affair with your husband, despite the fact he showed up in the first post of the month two months in a row.)


I wish when “givens” were being passed out to babies the year I was born, I’d been at the front of the fast-moving line.

(Question #3: What is one of the “givens” I’ve been stuck with all my life?)


Right now, it seems, Bob and I probably have three choices.

(Question #4: What were those three choices, and which one did we choose?)


The first thing I always do when The New Yorker arrives in the mail is search the table of contents for either David Sedaris or Paul Rudnick.

(No, I’m not a “fag hag.” Then again, maybe I am. I’ve always loved gay men.)


It finally happened to me.

(Question #5: What happened to me? Hint: I was in an airport.)


Okay, by popular demand (all right, all right: by two requests, but don’t say I don’t listen), I’ve decided to select two stories from My Story Book, written when I was nine or ten or so.

(Question #6: Who was Smarty Larty?)


I'm afraid those of you who may have become accustomed to a thrice-weekly or so dose of Telecommuter Talk are going to have to seek out some sort of generic substitute for the next few weeks, as moving, work, and ordination (did you know that planning an ordination is like planning a wedding? Neither did I until now!) obligations monopolize my time.

(And then I never did get back to thrice-weekly posting, but I plan to make up for that in 2008.)


Actually, I would have been back yesterday, but I guess Blogger decided to punish me for my long absence or something and wouldn't let me log onto its site.

(Question #7: And when I finally came back on the scene, with what meme did I present everyone?)


Well, the chains haven't really started rattling much yet, but they've sort of moved onto the scene over here today.

(Question #8: What was I shamelessly plugging here?)


Here are just a few of the things that drive me nuts on a regular basis.

(Question #9 – an easy one for everyone: What were two of these things?)

A free book goes to the person who gets the most answers correct. You get to choose which book I wrote about in 2007 that you’d like to add to your collection, and I’ll send you a copy (this may take a while if it’s something that’s out of print, but I promise I’ll do my best to find whatever you choose). You’re on your honor not to go back and research the answers to the questions. Besides, I just might send a second book to the person who comes up with the most creative answers. In the event of a tie, I will put the names in a hat and draw a winner. If you want to play, leave a comment here and then email your answers to me (so nobody can cheat and steal your answers) at emilymb95 AT gmail DOT com. You have until January 15th to submit your answers.

And now for my New Year's resolutions, of which I have only two:

1. Stop playing around with old ghost stories and write five new ones

2. Get back into my old blogging rhythm

And finally: here's to a great New Year full of books, laughter, and lots of interesting thoughts and ideas with all of you. Cheers!