Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reading the Alchemist

Posted by Amy Baranski
It's 11:59 and I just finished my third book of the month, The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. What a wonderful transformative novella. How could I have passed it up all these years? I suppose I thought I knew the answer already.
As if a book must contain an answer.

This whole time I've been missing the simple pleasure of the text between its covers. How presumptuous to think I'd already know the moral of the story. How naive to think there would be nothing for me in this book.  But after having turned its final page I'm compelled to blissfully smile at my original prejudices. It's almost painful to say life is a journey, but Tom Cochrane was on something...break down the garden gate there's not much time left today ...

Santiago, our protagonist, sets out on a quest to see the world. As Cochrane might say "sometimes he bends, sometimes he stands, sometimes he turns his back to the wind." This story contains longing, existential angst, love, loss, danger, and triumph of the human spirit. Magical forces abound leading Santiago, our lovable and young Andalusian shepherd to Tangiers and across the desserts to the great pyramid at Giza. To say the least it's an interesting journey to take with him. I highly recommend it. Read it at night to your kids! I know I will with mine. 

Okay, now I have to shut eye.


Reading Of Mice and Men

Posted by Melissa Baumgart
I almost didn't pick this book for a couple reasons.
Of Mice and Men, before our new chalkboard wall.
It is the wall that once inspired a special post of mine.
"My Crappy Kitchen Wall Moment"

One: It is so short that perhaps I would come across as a cheat.  Which I clearly am not...I fear I am the odd girl out at my school for not doing my take-home tests in a group setting.  "We all help each other so we learn the material," my statistics classmate nobly told me.  I guess I am old-fashioned, but if a teacher says not to do your test (take-home or not) together, I feel like it is cheating to do so.  And just for the record, I would love everyone to learn the material.

Two: I was a bit embarrassed to admit I had never read it before.  Just tonight, as we waited in vain for our psych teacher to show up, a fellow classmate looked surprised by my answer when she asked me if I had ever read it before.  Her question had been spoken in a way that knew the answer.  In a way, I enjoyed being a little shocking, Community College style.

Alas, I did pick the book  It is a classic by John Steinbeck.  And is somewhat of a classic, right?  So, no matter what my age, I felt it was a good story to know.  I started it yesterday and finished all of sixteen pages.  By this evening, I had finished the entire book.   Don't be too impressed, it is 106 pages total.

The conversational style writing, and slang voices make for a very easy read.  I carried with me a nagging feeling of impending doom throughout the book.  Like watching a movie that plays a slightly dark tune, I felt a nervous unease.  I kept turning page after page, waiting for it to happen.  What would it be?  When would it come?  Or was it just me, the reader, assuming some edge being walked?

If you are the odd ball like me and haven't yet read the book, I'll say no more.  But be ready for a quick read that you won't put down.

And with that, I have finished my fourth book fourth book of the month.  It didn't go as planned.   But what really ever does?  And either way, whether I finished 4 book, be they long or short, I am so happy to have had this month.  I really do like to read and I might just keep it up this year.  My friend is reading 48 books this year, and maybe I'll join her challenge.  So far (including young adult fiction novels) I have read seven books.

41 more to go!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

...ponderous weight of wisdom

The sea @ the Jersey Shore.
Posted by Melissa Baumgart
The Awakening was a lovely read.  It was interesting enough to hold my attention, short enough to fit into my week without overwhelming my list of things to do, and sentimentally reminded me of my college literature days.  Kate Chopin writes in a way that I used to love to read in college, with symbolism that you can dissect during a good class.  And I loved when I found myself with the right teacher to guide the discussions, yet without too many directives, so as to not steal the student's fresh ideas away from them.

One of my favorite passages was at a point when Edna Pontellier (her name sounded so marvelous as I read it with a French accent silently in my head, heaven forbid I try to utter it aloud) is realizing there is something changing within her.  She is not only realizing it, but accepting it, opening herself to it.  It is something far deeper and broader than the infidelity the book synopsis spoke of.

She is beginning to come into her own person, her own woman, and from this point on she grows more and more beautiful, both outwardly and debatably inwardly.  The debate occurs depending on whether you think a woman has her place in the world, or she creates her place as she sees fit.

Here is the passage:
EDNA Pontellier could not have told why, wanting to go to the beach with Robert, she should have in the first place declined, and in the second place have followed in obedience to one of the two contradictory impulses with impelled her.
A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly in her, -the light which, showing the way, forbids it.
At that early period to served to bewilder her.  It moved her to dreams, to thoughtfulness, to the shadowy anguish which had overcome her in the midnight when she had abandoned herself to tears.
In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to  realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her.  This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight - perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman.
But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing.  How few of us ever emerge from such a beginning!  How many should perish in its tumult!
The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in the abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation.
The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.  The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.
This passage is on page thirteen, and Chopin has beautifully written the book so that it allows the reader nearly one hundred more pages of being with Edna on this journey.  There is no rush, life does not allow for the process of self discovery to unfold with any quickness.  I can only imagine what it must have been like to read this as a woman in the late 1800's.  Or to have had the courage to be a character like Edna Pontellier during that time period.

Whether you agree with her choices or not, she certainly maintained an aura of courageousness.

I highly recommend this book.  It has a fantastic ending...but I refuse to give it away.  You'll simply have to read it yourself.

One more day of February left, I wonder if I can fit in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck today and tomorrow, to make it 4 books for the month.   It is 106 pages.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

When to quit reading a book

Posted by Amy Baranski

Call me a quitter, a slacker, a blank--I don't care. I quit reading Shop Class as Soul Craft and I'm not picking it up again.

My husband's Good Reads review of it tells me what I need to know. Besides I'm not going to figure out the new direction of my life's work by reading this book--my expectations were too high. And do I really need some PhD-turned-craftsman's pseudo thesis-style book disguised with a cool title dissecting the value of the working class in which I grew up? I think not. I got 20 pages in, now I'm out.

But I wouldn't quit that piece of fiction you might be working if you're not at least 50-70 pages in. Because you are so close to 100, which is already a half, third, or quarter of the way through. That's my new rule. I'm not sure what the rule for non-fiction is. I suppose I'll have to try another and see how long I last.

So now I'm 72 pages into The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The Alchemist is also from my ridiculous stack of unread books. It's actually a book that someone asked me to give to someone I went to college with as a graduation present, and I never did. That was a LONG time ago. It's been sitting on my shelf all these years. I tried to pick it up once. But, I usually stray from anything that wreaks of moral high-ground or is explicitly about following your moral compass. We have the bible, and or the great religious texts for those stories. But this time with the Read a Book a Week challenge I needed something doable (so I could potentially squeeze in two more books to reach my four book quota for the month) by the 29th. Thank God it's leap year!

So far I'm liking it. The storytelling kind of reminds of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince. And I'll probably knock it off the list today since I have a few hours of free time (thank God for personal time on a Saturday and Sunday -- I'm going to miss that someday!)

