Monday, December 27, 2010

Testing 1...2...3...

I've moved one more step ahead in the digital age: my husband gave me an iPad for Christmas. Thank goodness I had children. Without Ben, I'm not sure how far along I'd be with the more subtle uses of the device, but for now he's helped me set up for blogging. Since I just posted, I don't need to say much more, but I wanted to be sure I knew how to blog on the go. Next lesson: iBooks!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Reading and Riding

I can't imagine what I would do if I weren't able to read while I'm riding. As long as I've been reading, I've made the most of car time with a good book. The only real limit has been light. I remember reading one of the Pippi Longstocking books--I think it was Pippi Goes on Board, the one that had Pippi and readers fearing that Pippi's father was dead--on the ride between our new home in Columbia, Tennessee, and our hometown of Florence, Alabama, where all the kinfolks lived.

We made the drive regularly, especially since Daddy moved my sister Amy and me in time to start school, but Mama and sister Becky didn't move until my sister Jeannie was born in mid-September. I would read until I could not longer catch a few words as we passed street lights.

This past week, we headed back to Alabama, this time from our North Carolina home, and I almost had time to finish Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. When the sun set and I could no longer read by natural light, I considered using the flashlight app on my cell phone. That's when I decided I needed to give it a rest. Some books are easier to put aside than others. This was not one of those.

From page one or two, the narrator Marion had me hooked, telling of the day he and his twin brother Shiva were born in "Missing Hospital" (the locals couldn't pronounce Mission) to Sister Mary Joseph Blessing, a nun whom no one had suspected was pregnant. The plot line, on the surface, is intriguing enough to pull me in, but the writing kept me reading. The story had a perfect balance of suspense, surprise, and superb character development.

Twin stories have always fascinated me--The Thirteenth Tale, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Her Fearful Symmetry, among others. Verghese does such an excellent job of distinguishing between the two brothers, while still acknowledging the mysterious link between twins. In this case, he includes a range from betrayal to self-sacrifice.

This book also passed another interesting test for me. My first instinct when finishing the book was to turn back to the beginning and re-read the opening chapters. Meanwhile, I was ready to start Hunger Games, only half of which I was able to read before the sunlight faded on I-85.

Friday, December 17, 2010

After eating, praying, loving. . .

When I picked up the audiotape of Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed, I'll confess that I thought I was buying Eat, Pray, Love (since that title was written on the box larger than the actual book title:

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love.

Maybe I exaggerate. But I honestly didn't realize I had a different book until it started. With the movie out, I figured I needed to know about the book to be able to hold my own in conversations about it. Committed, however, ended up being quite an interesting reading experience. Gilbert writes about her decision to marry--after feeling quite determined she'd never go down that (bridal) path again. The tensions (particular at airports) after 9/11 certainly set things in motion, since she was in a long-term committed relationship with a man of Brazilian citizenship living in Australia (or Bali).

As I kept listening, I was particularly interesting in her research into the historical, religious, sociological aspects of marriage. She and "Phillipe," her prospective husband, spent time in Laos while awaiting the completion of her background checks and his immigration papers. While there, she interviewed women of the community about their own marriage, often provoking incredulous laughter. She also delved into the marriages of her grandmother, her parents, and older neighbors.

In one chapter, she discussing the contrast between Greek and Hebrew mindsets (designations not determined by one's nationality and heritage but beliefs and philosophies.

Having been "committed" to marriage myself for more than thirty-four years, the book didn't change my own feelings about marriage, but it certainly piqued my interest and gave me food for thought.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Calling All Christmas Readers

Like most people, I have my favorite Christmas movies, the ones I can watch over and over again--It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol (any of the many productions), National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, The Christmas Story--the list is long. I actually remember watching the now-classic Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer the first time it aired on television. Wow! What graphics!

I have favorite Christmas books and stories I read each year too. My all-time favorite is Truman Capote's short story "A Christmas Memory." I always imagine the narrator as Dill, the little neighbor in To Kill a Mockingbird, since both characters are more than loosely based on Capote himself. This story is the most sensory Christmas tale, the funniest, and the most heart-wrenching. It begs to be read aloud, and for many years, I did just that in my classroom. (Yes, even high school students enjoy a little read-aloud from time to time.)

For a complete change of pace, nothing beats "The Santaland Diaries" from David Sedaris' hilarious holiday collection of stories Holiday on Ice. In this particular story, he recounts his experiences working as a Santa's elf at Macy's Department Store in New York. The story will make you laugh out loud. Do not--I repeat, do not--read it in a place where laughter is inappropriate, such as a church service--or a state-mandated English end-of-course test.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is another wonderful modern classic, and the story is presented on stage somewhere near you (trust me on this) every year. While you're looking out for Christmas dramatic productions, let me recommend The Sanders Family Christmas, a musical sequel to Smoke on the Mountain set in a rural Baptist church during the Christmas season right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Sounds serious doesn't. You'll be wiping tears, but they'll be tears of laughter.

I always forget how wonderful Dickens' A Christmas Carol really is, thinking that because it's so familiar that it may not bear repeating. It never fails to move me. A few years ago, I found a companion book, Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol, written by Tom Mula, an actor who played in Dicken's classic and began to wonder if Marley, who took time out of his own torment to save Scrooge, might also have achieved redemption.

There are others--many others--I could name, but I would love to hear the stories and books to which other readers turn year after year to get into the Christmas spirit.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Not About the Capulet Girl or Nudity

I may not judge a book by its cover, but it certainly came catch my attention--not necessarily the artwork but the title. I'll admit that Nick Hornby's title Juiet, Naked caught my attention, but the blurbs I read about the book lured me in. This book by the author of Fever Pitch and High Fidelity follows three characters, so it took me awhile to realize that the actual protagonist is Annie, an almost-forty-year-old woman who works in a museum in a small seaside English town and--at least for part of the novel--has been living with Duncan, a college English teacher obsessed with Tucker Crowe, a former rocker who retired without explanation following a successful novel he called Juliet, after a well-publicized breakup with a real Julie.

Duncan's fascination with the now-reclusive Crowe is only fueled by the internet, where he interacts with other self-proclaimed "Crowologists," speculating about the elusive Crowe. Annie even goes on holiday with Duncan to America for a sort of Tucker Crowe pilgrimage.

When without notice the novel is re-released in its "naked" form, Duncan posts a rave review, and Annie decides to post her own response to what she considers the inferior production and is surprised to receive an email from Crowe.

The novel follows all three characters (and the audio version even uses three different readers) as Tucker eventually visits London after one of his children by one of his ex-wives has a health crisis. The novel is clever and funny, quirky and--yes--British. Don't expect to find it on a class syllabus. It's just an amusing read, but I even found myself sympathetic toward poor nerdy Duncan and several of the other minor characters.