Tag Archive | books

Notable News: Week of July 6-12, 2013

It’s going to be a short one today.  I have far too much going on this week, including my son’s saxophone lesson and going early to my kids’ dance camp to see their mini-performance.  Still, there’s some good stuff in here.

1. To read or not to read?

Why do people stop reading books?  This is an interesting summary of the books people abandoned and why.  I admit to having read most of the books mentioned, and I felt pretty much the same as the people who didn’t finish them (except for Lord of the Rings).  Most of the time, if I don’t finish a book, it’s because it’s so dull I can’t keep my eyes open, I’ve gotten distracted by another book, or I’m having a particularly busy season and I’m not reading much.  Otherwise, if I start it, I finish it.

2. Speaking of reading…

Here’s an interview with author Adrian J. Smith.  I’ve had the privilege to work with her as a beta reader, and I love her first novel.  Her greatest strength as an author is creating memorable characters to whom readers can relate.

3. More on being “deeply broken”

I still disagree with the theology behind the concept of “brokenness”; it’s far too close to the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity for my liking.  But it’s true that existing among humans is a messy proposition, so I understand where Zach Hoag is coming from on this one.  If this post helps further the dialogue about sin, grace, and how we navigate this thing called faith, then so much the better.

4. On a lighter note regarding brokenness

Turnabout’s fair play; David linked to my post, so I’m linking to his cartoon.  I did tell him I think maybe my daughter really did come out this way, but I believe that to be a good thing.  It just means she’s not going to take crap from anyone.

Have a great weekend, everyone.  I’m off to finish some editing and get ready to record my kids’ dance performance this afternoon.  Catch you all next week!

 

Notable News: Week of April 20-26, 2013

Woohoo! It’s Friday!  Today, the sun is shining and there’s hardly a cloud in the sky (miraculous, where I live).  I hope your day is shaping up to be fantastic.  For us, it’s the start of a 3-day weekend for the kids–no school on Monday due to scoring the state tests.

Here are some of my favorite posts for the week.  Go get a cup of coffee (or tea or whatever) and have a look.

1. Something that made me want to punch things

If there is any doubt that there is a link between conservative teachings on modesty/purity and the idea that rape is an acceptable punishment for “sin,” this should blow that away.  I get it about free speech and all, but this crosses a line.  It doesn’t matter that he’s not naming specific individuals; he’s making a lot of people feel unsafe.

2. Something that made me cringe

I admit it, I like most versions of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”  I’d really like to read the book that was just released about the song.  But I absolutely can’t stand the idea of “Christianizing” the song.  I’m pretty much not a fan of Christianizing any song–that falls into the squicky category of “Jesus is my boyfriend” material.  But taking a song that already  has more spiritual depth and changing the words so they’re overtly Jesus-y?  Yeesh.

3. Something that made me feel inspired

I’ve grown to dislike the phrase “a voice for the voiceless.”  About a year ago, I met a missionary who gave a talk to some teens about valuing the dignity of all people.  He said that while we may not think it’s much when a person lives in a hut with a dirt floor, to that person, it’s home–and they likely don’t feel the same way about it that we do from the outside.  He made it clear that it’s not our job to speak in the place of others about what we think they should want or need.  This fantastic post from Kathy Escobar is a great reminder of what advocacy should be.

4. Something that made me cheer like a fangirl

I love Jennifer Knapp’s lovely and unique voice.  I was enchanted from the first time I heard her sing “A Little More.”  So imagine my delight when I saw that she was featured this week on Rachel Held Evans’ “Ask…” series and the floor was opened for questions.  I can’t wait to read her responses!

5. Something that made me hopeful

Oh, Nevada.  You know we love you for your legal prostitution and your Sin City and your 24-hour Elvis chapels.  Now perhaps we can love you for marriage equality, too.  (Even if it is 3 years away.)