So, if you're quitting a book to pick up and finish another one, consider yourself absolved. I do.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reading The Awakening

Posted by Melissa Baumgart
I chose a new book.  I am leaving Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy behind for now.  Perhaps I will still finish it, but it might take me a bit more time than a week.  Like when I read All the Pretty Horses.  I thought about giving up on it, since it was taking so long to get through, but I stuck it out and ended up finding so much beauty within those pages.  As for TTSS, I am simply taking a break, coming back later to discover its beauty.

The book I am reading now is The Awakening by Kate Chopin.  It was recommended by GLWT reader and my dear friend, Erin, in her comment when entering our sweepstakes last month.  As I was browsing through the books at the Value Village in Capitol Hill, I happened across the title.  It was a thin book, and so I picked it up.

I read this description on the back of the book:
When first published in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity.  Audiences accustomed to the pieties of late Victorian romantic fiction were taken aback by Chopin's daring portrayal of a woman trapped in a stifling marriage, who seeks and finds passionate physical love outside the straitened confines of her domestic situation.
Aside form its unusually frank treatment of a then-controversial subject, the novel is widely admired today for its literary qualities.  Edmund Wilson characterized it as a work "quite uninhibited and beautifully written, which anticipates D.H. Lawrence in its treatment of infidelity."
Although the theme of marital infidelity no longer shocks, few novels have plumbed the psychology of a woman involved in an illicit relationship with the perception, artistry and honesty that Kate Chopin brought to The Awakening.
Shocking, daring, honest and controversial.  I was won over.  Given the number of pages, 116 compared to the 382 of my last book, and the recommendation as well as the description, how could I not choose this book next?

I have read eleven pages thus far.

What I like: You definitely get a feel for the time and place, the late 1800's and at a summer resort outside of New Orleans.  While current literature and media may throw infidelity at us left and right, numbing our reaction to the plethora of indecencies, reading The Awakening brings a level of purity to the reader's perception.  You get a sense for how "wrong" it was then.  Whether it happened as much as it does now is a moot point, for it is within the views of the society in which you live that that you find the shocking quality.  Current media still plays upon the drama of infidelity, but with an underlying thread of inevibility.

What I do not like:  Coming across words like befurbelowed.  "Children, freshly befurbelowed, were gathering for their games under the oaks."  What the hell does that mean?  Jamie and I had a ball with that word last night, using it willy-nilly in various sentences, and thinking about trying to use it out and about in the world the next day.  It was so fun (OK, so I didn't really not like this part after all) that I don't know if I even want to know what the definition really is.

I looked it up.  As far as I could see online, it is not defined by any dictionary.  I did find this answer on ChaCha, a Q&A website that I have never seen before, "Befurbelowed ? Furbelows are flounces or elaborate trim on a dress or shirt. Befurbelowed means to be dressed up in particularly fancy clothes."
So, have fun with that one.  We kinda like how it sounds like Beefer the way we pronounce it.  "Beefer-bellowed"  he-he

Have fun reading!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mission Aborted

"And that's how Wacky Wednesday began."
This really is the page where
Tallulah's bookmark was found this morning.

Posted by Melissa Baumgart
My family walked to the library yesterday.  It was Tallulah's second time using her first library card, which meant she was returning her first library books.  The fact that these books were returned before the due date is a Baumgart Family Miracle.  The fact that she read all of these books is also quite impressive.  As Lily checked her books out, she was informed of some late fees (see what I mean), which she responsibly paid with her own money.  I watched from behind a shelf of books, wondering if I should be walking up to offer my motherly, if not monetary, help.

When I got to the self-checkout a bit later, the librarian popped over to my station.  I was ready to offer some excuse for our fines, or apologize for my kids being too loud.  But instead she offered this observation, "I just want to share with you that your children are very polite.  You oldest daughter was so responsible and mature, handling her late fees and talking with me when she checked out.  And she's so beautiful, she really rocks that short hair cut."  We joked some about the fact that my middle-schooler doesn't seem to be experiencing any awkward stage like those of us nearing forty painfully remember going through.  And I thanked her for sharing, since on my end, as the mother, I don't always get to see that side of my own children.

Should I have chosen something...easier?  More fun?
I can tend toward hands off parenting.  Sometimes I wonder if I should help more, like when I was watching Lily check out, and saw Levi walking to find me to get one more dollar for his sister to pay her fine.  But I think this allows them to discover their autonomy and independence.  To have interactions in a safe environment with adults that allows them to learn about the world they live in, firsthand.  Oh, and by the way, Levi returned with the dollar a few minutes later, "Lily didn't need this after all.  So, I am going to keep it, OK?"  "No," I replied and snatched it back.  See, this is the version of my kids I get to see.  

When we got home, Tallulah sat down to read and in one evening, my six-year-old read more than I did this past week.  By bedtime she had read "more than she had not read" (as she put it) of The Big Green Book of Beginner Books, by Dr. Seuss.  She read 138 pages.  I have been stuck at 72 pages for the past five days.

I woke up at 1am last night and sleepily made my way down our long hallway to the bathroom.  I heard something and turned to see Lily.

"What are you doing up, sweetie?"

"Oh, I am just going to bed.  I was reading that pink and green book I got from the library and I couldn't stop reading it so I finished the whole thing."

 "Wow, OK, well, get to bed," is what I said, half asleep.  But what I was thinking was, "Damn, both of my girls are showing me up today."

It is now Wednesday morning.  I did not read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  I did not finish any book this past week.  I am left with a choice.  Do, I trudge on through and attempt to finish the book I started?  Or do I pick something more fun and easy?  And sometimes, it is hard to know what will be fun and easy.  I know a friend that loved this spy book.

The truth is, this past week, I chose studying for school and being a mom over the blog.  Sure, if the book had been easier and more to my liking, I would have done all three things.  I typically do.  But this past weekend, Jamie was away at a silent meditation retreat and instead of reading all weekend, I chose to study some each day and spend the rest having fun with the kids.

We went to the Burke Museum, went bowling, found some supplies for a paper mâché solar system, shopped for ingredients for homemade ricotta cheese (we learned how to make it at a demonstration while at the museum), among many other things.  Lily and her BFF made us dinner Sunday night: fresh pasta pesto lasagna with homemade ricotta, caprese salad, breadsticks, and almond cake.  I even made an exception to my Healthival exemptions and ate everything!  It was all soooo delicious, especially the cake.  Just this morning I was still thinking about how happy I was that I chose to eat the cake.

Oh, and I even got to reconnect with a friend over tea.  It really was a lovely weekend.  So, to be honest, I don't feel all that bad (Not that I think you think I should, it's just that I usually think I should.  Feel bad, that is.) about the reading being left out.  I feel like I made my choice, with no excuses or regrets, and sometimes that is what we all must do.

How is all of your reading going?  Are you sailing along?  Or are you finding that you, too, need to make some choices when reality stands in your face?

Happy Wacky Wednesday!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Number 3 Competing Priorities

Posted by Amy Baranski

For my third book I've chose a piece of non-fiction, Shop Class as Soul Craft by Matthew B. Crawford, that was once in a heap of books belonging to my husband. The title caught my attention. I think I was romanced by the last two syllables "soulcraft." It's subtitled An inquiry into the value of work. I've often explained to friends, co-workers, anyone that will listen, that my most rewarding job was one in which I was working with my hands. This book, at least by title,seemed like it would address the struggle I feel as a knowledge worker who feels a contradictory and deep seeded primal desire need in me to make art or anything with my hands. I think that's why I enjoy the process of cooking so much. It allows me to create with my hands, away from the computer and abstract ideas, and work with tangible and raw materials.

