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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In the Land of Cotton

In the Land of Cotton by Martha Taylor

1956. Martha was growing up in the deep South. Her upper-middle-class family was undeniably racist but probably no more so than many others of that time. Martha's family, however, was unhappier than others. Her grandfather sexually abused her, her father's career was unstable, and her mother didn't even seem to like her. But then she met Lucy, her family's maid, and they formed an instant connection.

She secretly began spending time with Lucy's family and found solace in their healthy relationships. They became her caretakers, her friends and, in a sense, her family.

1964. Silas, Lucy's nephew, and Martha soon found themselves falling in love but well aware of the "line in the sand" that prevented them from being together. As they got older, they remained connected despite relocations, high school, college, Vietnam and even disapproval from both families. This enduring bond made them start to wonder if they would be able to have a public relationship after all.

It was heart-breaking to read a first-hand account of a relationship that was almost certainly doomed just because of when it occurred. I knew while reading that permanent happiness for Silas and Martha would likely be impossible; yet, their pure love for each other kept me hoping. Martha's account officially ends in 1968, but she does briefly reflect on what has happened since then--particularly stressing the importance of President Obama's election.

The book does a great job of presenting an average person's perspective on the civil rights movement and the conflict surrounding Vietnam. Martha never glosses over prejudices--even her own, and she is honest about her questions and struggles as well.

She does a great job of putting her story in the context of history (relating events, facts, speeches and even prices of the time), but I would rather have had only brief mentions of these entertwined with even more of her perspective. But this is absolutely my only complaint.

The book made me examine the setting of my own upbringing in small-town Alabama. It was vastly different from Martha's in some ways, but, even in the 1990s, prejudices still remained just below surface-level. Black and white students didn't sit together in the cafeteria, for example, or sleep over at each other's houses. So I can't help but wonder what would have happened if any of us had crossed that line, had reached out to make friends with someone who only looked different than we did. I know we wouldn't have reaped the consequences people in Martha's generation did, but I suspect we would have enjoyed many of the same benefits.

The book is a good reminder that we Southerners do a better job now in dealing with people who are different (in many ways) than we are, but we still have plenty of room for improvement.

Favorite quotes...

They have always been slaves since they were brought to this country. They will always be slaves in one form or another. They have always served the white man, and they always will.

Being there was like nothing I had ever experienced. It was like time travel to a place in time where the world was really quite simple, and everyone knew what was expected of them. A more perfect world than the one I knew. A world where fathers always had jobs, and the color of one's skin was rarely noticed; where no one played 'touch me' games with children and no church sent babies to Limbo.

When you has a dog it's 'cause they picked you to be with.

A crow just might love a fish, but where's they gonna build their house.

The days of late spring in Texas are among the most beautiful of anywhere on earth. Bright red sunsets and budding pecan trees usher in the hot summers that always prevail.

Sometimes, when you're tryin' to figure life out, it's better if you just stays put until a solution can catch up with your problem.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Shipping News

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Quoyle.

He is a bulky man who does everything wrong, thinks in headlines, answers rhetorical questions and falls in love with Petal, who has a string of open affairs yet still produces two daughters with Quoyle before she dies in a car crash after selling Bunny and Sunshine (the daughters) and running away with another man.

It is a bitter world for Quoyle.

And after Petal's death, it appears his bitter life will continue as he moves to a Newfoundland town teeming with harsh weather, sexual abuse and death. But in this seemingly cruel world, Quoyle finds kindness, joy and even love.

If life was an arc of light that began in darkness, ended in darkness, the first part of his life had happened in ordinary glare. Here it was as though he had found a polarized lens that deepened and intensified all seen through it.

His newspaper career takes off (Thirty-six years old and this was the first time anybody ever said he'd done it right.), and his love for Wavey shines as brightly as her red hair against the gray skies and icy white waters.

Quoyle...equated misery with love. All he felt with Wavey was comfort and a modest joy...He was wondering if love came in other colors than the basic black of none and the red heat of obsession.

He comes to understand that this comfort and modest joy is more than acceptable--it is, in fact, what makes daily life simply wonderful.