6. Something that made me laugh

I used to have a desk calendar of Jack Handey sayings.  I think it was a Christmas gift from a college friend.  This little game made me laugh out loud.  Can you tell who said it?

7. Something that made me pump my fist in solidarity

Three somethings, actually, with a fourth to follow.  Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion surrounding men, women, and differences.  The general idea seems to be that men are generic and women are specific–in other words, things written by or about men are about broad topics, while things written by or about women are only for other women.  I find this interesting, especially since as a blogger, I don’t see much difference in my readership–I have a fairly even split of men and women.  Andi Cumbo (who is delightful; you should really be reading her blog) has written this week on the subject:

There’s more to come on this topic.  I missed the blog round-up this week, but I think I will put in my two cents next week.

8. Something that made me proud

Let’s just say I’m acquainted with the blogger who posted these: Hilarious Lambs 2.0 and The Last Hilarious Lambs.  The lambs make me smile every time.

9. Something that made me satisfied

I finally finished my series about the Royal Family of Hell (for now; perhaps there are future misadventures in store).  I hope you enjoy the ending.

Have a great weekend!

 

Even in our books

Today marks the start of National Novel Writing Month.  Naturally, I’m participating.  (If you are as well, you can find me there under the user name Wifie29.)  I will be posting on this blog a bit less, because I intend to write every one of those 50,000 words this month.  I’m writing what might be most accurately called “low fantasy,” which means no elves/wizards/world-building/etc.; it also shares commonalities with Chick Lit (or maybe Women’s Fic, since it’s somewhat less light-hearted).

While browsing on my genre forum on the NaNoWriMo site, I came across a writer who has a very strong bias toward a complementarian view of men and women.  This translates to her writing, meaning that the women in her stories are often in traditional roles, as are the men.  Reading her posts had me thinking about the messages that girls receive from our culture.  One thing that stuck out to me is that my fellow NaNo’er had such a strong view on the ways in which women should be portrayed in literature.  She listed one of her pet peeves as being “strong” women who can fight like men.  Her belief is that this is impossible, that the strongest woman would not be a physical match for a barely average man.  She also dislikes women who aren’t skilled at domestic work, and she made it clear that she thinks that is a foolish plot and should essentially be abolished.

Well, goodness.  I guess this woman wouldn’t be keen on the women I know who are in the military.

You know, among the many benefits of homeschooling my daughter is the fact that she isn’t getting some of the social messages girls receive in public education.  Not that I’m perfect, mind you, or that I’m not guilty of passing on the wrong message from time to time.  I like to hope that I’m doing pretty well, though.  I don’t have to tell my daughter that girls are awesome; she already knows.  I don’t have to convince her that math and science are cool; she already discovered that on her own.  I don’t have to reassure her that her body is perfectly fine just the way it is; she already exudes body confidence.  I don’t have to explain to her that hair, makeup, and clothes are only one aspect of the way a person looks; she already understands that.  I don’t have to encourage her to be a strong, independent leader; she already does that.

Despite my best efforts, though, my daughter will still be exposed to those messages in other, perhaps more subtle, ways.  The societal and cultural attitudes about girls and women are often broadcast through books.  It is an unfortunate reality that there are still very few books that feature a strong woman or girl as the main character and which also have the broader appeal to all children.  A common complaint about fantasy lit, for example, is that when a girl is the main character, she is often the “plucky tomboy-princess” type.  There’s an unspoken sense that boys won’t relate to girl characters unless they are “less” like girls.  In addition, women authors still frequently use initials instead of their names in order to broaden their readership.

As a little test, ask yourself this: Would you have read Harry Potter if Harry had been a girl?*  How about Lord of the Rings?  Would you have read the former if you had known it was written by a woman?  (That wasn’t widespread knowledge at the time the first book was published.)  Would you have read the latter if it had been written by a woman?  No, it’s not a moot point.  If you feel uncomfortable answering these questions, maybe you can see what I’m talking about.  If you immediately jump to saying something like, “But the story wouldn’t have worked!” then you’ve just made my point for me.