So on one hand I feel a great importance and value in finishing this book. It doesn't feel like reading for pleasure. It feels like reading to better understand the human condition and my role in society.

Although it ironically comes off a bit academic-y, given that it's about valuing work outside the ivory tower, it has potential. But I'm in a bit of a pickle because I didn't start reading this book until a few days ago, and even then I've only handled about 10 pages at a time, versus 42. Last night, my husband suggested I take on a piece of young adult fiction just to meet the Read a Book a Week requirement. But I stared him down explaining the month's exercise was to stop setting down books that I've picked up and letting them collect dust for months on the bedroom floor near my nightstand. The point was to carry on with it and meet the deadline. I just don't know if it's feasible today. I still have loads of work to do, a trip to the bank ahead of me, dishes to wash, dinner to plan, weekly grocery shopping, and a slough of emails to respond to from friends and family. This week, or at this moment, I keep telling myself that I must be guided by my list of priorities (and yes I keep that list tacked to my wall updated daily). So, maybe I'll conk out and read a smaller, easier, more enjoyable book just to feel like "I did it" for the blog. Or maybe I'll extend this book into next week and try for a fourth book later on. I'm not sure yet what I'll do.

So on the other hand I feel a great importance in facing the facts of meeting personal goals beyond this blog that may help me better understand my own human condition and change my role in society.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reading Ishmael Pt. 2

Posted by Amy Baranski
On Friday, my husband and I escaped Seattle for the great Pacific Ocean. One of our favorite spots, a place we've returned to year after year, that’s located on the Olympic Peninsula. Getting here feels like traveling to the far reaches of earth. I love everything about it, except Weyerhaeuser.

The peninsula, rich with ancient cultures and still home to indigenous peoples, has a vast and unparalleled beauty. The traditions of the Makah, the Quileute, and the Quinault, to name a few, date back thousands of years. These first nations still practice ancient traditions such as fishing, now in motorized vessels, and hospitality to foreigners, now with resorts and RV parks. And ancient ways, in the ancient forms, are still alive. You can experience them and learn more by joining in weekend-long celebrations that honor Native American heritage or by simply talking to tribal members to learn more.

The reason I bring up indigenous cultures is because of Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. I finished Ishmael last week as my second book during our Read a Book a Week challenge this month. Ishmael imparts an ecological urgency for humankind to change its current course which is doomed. Quinn stages his story as a conversation, in the Socratic Method, between a man and a teacher. Ishmael, the teacher, sits behind a large Plexiglas window and takes the shape of a giant ape that munches on leafy branches while bemused by the intellectual density of his pupil—a man.

Ishmael guides his student through an epistemological and anthropological journey to understand how we know what we know and what pivotal cultural events have led us to the brink of our current ecological demise. Quinn penned the first draft in 1977. After many revisions it finally published as a novel in 1990. That’s when I was ten and before the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was discovered in the North Pacific Gyre. It’s 2012, and there are now five garbage patches in different oceans around the world.

Ishmael, who doesn't know about the Pacific Trash Vortex, but can account for other frightening man-made environmental disasters, theorizes that during human evolution (which continues today) home sapiens split into two groups. Each group has enacted a different story, based on cultural norms and epistemological values. Ishmael calls one group the takers and the other the leavers. Ishmael argues the taker offshoot began in 8,000 BC, during the beginning of the agricultural revolution. Leaver culture began long before, and continues as a minority culture found in the practices of indigenous peoples.

In short, taker culture requires humans to take more than they've had in the past and hold dominion over the earth. Leaver culture requires humans to limit consumption and leave enough to satisfy the competing needs of other organisms to achieve a balance in nature. Takers view themselves outside of nature while leavers don’t make that separation. Ishmael says this difference comes from variant creation mythologies between the two groups. He details the stories of Adam’s fall and the Tree of Knowledge and the conflict between Cain and Abel in the book of Genesis. How we interpret these stories influences the dominant themes and customs of each culture.

Getting to Ishmael’s central argument feels tedious to the pupil, and a bit to this particular reader. He spends a lot of time discussing population explosions in relation to food production—as manufactured by methods born out of the agricultural revolution. Ishmael and Quinn want their student and reader to have hope. The message is, even though there’s much to be pessimistic change can happen at a greater speed than ever before.

There’s a lot more to the book, and in some ways the story feels a bit dated but in others it holds merit. Although Ishmael pales in comparison to one of the greatest environmental books ever written, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, it’s still worth picking up as an interesting thought-experiment.

I spent the better part of the weekend immersed in nature listening to the boom of the surf, watching bald eagles buzz the tree line and a nearby kite, searching for the periscope necks of harbor seals, beach combing for sea glass, and leapfrogging over drift wood. At a glance the environment appears in balance here, but beneath the surface lies another truth.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

(Not) Reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Posted by Melissa Baumgart
Me, reading last week's book, and having
some Æbleskiver.
(Although, it has wheat and sugar, so I
didn't actually eat any.)
The New Book-of-the-Week
I feel like I am just reading words.  Like this book is in another language, and words after words keep logging into the spaces of my brain, but not congealing into anything that makes a lick of sense.  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carré is my third book this month.  After the reading success of my previous two weeks, I am feeling defeated as I am on the 4th day of this book and I have barely read 30 pages.  Maybe, after I get 50 more pages in, it will all start making sense.  That is if I remember any of these words I keep reading and rereading.  A big IF.

The Theme
I love a theme.  I don't know if I was always this way, but I noticed it cropping up when I hosted dinner parties.  If I am making Indian food, then it is all Indian, and as authentic as I can manage.  I love to find some Indian music and perhaps a drink from the country to add to the flavor.  Recently, at our Mother-Daughter book club, the host made Æbleskiver (a Danish donut kind of thing) because the book we read took place in Denmark.  I felt right at home, even thought I am not Danish nor do I think I could ever remember how to pronounce the sweet treat's name.

This is all to say, I created a theme for myself with the books.  I decided to read all books that had been made into movies.  I heard that my friend's teenage daughter scoffed a bit at my "movie" books, wondering if that is all I read.  I do read other books, actually besides one, I don't think I have read any other movie books. (Probably because I have not read many books at all.)  Right now, I wish I had picked any other book than the movie book I have next to my keyboard.

The worst part: it turns out reading books and then going to see the movie almost always sucks.  Jamie and I went to see The Descendants this week.  I was really, really looking forward to it.  We both were, because he had read the book too, and loved it.  Loved the BOOK, let's just be really clear about this.

We did NOT love the movie.  Within the first 30 seconds I was done.  The main character's wife is in a coma, and in the book her name is Joanie.  I grew to really like her name, it fit her personality, and I felt a little like I knew Joanie as they author took you back in time, before the accident.  Well, then there goes Goerge Clooney up on the big screen, playing Matt King, Joanie's husband, and what does he call her?  Elizabeth!  Really?  WTF is wrong with the name Joanie?