Proulx's splendid imagery correlates nicely with her intense characters:

-Wavey (the tall, quiet woman)
-Tert Card (The devil had long ago taken a shine to Tert Card, filled him like a cream horn with itch and irritation.)
-Aunt Agnis (We face up to awful things because we can't go around them, or forget them. The sooner you get it over with, the sooner you say 'Yes, it happened, and there's nothing I can do about it,' the sooner you can get on with your own life.)
-Nutbeem (One of the tragedies of real life is that there is no background music.)
Also on board are a crazy cousin and his dog, an eccentric newspaper owner, a carpenter who yearns for the water and, of course, Bunny and Sunshine. I did find it a bit of an unnecessary dig that a particularly cruel woman ended up opening a Christian bookstore, but that was my only character complaint.

Quoyle.

Emerges from a bitter past without becoming bitter himself. Finds unlikely love and support and learns he can offer the same in return.

It is a hopeful life for Quoyle.

Thanks, Library Journal...

...for providing two interesting editorials...

Ten Questions to Infuriate a Librarian (hilarious)

and

We Support Free Speech, but...(a.k.a. what bugs me about the ALA)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Weekend Wrap-Up

GRE. Done. Whew.

Thanks to all for the kind words and encouragement. I'm relieved and excited to see what comes next in this process!

Meanwhile, I had planned to finish The Shipping News and In the Land of Cotton this weekend, but life got in the way. Hope to have those reviews in soon.

Until then, read these...

ALA-Twitter controversy. Juicy!

100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About--ah, the good ol' card catalog

Latest on the Bush library (of particular interest since it's so close to us now)

And a potential drawback to the Kindle?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

GRE

Saturday.
Prayers, thoughts, and/or coffee appreciated.
:)

Red, Hot & Blue Mesa Grill (a.k.a. Arby's)

Jason and I love free food. I like to blame it on the student status, but I think we're really just cheapskates. Anyway, we've signed up for various local restaurant e-mail lists, newsletters, etc., and we are occasionally rewarded with freebies.

For our anniversary, Red, Hot & Blue (our favorite Fort Worth BBQ place) sent us a coupon for a free dinner. Nice! Then, we also got a free dessert for the Blue Mesa Grill, which we've been meaning to try and thought that would be a good opportunity.

Here's Jason at RHB...



Well, we ate so much BBQ and catfish that we were too full for Blue Mesa, so we thought we'd go another time...and we ended up letting the coupon expire. Boo.

But we also had been to Arby's the day before (where they were giving out free sandwiches--ha). We were planning the anniversary dinner and dessert and hit on this blog title. I always have trouble coming up with titles, so I wanted to use this one anyway...even though it's no longer applicable. :)

So here we are at Arby's...instead of the Blue Mesa Grill...


And I apologize for any ramblings in this post. I'm taking the GRE Saturday and am WIPED from getting up early and staying up late to study. It's tough to re-learn all the math I was so careful to forget after my first year of college! (Seriously, prayers appreciated.) :)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Morning Runs

I don't have time to run before work in the mornings (unless I want to run in the dark, which I don't), so my morning runs are typically confined to the weekends and occasional holidays.

I love these.

Here's why:

Sunshine with cooler temps
This morning it was only 80 degrees! I love feeling the sun come down on me without melting. I tell myself I'm growing new freckles and saving money by letting nature do my highlights.

Fellow runners and bikers
I'm kind of a lone runner, but I like meeting other people on the runs--whether that's just to say hello in passing or to be inspired by someone running in front of me. I also love seeing this huge group of bikers (bicycles, not motorcycles). They're all decked out in their gear, and they're very friendly. And it's fun keeping pace with them...for about 12 seconds.

Critters
With the exception of birds, I love seeing all these animals when I'm running! It's not like we're in the country, but I generally see dogs, cats, rabbits and even cows. (Hey, it is Cowtown, after all.) Last week I met two Bichons. So fun!

Music
OK, so I have the same running playlist whether I run in the mornings or evenings. But Smelling Coffee has been first on that list since I got the iPod (shout-out to Jason for introducing me to one of my favorite songs ever), and it just fits the morning better.

What about you? When do you like to workout and why?

Twilight

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Remember the first time you held hands? The anticipation and anxiety wondering if you should extend your arm, let your palm face up or down, inching closer and closer until...contact!

Now visualize that anticipation and anxiety of holding hands for the first time combined with the knowledge that if you move just a split second too fast, your fellow hand-holder might kill you.

Welcome to Bella's world. In some ways, she's a typical teenager with typical teenage angst--trouble with parents, competition with the mean girls at school, moving to a new town and falling in love for the first time. In others, she's everything but typical. For starters, her first love is a vampire.