I’ve mentioned these issues before, and I’ve often gotten reactions that range from, “Right on!” to “You must be kidding.”  Unsurprisingly, the negative reactions are usually from men who either can’t or won’t see the ways in which women’s voices have been silenced or altered to fit a cultural norm.  And unless something changes, it’s the message our daughters will continue to hear, many of them absorbing it and embracing it.

That’s not the world I want for my daughter.  Maybe it’s time we started teaching our girls a new message about the kinds of people they can be and the kinds of things they can do.  So here’s my challenge:  Find books written by women and featuring girls or women in the lead roles.  Read them aloud or give them to your children to read, particularly your sons.

Well, folks, it’s time for me to get cracking on my NaNo novel.  Don’t forget to submit your essays for the contest via the “contact” link on the right.  You can see all the rules here.  Everyone is welcome to write an essay!

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*This post was about girls/women, but the same set of questions can be applied using other examples.  Would you have read about Harry if he’d been non-white or queer or disabled?  Would you say the story “wouldn’t work” any other way?  Women’s voices aren’t the only ones silenced in literature.

Notable News, week of July 21-27, 2012

Lots of great stuff from around the web today.  Enjoy!

1. Rachel Held Evans and her husband, Dan

Ever wonder what love looks like?  Read this post and tell me you don’t just want to cheer.  (Although if you want to read something that is as disturbing as the original post is wonderful, try this from the comments on the post.)

2. Mal Green’s first post on Red Letter Christians

It saddens me that this post didn’t get more loving responses.  I think he’s hit the nail on the head.  Many thanks to Mal for standing up and speaking his mind, despite such negative feedback.  And props to RLC for publishing it, despite the negative feedback.

3. Dianna Anderson on douchebags

Dianna is one of my favorite writers.  She doesn’t just say, “This is wrong.”  She urges real change.  This time out is no exception.  She reminds us all to

stand up and say, “Hey . . . That was kind of douchey.”

4. Reading: Healing for the soul

Sarah Bessey is running a synchroblog on what is saving us right now.  In response, Caris Adel has written a piece that echoes what I often feel, that reading saves us from the chaos of everyday life.  Not only is she absolutely right, but I now have another book to add to my ever-expanding “to read” list.

I hope you all have a fabulous weekend!

What Boys Can’t Do

This morning, S and I took a break from school to just read together.  We cuddled up in what the kids call the “hot corner” in our living room.  (It’s a space between our sofa and love seat where the heating vent is.  The kids have it set up with a blanket and a large floor pillow.)  We read one of the American Girl books, the first one I’ve read to her.  She picked the one about the girl living during the Great Depression.

I have to admit, I think I enjoyed the story as much as she did.  We talked about how Kit, the main character, is a bit of a tomboy.  She doesn’t like anything pink or frilly, and she loves sports.  S told me about the things she has in common with Kit and the ways she is different.  We also had the chance to talk about the history, what it was like for many families in the 1930s.

It was such an engaging story that I wanted to find out if there was anything similar for boys.  J has read the My America books, but there are only two boy characters, and the stories cover a limited time period.  The American Girl books span most of United States history.  Sadly, there isn’t anything else like the AG books for boys.

As I pondered what I should do, I realized that I was doing exactly what I’ve said I wouldn’t do.  I was creating a literary box for my kids, and placing them in it.  I had decided that J needed “boy” books, as he couldn’t possibly read books about girls.  Right then, I made a decision.

I said, screw this.

Just why, again, can’t a boy read the AG series?  They aren’t especially girly, they just feature female lead characters.  But even if they were, why can’t boys enjoy them?

We don’t bat an eye at girls who want to read about Tom Sawyer or Jim Hawkins or Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins.  I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and all the Bunnicula books with both my kids, and didn’t concern myself with whether my daughter could relate to the male characters.  I even read the Ramona books with J, and we’ve enjoyed other books with strong female characters.  The other day, J was looking with interest at The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I told him we could read the series, but if he wanted to, he could read that one.  They don’t have to be read in order.