Beyond that, there were glaring differences, touching and important scenes left out and poor casting.  The best actor in the whole movie was the grandma that had dementia.  I have heard that people who have not read the book really liked the movie.  I say, good for you.  But I am glad I read the book, even if it meant having to sit through that terrible movie.

I doubt I'll even try to see the movie version of Extremely Loud & Incredible Close.  Even though everyone I know loves it.  After my Descendants experience, I seriously cannot imagine the brilliance of Foer's novel standing up to a screen version.

The Screen Diet
I have been true to my word on the screen diet.  I have seriously cut back on screen time.  I do find it difficult to keep track.  I wonder if there is a screen time version of a pedometer.  Keeping track of every blink of your online steps.  I suppose I could practice statistics by gathering information for my browsing history.  That sounds fun.

The phone is a tempting ground for cheating on my diet.  I have Facebook, email, Twitter...all of it right there letting me know every time something new has occurred.  It is harder to not pretend to myself that it doesn't count to check in real quick on my social media world via my phone.

The phone is always there.  Even in the car.  Just the other day, I *very softly* rear ended someone at a red light after I had looked at the photo on the screen saver for my phone.  I wasn't even doing anything with the phone while actually driving.   But glancing down at it at a red light was enough for me to be distracted, and not realize the person in front of me slammed on their brakes just after the light turned green.

The screen diet has been a catalyst to me making a commitment to not look at my phone in the car.  I am embarrassed to say that it is proving to be difficult.  But perhaps not as difficult as reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  Can't I just rent the TV series from the video store up the street and call it good?

Well, I won;t do that, so wish me good luck in finishing this spy book.  Why in the world did I pick a spy book from the 70's?  I think people who know me are probably wondering the same thing.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reading Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Incredibly close to one of my favorite posters, by
Nikki McClure.
Posted by Melissa Baumgart
I just finished reading Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.  The tears are still wet on my face.  It is a heartbreaking and tender book.  While not always tender, for there are details that stun the mind with pain (if you can even barely let yourself imagine it happening to you or someone you love), the perspective is tender.  And how could it not be, from the eyes of a 9 year old?  An inquisitive, brilliant and creative, thought-full little boy.

The book takes you to many places, which for me, can be a bit confusing as a reader.  I got mad a number of times when I didn't know who was speaking, because the first person tense changes character so often.  But, as I eased into each change and let go of my control over who I was listening to, I fell in love with each and every person in the book.  It's funny though, for as many of those first person changes occurred and as many characters that there were in the book, I would still maintain the book is from the perspective of the little boy, Oskar.

I loved each person in the book because they were all so real.  Sometimes they did things you didn't want them to, and that made them all the more realistic.  Sometimes they didn't do things you really wanted them to.  They were utterly human, trying to run away from pain and all the while, constantly, blindly, running back into pain's open arms.  It seems to always be waiting.  Patiently.  With confidence that you will return.

All that pain and suffering can be depressing.  Or it can be life-affirming.  To witness another's struggle, and feel like you were able to hold that space for them to experience life's pain to the fullest.  To witness the insights and motives and also see... Well, I don't want to ruin it for those of you that are going to read the book.  And you HAVE to read it.  You just have to, it was that good.

It was written so skillfully that it brought me into the lives of the characters, so much so that I felt like I truly did witness their pain.  As I held the plain black covered book in my hands, I also held space for their tears to openly flow, even if they never ended.  I would be there for them.  I think I needed to remind myself at times that these people are fictional, made-up, not real.  Kudos to Jonathan Safran Foer for a job well done.   Brilliant writing.  

One of the characters, in a moment of seamless stream-of-consciousness thoughts, says, "When I looked at you, my life made sense.  Even the bad things made sense.  They were necessary to make you possible."

That's life.

Those are what I like to call "silver lining moments", when from a timely distance you can see why bad things happened.  Although painful at the time, I always hope to be able to look back and know...they were necessary for something greater than myself.

Back to here and now, and my non-fiction life, as it continues on.  Who knows what it will bring.  Yesterday, as I was driving to school on I-5, there was a terrible accident.  A semi-truck overturned and I heard that 8 people were trapped upside down in a car.  I thought about how you never know what your life will bring.  You could be happily, or unhappily for that matter, driving down the interstate, and then BAM.  Crash.  Everything is changed.  You're watching people die next to you, or wondering how long it will take to be rescued from a car that could explode at any moment.  

(Turns out, thankfully, no one died and the 8 people trapped story was untrue.  But it still made me think.)

I made me think of this book.  And life.  And being human.  All these thoughts may change us for a day or an hour, bringing us closer to prioritizing what really matters.  But then the everyday creeps in and have to go to work and pay bills and do dishes, and our habits and patterns of how we avoid pain come flooding back in.

That's life.

And now off to my everyday.  Today brings statistics class and a matinee of "The Descendants."  Maybe after my next book I'll go see "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" on the big screen.  I have to decide within the next two hours what that next book will be.  And get started reading.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Reading Ishmael Pt. 1

Posted by Amy Baranski

It's Valentine's and I'm cozied up to a warm cup of Midnight Blue tea listening to Life in a Glasshouse by Radiohead at Victrola. It's perfect.
Reading Ishmael at the Broadview branch library.

I finished Ishmael today.

What an interesting and completely unexpected book. I knew next to nothing about it before picking it up. My friend Christina gave it to me in 2008. A couple years later, when a writing professor from Valparaiso was staying at our house, it came up in conversation. She eyed it on our big bookshelf and said her students often talked it up in class. She was curious what the fuss was as all about. I told her I'd read about 10 or so pages and wasn't compelled to read further. Thus making it, even two more years later, an excellent candidate for Read a Book a Week month.

When I posted on Facebook that I was currently reading Ishmael I received some interesting comments from a cluster of people I've met at during different decades of my timeline, people whom I have admired, and who know nothing of each other:
  • "I read it for the first time in high school shortly after it came out. it held up pretty well shortly after college but I have since read some of his other books and he has one really good argument. But I am not sure it can really sustain more than one book. Ishmael is by far the best."
  • "I love Ishamel!!!! I read that in high school! Oh I love that book!"
  • "Read that many moons ago! Such a good one!"
Melissa, or perhaps it was Jamie, offered that Ishmael was one of those books that develops a cult following like the Celestine Prophecy or The Secret. I wondered what I had gotten myself into. 

Then Melissa sent me a email asking what kind of book was I reading. Her email contained a link to an article published in the Christian Science Monitor: "My Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn: Why did gunman James Jae Lee embrace this book?

Curious indeed.

I am going on a diet

Oooh, so I see some screens down there?  
Oh well, just books!
Posted by Melissa Baumgart
I am 77 pages away from finishing my book this week.  I had a huge anatomy & physiology exam this morning and I had a hard time studying for it.  I just couldn't seem to engage with the material like I usually do.  I found myself picking up my Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close book instead, completely engaged with every word.