But Edward Cullen sees something in Bella that no one else does. The question is whether he can suppress his nature to make Bella all his and just be in a "normal" relationship. But, after all, what is "normal" anyway?

At first glance, Twilight might seem to be all about vampires, and, of course, that's a major part of the plot. However, the book seems to have an overall focus more on themes like fitting in, normalcy, family and first love. If you're not someone who usually reads vampire literature (like me), you won't feel left out when reading Twilight.

That being said, I had trouble understanding what the big fuss was about. I got caught up in Edward and Bella's story, but I wasn't hooked as I was with, say, Harry Potter, when I couldn't put the series down for days. It's solid young adult lit (and equally enjoyable for young-at-heart-adults), and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. I do think, though, I'll be able to contain my excitement while waiting for New Moon to be available at the library.

But I could be wrong. There are 99 people ahead of me who might disagree.

Favorite quotes...


I didn't relate well to people my age. Maybe the truth was that I didn't relate well to people, period...Sometimes I wondered if I was seeing the same things through my eyes that the rest of the world was seeing through theirs.

For some reason, my temper was hardwired to my tear ducts. I usually cried when I was angry, a humiliating tendency.


It seemed excessive for them to have both looks and money. But as far as I could tell, life worked that way most of the time.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Three Friday Thoughts

1. Knowing the end to My Sister's Keeper does not mean you will cry less at the actual ending. (Read it for the second time for a new book club this weekend!)

2. Heading to see the latest Harry Potter movie installment this weekend. Hoping it does justice to the book!

3. Funniest thing I've seen all week:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106561675
Is it wrong that I want to win this next year?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Where Did the Prophets Go?

Where Did the Prophets Go? by James Noll

James Noll has a PhD in Theology. Nevertheless, I think he has learned just enough theology to make him dangerous.

First, be aware that the book is definitely geared toward a Christian audience. Noll relies heavily on jargon and refers to biblical passages and principles without fully explaining them. As you read, you get the sense that you should know some of this already. So it's not a book for those new to the Christian faith, but, truthfully, I wouldn't recommend it to those who have been believers for a long time either.

Let's start with the good.

Noll reminds us in his last chapter that we, as Christians, should have one over-arching focus--the kingdom of God--and that the doctrinal issues he addresses are secondary to that. He is exactly right in this instance, and I tried to keep that in mind when writing this review. Therefore, I think it best not to even address whether I agree or disagree with his conclusions.

Also, he includes several helpful resources at the end of the book such as lists of biblical references to prophets and other relevant information.

Unfortunately, these are the only two good things I have to say about his writing.

The book's subtitle is Proof That Prophets Exist Today. Noll makes the claim that the office of prophet (in the church) still exists; however, he never really defines what he thinks a prophet is. This is problematic because there are various definitions of "prophet" throughout the Christian faith. Some would say the office still exists but functions quite differently than it did in the Bible.

As far as those who disagree with his conclusion completely, he dismisses their arguments as "silly" without bothering to even detail those arguments or the reasoning behind them. He also accuses many churches that don't subscribe to his view of being cults.

All this would be frustrating but slightly more acceptable if he had a solid argument of his own. However, his claims are disorganized, the chapters follow no logical order, and he generally doesn't use specific Bible verses to make his case, which is important when you are addressing Christians.

Basically, it seemed that he wrote the book as a stream-of-consciousness project--writing whatever occured to him and expecting other believers to accept it with the same mindset as we would if we were listening to Elijah.

And this is just a pet peeve, but his overuse of quotation marks for emphasis drove me a little crazy. For example, he says Jesus didn't "force" His way on people. He "loved" His way into their hearts. You don't need the quotation marks to make that point.

Being in the seminary environment, I was genuinely curious about the issue he addressed and hopeful that the book would help me discern some of my own opinions concerning this. However, I think I'm going to have to look elsewhere for any insights.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Slew of Reviews Coming Sewn...um, Soon!

Life has been composed of reading, reading, reading lately...then studying for the GRE...then more reading, reading, reading. See my "currently reading" list on the right for proof. (And see the friendly flowers lighting up my desk this week on the left.)

This means that many reviews are coming soon. But in the meantime...

This goes in the "most unfortunate story of the week" category. Not the kind of publicity librarians want...

Meanwhile, a much better way to advertise one local library!

And kudos to Ray Bradbury for fighting for another!

Moving on to Alabama...