How are the AG books any different?  Why shouldn’t J read them?

I can’t think of even one reason not to let him.

So Long, Harry?

In the aftermath of the furor surrounding the last Harry Potter movie, even I’m getting into the spirit.  I started listening to the audio books while I have my morning workout.  (Hey, don’t knock it; it keeps exercise from being dull.)  I’ve also been reading some articles and blog posts from a variety of perspectives.  We may have laid aside petty arguments about whether or not Rowling single-handedly led a generation of children to dabble in witchcraft, but the debates rage on: How does Potter stack up against other great works of fantasy?  Love Harry or hate him, it seems that everyone wants to weigh in.

In one article, the writer extolls the virtues of Ms. Rowling, crediting her with bringing back the joy of reading to a world of illiterate children.  Other well-known authors, in this person’s view, are too preachy or heavy-handed.  Harry is realistic because he struggles rather than falling neatly into categories of good and evil.  Another blogger finds the books lacking, full of plot holes and bad writing.

We have a world full of books; it isn’t necessary for a person to like all of them.  My taste in literature is as varied as my taste in music.  Fantasy is my preferred genre, but I generally go on a book-by-book basis when I choose my reading material.  I like some books more than others (loved Great Expectations; hated The Great Gatsby).  I love certain authors (Hemingway, Dickens) and dislike others passionately (Steinbeck).  Even within an author’s canon I may not care for every work (Tom Sawyer is a favorite, could have done without Huckleberry Finn).  There are exceptions to my rules (I prefer novels to plays, but I love Shakespeare; I’m not big on endless series fiction, but I’ve read the entire Xanth* series by Piers Anthony).  And yes, there is room in my heart for Middle Earth, Narnia, and the wizarding world of Harry Potter.

While the discussion may be interesting, I think we’re missing the point.  Books are what they are: A place to escape, dream, and live vicariously through our favorite characters.  The stories should get us thinking and talking about the very real issues in our world as we watch our fictional heroes struggle in theirs.  In my mind, whether Harry Potter is high literature or not, Ms. Rowling has done an excellent job of giving us all of the above.  May Harry live on in the imaginations of the next generation of readers.

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*Cheese Factor 10/10, but worth the read if you like pure escapism.

Reading and Praying

I finally finished reading Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words, by Brian McLaren.  What a wonderful, refreshing look at prayer!

I don’t want to give too much away.  I think this book is best appreciated by reading it for yourself and engaging with God in prayer.  Even trying to summarize feels flat to me, like trying to describe a taste or a smell.  One can get close, relating it to something known by the other person.  But it will never be exact.

McLaren takes us through stages of prayer, likening them to seasons of spiritual life.  He has chosen a particular analogy, but I think it’s fair to say that there are many ways to view the stages in the book.  Of greater importance is actively participating, using the categories of prayer and spiritual growth not as rigid commands but as flexible guides.  There is natural flow from one season to another, but I suspect that many people will find themselves moving in and out among the different seasons with a little less order.

At the outset, McLaren connects with those people who consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.”  There is a growing body of people, particularly young adults, who have become disillusioned with church and all its trappings.  Yet they are crying out to experience God more deeply.  But this book is not only for those of us who feel let down by the way we “do church.”  Everyone can benefit from stripping down our souls to their very core, being utterly naked and unashamed before our God.  For anyone wanting to move toward a more meaningul prayer life, this book is for you.

If I were to attempt a summary of the book, I would not be able to convey the ways in which my heart has been changed and my prayer life intensified.  Instead, I will spend the next several posts offering prayers that have come to me as I read and reflected.  I urge you to pick up the book yourself.  Read it alone or with others, and make a habit of praying through it regularly.  You won’t regret it.