And while I didn't perform to a perfect standard, as I like to do on exams of all sorts, I still think I did OK.  The cool part was that I wasn't stressed or panicked during the exam.  I wasn't hastily scribbling down my answers for fear that if I took too long the information would somehow escape like sands through a broken hourglass.  I was calm and I took my time, thinking through each question and making sure to breathe.  It was a completely different experience.

It may have come from having a calm place to go besides always staring at a screen for entertainment.  I have my book.  It is stimulating in an entirely different way then a screen is.  Screens can create overstimulation for myself.  And the social media aspect, the Facebook and messaging and Pinning and checking to see if anyone repined or liked your identity in the form of a virtual dream collage, creates a state of anticipation that acts like a stress response in the body.

Sure, it is fun for a bit, but prolonged exposure to the stress hormones isn't so great for your body.  I heard a classmate share that when she was teaching high school in Japan, several of her students complained of not being able to sleep because they didn't want to stop texting and Facebooking.  Kids are losing sleep over this?  Because they have to respond to the next message, and the next, and the next?

It all brings me back to a nagging notion that I have has since starting "Read a Book a Week" month.  I need to go on a diet.  A screen diet.  Did I ever tell you that once during game of charades, my 6 year old picked my name, and to act like me she pretended to be sitting at the computer?  If I did tell you already, it's because I felt incredibly guilty after that.  I want to be present to my kids, to my family and friends, not the screen.

I keep resisting it though.  It is such an easy outlet for that thing I wrote about last, procrastination.  But maybe so can a book.  Or cleaning my apartment.  Or being productive in some other way than surfing the web, doing "research" and seeing if any blog readers have popped up from Saudi Arabia this week.  Those stats are so cool, though.  Thanks for reading, whoever you are in Jiddah, Makkah, Saudi Arabia!

So, here it is, another challenge...besides blogging, only 1 hour of screen time per day for the next week.  It may still seem like a lot to some of you, but that is cutting it considerably for me.  I hate to even admit that, but it is true.  I want to create a new habit, and I know that it is possible.  Perhaps difficult, but possible.

My last challenge I gave myself was during January's Healthival festival.  During Healthival, I followed through completely on almost half of the 18 things on my list.  That was pretty good for me, considering the list, and my unintentional aversion to some of the things on it.  This challenge is more simple in some ways, but so pervasive.  And as much as I can look procrastination in the face with a refreshing and nonjudgmental perspective, I can't hide from my inner voice any longer.

(Crap.  I am already thinking.  I do not want to do this.  But I have to.  Must summon English bulldog determination.  Thanks, Bikram!)

And now onto another pressing issue, what book to read next?  Do I stick with the theme I have going of reading Books nominated for Best Picture this year?  Or do I just grab something off my shelf at random?


PS...If you join me on the screen diet, reading Good Luck With That! doesn't count.  It's free screen time. Everything has it's exceptions, right?


Saturday, February 11, 2012

When procrastination wins over production

Trying to read at a basketball game, didn't really work.
Posted by Melissa Baumgart
Some days are just days.  Nothing much happens, even though there are a million things to do.  Procrastination wins over production, and I feel like I am left with the remnants of undone aspirations of which I have many choices of what I can make of them.  I can be creative, and twist them into a DIY project that makes my life appear more beautiful and shines a rosy light of "Wow, look what she did!" over my wasted day.  Or I can go the opposite direction, and wallow and wade through them like I am the main character on an episode of "Hoarders."

Even on productive days, on love-y sun filled golden days, we still have that choice.  I think that is why some people remain depressed, no matter their external circumstances.  There is a psychology epistemology called Post-Modernism.  In it they propose that we are constantly creating our experience, and that it is through our own mental constructs that we live and breathe.  We can live and breathe a day as a failure or as a success, no matter what happened that day.  What matters, they say, is how we choose to perceive it in the moment in which we are taking each breath.

These are the things I think about after a day filled with nothing much but a little reading in my book.  Yesterday was the kind of day with a long to-do list, and the to-do list never even got written.

Today is a new day.  And I am choosing to walk forward with the perspective that I am exactly where I need to be, in every way.  I am trying to create more of that in my everyday life, and not just from those special moments.  I have the idea that the more we step outside of our comfort zone, and find the magical moments in life...the more we are able to see that they are always around us, just waiting to be found.

I woke up this morning and immediately did the dishes of previous days gone by.  I set up my study-station on the dining room table.  I took my seat here at the computer to write this post.  Who knows what the rest of the day will bring...hopefully some more pages being read form my book of the week.

I mentioned in my previous post that my book I am reading, Extremely Load & Incredibly Close (yes, I am starting to really remember the title), had a very powerful sentence.  Turns out it is filled with them.  Every page has a new thought provoking phrase, or after reading a chapter I might realize that the last few pages have been completely symbolic in nature, while still keeping with the story line.  I am finding the book to be very touching and inspiring.  Not inspiring in the sense that I am walking around beaming from ear to ear and spreading world peace, but in a creative and life affirming sense.

I leave you now to get on with my day, whatever it may bring.  But I have to admit, I do hope it brings me a deeper understanding of endocrinology, the nervous system and sight and hearing physiology for my upcoming exam.  It is interesting to bounce between literary fiction, exploring the emotional elements of being human; and anatomy & physiology, learning about the minute details of how our bodies keep us alive and healthy.

And one last thing, speaking of health: I have not forgotten about Healthival.  It continues on into February, with a few minor adjustments.  In addition to no wheat, no dairy and no sugar I have added no corn chips, I overeat them and feel like crap.  A little wine added in, for fun.  And I have made more phone calls to friends, well a lot of calls to one friend, but you gotta start somewhere!

So far we have 6 readers in on the "Book a Week" challenge and 2 reading two books this month! Anyone else reading along?  Leave us your vote of support on our poll.  Thanks!


Thursday, February 9, 2012

A hole that every happy thing falls into.

Posted by Melissa Baumgart
"That secret was a hole in the middle of me that every happy thing fell into." -Oskar Schell, 9 years old.

That's a powerful sentence.  One sentence can make you feel so many things.

Oskar Schell is one of the main characters in the book I am reading this week, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer.  It is currently in the movie theaters, and like the last book I read, is also up for an Oscar for Best Picture.  In the past, I used to love movies that were taken from great novels, so I could talk with people that actually read books and sound like I knew a little something.  Right now, after reading The Descendants and starting this book, I have different feelings about the book-to-movie phenomenon.

I think I only want to go and see The Descendants to keep the book alive, to relive it again without forcing everyone I know to read it out loud to me.  Like Jamie was doing today, he even called me on my way to school to share a funny part.  So sweet.  And already only 80 pages into the "Incredibly Close" book (that's what I call it since I can never seem to remember the order of the title words.  Sorry, Mr. Foer.) I agree with Amy, I just don't know if a movie could capture this book.

Amy shared with me that this is one of her all-time favorite books.  She said it is revolutionary in it's format.  But I think she used a smarter, more appropriate word, other than format.  Style?  Layout?  No, but something to that effect.