SLISers are providing training on computers for those with developmental disabilities...

A Huntsville (AL) librarian explains layoffs...

And nationwide...

Librarians take on Google...

A new collection of essays concerning censorship...

One author is a bit too free with Wikipedia...

And the U.S. Archives has some items going missing...

We all like financial tips...these are for librarians especially...

Want to know how to write the best cover letter ever?

Meanwhile, ALA is helping librarian-wannabes get a job...

And looking for an artist? Or an artist looking for publicity? Check out this resource...

OK, that should keep you busy until I can post those reviews! Happy week!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Midwife

The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

A resurgence in the popularity of home births has brought new attention to midwives recently, so even though her memoir looks back to the 1950s, Jennifer Worth writes like a contemporary when talking about her time as a midwife in London's rough East End district.

Worth's stories are sometimes funny, other times sad, occasionally heart-breaking, always fascinating, and altogether lovely.

The memoir (in this age of questionable memoirs) rings true because it doesn't try too hard to resolve the stories. Worth gives us glimpses of the lives of the East Enders as well as of herself. But even though we see her grow and change throughout the book, we still have no ultimate resolution or picture-perfect happy ending.

Worth is not overly romantic or sentimental in her descriptions, however, which makes the flashes of sentiment she does include seem even more sincere and not at all irritating.

She has also included a helpful appendix about the Cockney dialect (much of the dialogue in the book is written in this dialect--think My Fair Lady) as well as a glossary of medical terms.

At times she is graphic. In fact, I didn't know if I would make it past the first chapter. I got a bit woozy reading the details of a birth (perhaps one of the reasons I'm not a mom). But this graphic nature is necessary when describing the difficult lives of these residents who dealt with overcrowding, filth, crime, prostitution and other conditions typical of the slum areas. Worth and the other midwives, nurses and nuns with whom she works tackle these challenges with skill and grace, and their stories as well as those of their patients are both appealing and valuable.

Favorite quotes...

Nurses and policemen always have a rapport, especially in the East End. It's interesting, I reflect, that they always go around in pairs for mutual protection. You never see a policeman alone. Yet we nurses and midwives are always alone, on foot or bicycle. We would never be touched. So deep is the respect, even reverence, of the roughest, toughest docker for the district midwives that we can go anywhere alone, day or night, without fear.

Small children crowded around. The midwife's delivery bag was an object of intense interest--they thought we carried the baby in it.

Some people are good at dealing with the problems of others, but not me. In fact, the more emotional people get, the less I am able to cope.

Few men can withstand a woman's look of utter contempt.

It seems to be a law of life that a lonely widower will always find a woman to console and comfort him. If he is left with young children he is even more favourably placed. Women are queueing up to look after both him and the children. On the other hand, a lonely widow or divorcee has no such natural advantages. If not exactly shunned by society, she is usually made to feel decidedly spare. A lonely widow will usually not find men crowding around anxious to give her love and companionship. If she has children, the men will usually run a mile. She will be left alone to struggle on and support herself and her children, and usually her life will be one of unremitting hard work.

Hope always runs high in a young reporter's heart--until the iron enters his soul, that is.

I have never understood why Cockney speech is said to be lazy English. It is the opposite. Cockneys love language, and use it continually, with a rich mixture of puns, slang, spoonerisms and rhymes. They carry a verbal library of anecdotes, ditties and yarns in their heads, which can be improvised to suit any occasion. They love long, colourful words. They can throw in description and simile with lightning speed, with a sure instinct for effect. Rhythm is important, and the compelling rhythm of a cockney dialogue is equal to that of a Mozart opera. Cockneys have a verbal mastery second to none in my opinion.

Now and then in life, love catches you unawares, illuminating the dark corners of your mind, and filling them with radiance. Once in a while you are faced with a beauty and a joy that takes your soul, all unprepared, by assault.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Prince of Frogtown

The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg

Rick Bragg has done it again.

He has stolen my heart and hours of my attention with his tales of Alabama life, making me yearn for my home, yearn to write like him and yearn to read more of his stories.

This story is one of his father, the man who was little more than a footnote in All Over But the Shoutin'. Bragg had hesitated to confront his father's memory because there was too much pain in that confrontation--abuses, neglect, violence. But something changed.

Bragg "got a boy of his own."