So far, I adore Oskar Schell.  His fears, his random thoughts, his creative inventions that cannot ever truly exist.  They all make for a lovable kid, at least from the perspective of a reader.  If he were my kid, I don't know if I would've had the patience for him day after day.  How sad is that?  That we often cannot see the magic of our own offspring because we don't have the perspective of the "reader", we instead have to make sure they are safe and fed and educated and all that parent-y kinda stuff.

Even in The Descendants, when the kids are saying outrageous things, I laugh.  If my kids said things like that, I would feel obligated to tell them how wrong it was, or to punish them.  Especially if some other, more parent-y kinda parent were standing there.  Why can't we just laugh sometimes in real life?  I don't know, maybe all this fiction is getting to me.  Maybe I prefer it.

Maybe we let all the happy things fall into all the holes we create form our perceived pain, and we forget how to laugh.  As a community, as a country, as a society.  Why do we all have to behave so goddamn perfect all the time?

Poor, sweet, Oskar Schell, though.  His Dad died.  To lose your Dad as a young boy...that must be a pain that creates a huge, cavernous hole.  I can't imagine him being able to laugh, for a while.  Even at outrageous teenaged inappropriateness.


Learn to Love to Read

Posted by Amy Baranski

So, as you hopefully know by now this month is Read a Book a Week. Our week goes from Wednesday to Wednesday until the 29th of February. We all get one whole extra day this year stock pile pages of literature to our hearts' content.

The first week I procrastinated on starting my book. After working through the guilt and shame of that and the very public failure I was facing of not finishing a task that I thought up in the first place I decided to take a different approach. So last night I chose my next book from my ridiculous stack of unread books, and I began to read it. I decided if i could get to 30 pages I could turn off the light and go to sleep and feel more self confident about the week's challenge. I made it to 20.

Good enough!

I turned off the light and woke up three minutes before my alarm. Because I had set my work clothes out the night before (NERD!) I reduced the amount of time I'd spend hemming and hawing over which of my (two or three) work outfits to wear. You'd be surprised how long a decision can take when you don't have that many choices to decide between.

This genius idea of getting prepared the night before (thanks Mom!) gave me a whole hour this morning to read. So after getting some juice I got back in bed and I got to reading. As I did the days before I set my alarm for an hour increment. When the bell sounds at the hour I finish the chapter I'm on. If the chapter is inexorably long and I'm at the beginning of it I just read to the next break.

So I did that. By the time I was done I had made it to page 90 something. Wow, this totally feels incredible. a completely different experience from my self flagellation last week. I got up and got on with my day. Taking the bus out to work gave me extra time to read and I managed to flip through 17 more pages. This was fantastic because ahead of me was a very time consuming and focused (but productive) workday with no room for a leisurely read.

Now it's 7pm-ish and I feel so tired I might collapse. I'd really like to reward myself with a television show or even just a pillow, but I think I'll try holding the book up again and see if it takes me anywhere. After all, this is a process of learning something (or re-learning something that we lost) And if it doesn't take tonight that's OK too, I'll just try again in the morning.

Oh, and the book I'm reading is Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. I know nothing about it. My best friend Christina gave it to me, I think in 2008, for my birthday. I'm happy to finally be reading it!

(Please, please. please show your support on our reading challenge poll; it's in the right hand margin of this page. More importantly GO READ!)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reading Man in the Woods

Posted by Amy Baranski

I finished!

Over the past 48 hours I've learned a lot about myself and my reading habits. I basically procrastinated reading my first novel of the month until two days before it was "due".

I read Man in the Woods by Scott Spencer. I've never read any of his works (he's a best selling author of Endless Love and a Ship Made of Paper), and I had never heard of him until I ventured into Elliot Bay bookstore this winter looking for Christmas gifts. I decided to treat myself to a novel that was staff-recommended as a "haunting thriller." What better way to get back into reading than to start with what seemed like a page-turner?

But the first 11 pages felt like the most excruciating of my life. The unsympathetic character Will (a man with many aliases) is introduced and even though the guy was running from something, it just felt unconvincing). Of course, because I am 12 years old, or 17 still, it wasn't until the first sex scene that my interest piqued. Finally something of note was being written about like a secret in a book that only the reader gets to know because she's stuck around long enough. Call me prurient.

Trying to capture a mini-flow experience on the metro.
Overall, the book was interesting and well written. I wonder if it will be adapted to a screenplay for a movie. This seems right as I discovered two of Spencer's novels Endless Love and Waking the Dead were adapted to films.

Interestingly, for some reason throughout the entire book I imagined it was Fall, and was consistently startled by descriptions of the sun and the blazing East Coast summer heat. Although one scene with a homegrown vine ripened tomato and basil salad was deeply moving, and made me want summer so bad.

The book actually makes it's way through all the seasons. I don't have much criticism to offer or ground breaking insight. The characters struggle with crises of faith, crises of humanity, committing crimes, covering them up, love--and what feels like an empty artifice around it. These all seem like worthy literary themes for a novel yet somehow I don't feel changed by the book .

I do feel changed by the reading process however. Here are some of the things I learned about myself along the way (the short 48 hour way):

  • I average 46 pages per hour.
  • It took me about six hours total to read my current book.
  • That would have been an hour a day had I methodically read each day.
  • When I set down to do it, I do it.
  • But I bargain with myself. 
  • E.g. I deserve to have a cookie after this chapter.
  • I am easily distracted by my smart phone and all genera of social media.
  • I am easily distracted by the moods and requests of other people.
  • But I feel most self-actualized when I am in a flow experience (like sustained reading).
  • When my mind wanders while reading I feel guilty and re-read the passage until I'm paying attention.
  • The end always comes more quickly than I ever expect it to.
Don't forget to visit the right margin of the blog page. There's a poll where you can show your support! 

Fictional Therapy

These two look like they could use a little bibliotherapy.
Posted by Melissa Baumgart
No one said that the books we read this month had to be fictional, however, that has been my unspoken rule as I attempt to choose my four books.  Is it that fiction is more interesting?  Not always.  Is it that fiction offers an escape from the everyday?  Perhaps.  I actually think it is because fiction is so human, with the potential to be reflective and introspective.

I found an article from Psychology Today, titled "Novel Delights."  The author, Marina Krakovsky, begins by sharing that "a study at the Journal of Research in Personality showed that frequent readers of narrative fiction scored higher on tests of empathy and social acumen than did readers of expository nonfiction."  It makes sense, right?  Through reading fiction, we learn about people perhaps very different from ourselves, people that make choices we wouldn't make.  We are opened to their backstory and their inner thought process.  We get to catch of glimpse of why someone behaves a certain way, versus the snap judgements we often place on real life situations, where we are left to our assumptions of what motivates someone to do things we never would.

I just finished reading Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, for a Mother-Daughter book club I belong to with my oldest daughter, Lily.  It takes place in Denmark during the German occupation in 1943.  I got to see how a ten-year-old that doesn't think she could ever be courageous, finds that in herself.  I read and understood the motivations for making a difficult choice that risks your life and your family's.  I came to a new understanding of why a parent might lie to their child, to protect them.    

On the other hand, fiction might also bring us to a new understanding of our own life.  It could shed light onto parts of ourselves we unconsciously keep in the dark.   The Psychology Today article quotes a divorce lawyer, Jackie Stanley, that worked with couples about to take that step to dissolve their marriage.  She had all of her clients read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.  "It's a big, messy book, but it has the most meaningful ending in literature," Stanley says. Your life may be messy, but that's all part of the plot, she explains. "To get the full experience, you have to keep turning the page."  She claimed that reading this book helped her clients see past their current crisis.

Stanley later published her own book, a non-fictional tome about bibliotherapy, Reading to Heal.  Bibliotherapy has been mostly used with children, and there are lists available online for books to read to your toddler or pre-adolescent for various crisis from thumb-sucking to abuse.  The concept of book holding the power to heal emotional wounds has been around for quite some time, in Ancient Greece the quote "healing place for the soul" was often hung as a sign above library doors.

I think we all innately feel this to some degree when we read a book that engages us, that we find ourselves devouring in a matter of days.  It make me wonder about the "good books", the "best-sellers", the ones that seem to reach such a wide audience.  Do those books touch on a common thread of the time in which they exist?  Or are the characters archetypes for shared human experiences that span generations?

I also wonder if other art offers the same therapeutic benefits?  Say, watching a movie, perhaps.  Or better yet, a movie that was adapted from a novel.  I am likely thinking in this way because so far, both of my books are currently also titles in the theater.  In fact, I am toying with the idea of going to a matinee of The Descendants today.  You know, to test its therapeutic value.  Purely as a scientific experiment in regards to bibliotheraphy vs. cinematherapy.  Yes, there is a website on the topic.  But I have to say, at least bibliotherapy shows up on a search.

What do you think?  What fictional books have been therapeutic for you?


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I thought about quitting

Reading, in Seward Park, on a sunny Seattle day.
Posted by Melissa Baumgart
I finished my first book!

Well, of the "Read a Book a Week" challenge, not my first book ever.  Duh.  Although, there have been times in my life when I felt like I would never finish a book.  I picked them up in abundance, read a few pages and decide them to be flat, contrived or just plain old bad.  My husband, Jamie, wrote this in the front page of a book he bought me in 1997:
"Melissa,  After you read this book...then maybe we can get you another one.   
With stern affection, Jamie."
The book was titled, Self-Reliance. (Inspirations from Ralph Waldo Emerson.)  I truly believe Jamie thought I would never finish that book.  And therefore I would never be gifted another book.  Ever.  However, I can be determined to not give up in the face of those nay-sayers thinking I'll quit, and I read that entire book.  Lord, I am nearly 3 figures in debt due to the fact that I was told by a few people that I would give up on my graduate school.  Well, that and the inner compass leading me to my true destiny.  (As an aside, Please, let this still be true, and let one of the midwifery schools I applied to call me.  Soon!)

Regardless, what I am trying to say is that, historically speaking,  I have not been a reader.  In my undergrad I majored in English, and was horribly embarrassed by my lack of knowledge around the classic books that everyone else had read.  The truth is, I hated some of them.  Maybe I am too low brow for fine literature?  Maybe, like my taste and aptitude for puns, I fall into the category of low?

Fine with me.  Call me tasteless, call me average and mainstream...I loved this book that I read, The Descendants.  It wasn't all artsy and hard to follow.  It was simple, direct, emotional and real.  But, I have to admit, as I read the fist page, I thought about quitting.  I thought it sounded flat and contrived, like so many others.  I read on, given my commitment to the blog, and my commitment to proving Jamie wrong about my reading ability. (Yes! Still, after 15 years.)  And not 10 or 15 pages into the book, I was hooked.  I wonder how many other books I might have loved if I never gave up on them.

I started a new book today, a day early.  So far I like it.  It seems a bit fancy, in that as soon as I started figuring out the story line and who was who, the next chapter threw me for a loop with a new person in the first person, and I had no f'n idea who they were.  Well, I did, but my idea made no sense given the first chapters.  I guess I'll just have to keep reading and hope it all becomes clear.

And hope that I love it.  I really do.  Otherwise, this week is gonna be hard.  Because as much as I loved The Descendants, it took a lot of time.  Time squeezed in between school, parenting, studying, blogging, sleeping, eating and watching TV.  (Speaking of, I dreamt last night that I was hanging with the Kardashians.  Kris Humphries was flirting with me, and while I don't find him attractive, I still flirted back.  No one cared since Kim had already divorced him.  It was just weird that he was even there.)

How are you all doing with your reading?

Can I convince anyone else to read The Descendants?  I need someone to talk to about it!

Don't forget to let us know where you stand on the poll?  Are you reading a book a week?  Are you reading 2 books this month?  Or are you cheering us on, and maybe reading a book at your leisure?



Monday, February 6, 2012

Where is my Reading Rainbow?

Posted by Amy Baranski

My unread books, given, borrowed, purchased.
If I were following my own advice right now, I wouldn't be blogging. But I need to blog. I haven't provided an update since we launched the Read a Book a Week month, which, as it so happens, was my brilliant suggestion.

Why haven't I been more enthusiastic about this? Goddammit! I'm a reader, I swear! I'm just currently disguised as an instant streaming Netflix junkie jonesin for my next fix.

Are you people out there watching Damages? Glenn Close is so good.Hated her in The Big Chill. Hated the Big Chill. I unapologetic-ally loathe that movie. Loved her in Fatal Attraction. Realized I didn't even know her until Damages. It's that good.

My blogging partner has provided lots of motivation. She's been really engaged in her book, reading every day (or so it seems) and even texted me at some point today that she finished! Yet here I am with the task of reading 150 pages tonight (yawn I'm already so exhausted) and another 100 tomorrow. What was I thinking?! Really, Amy? I feel like a truant, without any weed.

Work expands to the time allotted.

The current state of my desk. Top o' the ice berg to ya.
Didn't I make that very statement when blogging about how I resolved to work at warp speed in 2012, which now sounds like the STUPIDEST (sorry for using that word, Ty) New Year's resolution.

And really I'll I want to do is write a complain-y blog post about all the reasons that have kept me away from the Elliot Bay staff-recommended, so-called page-turner--the title of which I think is called Man in the Woods by some writer with Spencer and Scott in his name, the order of which I'm not sure.

I've been doing so many things and really it's not my fault that I haven't created any "flow" experiences around reading. I've been diligently engaging with my community--both online and in person. I've been answering my door when people knock or ring. I've answered my phone, listened to voice mail messages (something that makes me cringe the older I get), responded to text messages, set up dinner dates with friends, cooked almost every meal with whole foods, tried to develop a Twitter habit with all my 10 followers, dismantled my home: sold furniture, sorted through things I don't need to make room for things I do need...which yes includes more books--ones I will read.

Well it's 10:30pm, about two hours past the time I've been sacking out lately. I've spent the past hour or so composing this utterly fantastic blog post. One of my best ever. I suppose, that after I finish writing (if that's what you call this) and listening to my recently downloaded album, Surf Noir by Beat Connection, I'll try to read a little more. But that means laying in bed which means inevitably sacking out and leaving 250 pages for tomorrow. Which, in all likelihood, I'll do.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Reading The Descendants

Posted by Melissa Baumgart
The first book choice for our "Read a Book a Week" month is The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings.  It is a movie out on the theaters right now, and has been nominated for numerous awards; most notably the Oscar's for Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Director.  I first heard of it as a movie, and have been drawn to go and see it, although I have not.  I thought maybe the draw was the fact that it is set in Hawaii, given our dark and rainy winter days here in Seattle.

Turns out, not only am I taken to the islands as I quickly read page after page, but I am also taken right into the King family.  I love the main character.  He reads as being honest about his flaws, admittedly lost in his life as it unexpectedly unfold before him and human.  The family is far from "perfect", even with all their money and beauty and the perks that those things can bring.  Things I sometimes wish I had, a pool, a house on Oahu, the beauty of a model.  Things that admittedly, I think would make life "perfect."

I find it refreshing to read a book about a family that is what it is.  A family with kids that act out and say things they aren't supposed to say.  And while there are some things about their life and behaviors I don't desire for my own, I find them all endearing and lovable.  I'd say the author has done her job well.

I wouldn't say this book is filled with lyrical prose like I have found in All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy or the last book I read, A Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart.  Those books were at times slow, but there were those sentences or paragraphs that lifted my heart and senses with the author's artistic skill.  Leaving me in a moment of connection with all that is, opening and connecting with life itself.  I know, that's some powerful shit right there.  And all from reading.

The difference, to me, in Hemming's writing so far is that I haven't come across any of those sentences that give me rise from the mundane of my everyday existence.  However, of equal importance, is the fact that she accomplishes that same effect overall.  It is through the dialogue, through the inner dialogue of the main character and through the way the characters bear the pain of avoiding being fully alive to the cruelty of life.

It is the dawn of the fourth day of the first week of our reading challenge.  I am happily 133 pages into my  283 pages book.  I have 150 more pages the I am eagerly looking forward to.  I feel like I am cheating by reading this book.  It is so easy to read, so engaging.  But cheating or not, today I will read on!

Don't forget to click "Yes!" on our poll in the sidebar if you are joining us on the "Read a Book a Week" challenge.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Looking back at the moments that matter most

The dark and the light.
Posted by Melissa Baumgart
Amy wrote that super sweet post yesterday, looking back on the past year with the blog.  I loved that picture of her über healthy breakfast of yogurt, cashews and foraged blackberries.  As I read the post, I was touched by her sentiments and gratitude.  I was also harkened back to my own blackberries from that sunny September urban foraging trip.  Unlike Amy's wise choice to freeze her berries, I was heady with urban homesteading promise and knew I would be using mine up within days, if not hours.  Mine went right in the fridge.

Those damn blackberries ended up a juicy, rotten mess in the back of my fridge, to be found again sometime toward the end of September.  That's how it goes sometimes.  When you go all ovaries-to-the-wall (as a teach of mine used to say), you're bound to not succeed at everything.  This year, I have been really working through that lesson.  Learning that trying new things doesn't have to mean being good at them all.  It doesn't have to mean doing it every single day.  It doesn't mean that life stops and everything is set up for you to easily do these things you are excited about.

Life, the blog, being a parent, being a student, for sure being a wife...and basically being can all be a struggle.  But it is through that struggle; it is through taking new things on, being open to the unknown and jumping in with all your heart that you find unexpected places of beauty and joy.  You get to experience moments that you never knew were on your horizon, when you can stop and feel the wind in your hair, the sun on your face and know you are exactly where you should be.

I think that because I was able to face my fears, whether they were the embarrassment of failing or hiking up a mountainside; I was also able to have some pretty sweet moments.  Moments that I would not have had otherwise, sitting on my couch watching the Kardashians or some other addictively trashy show.

Here are some of those moments:

  • Driving through Winthrop, WA on the way to our campsite.  The sun was about to set, the air was cool, the music coming from the car stereo speakers was loud and moving, and I sang along like I was a kid again.  Seriously, that moment should be on a VW commercial.
  • Practicing Tai chi with a group of elderly women in a strip mall in Bothell, WA.  The simple humanity of these beautiful, elderly, everyday Americans touched me in such a deep way.  So unpretentious, so fragile, and still open to learning this ancient martial art.
  • Sitting by myself in a waiting room, for hours, with nothing to do and a ball of yarn.  I remembered a small bit of how to knit and I sat there and kept trying, over and over again.  I finally got it.  After watching A Perfect Storm twice, I had knit a couple inches of a scarf.  The pride I felt over this small accomplishment couldn't be shared with anyone since I was alone.  It was an unexpectedly sublime moment.
  • Feeling my legs shake all the way up the 23 foot ladder, certain that my sweaty hands would slip off the rungs above me sending me plummeting to my death.  Making it to the top and standing on the trapeze platform holding back the sobbing tears. And then, jumping, not knowing if I would be able to keep hold of the heavy trapeze bar.  The best part...the back flip after letting go of the bar.  
  • Sensing a bit of the magic in life, when after reciting our poems on a Seattle Metro bus, we met a homeless poet.  OK, maybe that's not so hard to do, but he heard us and joined in, reciting a poem of his own.  Here we were, people that may not have otherwise had reason to talk or connect, and we were reciting poetry together on a bus.
  • In Winthrop
  • And, of course, our photo shoot for Urban Homesteading.  Being creative, drinking mimosas and laughing.  We laugh a lot.  I felt like we were on a real life magazine photo shoot, only one of our photographers was a 6 year old.  
There are countless others.  I do hope many of you join us this year in our ever hopeful attempts at embracing life in new ways.  It's not always easy, but it is so worth it.

Thanks Amy, for joining me this year, I really love doing this with you.  Thanks to my family for all the hours you have to watched me at the computer keyboard, for having their birthday parties doing the blog thing of the month and always being happy to join in on the fun.   And thanks everyone for reading, supporting and encouraging me and the blog.  It truly means a lot.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Let's Read!

Posted by Melissa Baumgart and Amy Baranski
In honor of Reading a Book a Week Month, we did our monthly photo shoot at one of the most beautiful buildings in Seattle, The Seattle Public Library.  The angles, the colors, the all came together and ignited our inspiration to read all month long, at any moment.  Perhaps even on an escalator!

We hope you feel inspired as well.  Whether you read books all the time, or you haven't read a book since Wuthering Heights in 9th Grade; we invite you to join us on this challenge.  Both of us have not read as much as we would like to in recent years, so if this isn't in your comfort zone, you're in good company.

On the side bar of the blog, you'll find a poll.

If you're in for reading a book every week, simply click on the "Yes!"  We can all share in the inspiration from the increasing numbers of fellow readers out there.  Feel free to share your experiences, joys, failures and thoughts in our comments or on our Facebook page.
Reading can evoke facial expressions.  Intense and relaxed.

Here are some suggestions for those joining us:

  • Wednesday to Wednesday makes up one week.   
  • You can choose any books you like.  
  • Some people will just read and read and read, without the need for any motivation.
  • Some people may find it helpful to divide their number of pages by 7, so they can see how many pages they need to read every day to stay on track.
  • Any other questions?....Just Ask!
Read on!

If you're new to this blog, check out what we do, why we do it and like our Facebook page to stay up to date and participate.