Interspersing tales of this boy with tales of his father makes The Prince of Frogtown especially poignant. As always, he uses sources extensively, merging others' memories with his own to illustrate what life was like for a little while in a little place.
The beauty is that he makes that little place and the people in it seem like the most important in the world. And, in a way, they are. This story is one you absolutely shouldn't miss.
Favorite quotes...

I don't know what kind of man I turned out to be, but I was good at being a boy.

I did not want a child, the way I did not want fuzzy pajamas, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, neckties, sensible cars, department store credit cards, multivitamins, running shorts, umbrellas, goldfish, grown-up shoes, snow skis and most cats.

As a boy I wondered why anyone would work inside a place that could keep a part of you at quittin' time.

As poor whites and blacks fought over the scraps, hatefulness grew. It was always blamed on color but just as surely was a byproduct of a desperate competition for a place in society, any place except last.

Some days, you wish you had never left Alabama.

All you had to do to earn his benevolence was to say "sir." But it is funny, how that little word sticks like a fishhook in some men's throats.

People in Memphis all drive like God is on their side.

He drove like everyone else in Memphis, like he woke up drunk.
The boy loved to read and read even when he was not ordered to, or threatened. He read with his nose almost in the pages, like he was sniffing out the story there instead of just taking it in with his eyes, and he had to be told twice, sometimes three times, to put his book down and turn off the bedside light, or he would have read all night.

Four years is good for your health...

Jason and I celebrated our four-year anniversary last week. We like to do those traditional/contemporary anniversary gifts (traditional for me, contemporary for him). Kind of cheesy, but it's fun being creative.

This year, I was supposed to get fruit. I got lemon ice box pie, froot loops, juicy fruit gum and a fruity sign. It was all very sweet (literally).

Jason got a flash drive (appliance). ha

Meanwhile, all the "healthy" fruit he gave me started me thinking about how my health has improved since we got married. In four years, I haven't fainted or upchucked (both freakishly frequent occurrences in the 10 years prior). Also, adding to my good emotional health--I haven't had a wreck or even gotten a ticket since we've been married (also once frequent for me, unfortunately). I think he's helped my spiritual health grow amazingly well, too. Now if we could just get this asthma under control. ;)

Anyway, here's to Jason and our four years! And here are a few random pictures of our long weekend...

Touring the University of North Texas in Denton. Cool place, the Mean Green...





I normally like to get hydrangeas (my bouquet), but they're hard to find in Texas in July, so I settled for the poor girl's version and stuck with blue carnations. Almost the same color...





My funny fruity sign...



Flowers my wonderful student workers gave us to celebrate...


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I'm Patriotic. Really, I Am.

I can't help but wonder how many Christians will be worshipping America this Sunday.
I'm not picking on any particular church or denomination because churches all over are having "Celebrate Freedom" or "Stars and Stripes Sunday" or "Bring Your Gun to Church Day."

Perhaps I'm being too stuffy, but I have several issues with this.

First, I believe the main purpose of the main church service (traditionally Sunday morning) is to worship God. I think everything there should revolve around that purpose, and while I'm there, I try to focus on Him. Truthfully, this is difficult enough. I don't know if anyone else struggles with this, but my attention is easily captured by what other people are wearing, how the singing sounds and why I still have such a long to-do list for Sunday afternoon. In short, I am distracted enough; I don't need fireworks, too.

Also, when we start talking patriotism in Church, we too often reduce that to talking politics. And when you're talking politics in Christian circles, it becomes all too easy to say "If you're a Christian, you must certainly support or abhor {insert favorite issue here}."

And that is quite problematic--especially when you have visitors at your church who might just be checking things out but feel the complete opposite of what you do about, say, gun rights. If you make them feel that only gun-toting-animal-hunting people are welcome at your church (when the Bible says nothing of the sort), they just might never come back. (I'm not picking on gun rights, by the way--just using that as an example.)

Finally, I'm patriotic. Really, I am. But I wouldn't say I'm nationalistic. OK, quick clarification. I'm defining patriotism here as a "love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it," while I see nationalism as the belief that your "national culture and interests are superior to any other."

Yes, I think America is an awesome place to live, and I am grateful for our freedoms, our history and our large amounts of land. I will be watching fireworks on the Fourth, and hey, I even have the Constitution right here on my iPod. But...here's the thing. I don't think God prefers one country to another any more than He likes the Cowboys better than the Packers. In fact, the Bible says that people from every nation will be in heaven one day. Church is no place for racism, and it shouldn't be a place for nationalism either.

I think it's important to pray for our country, our leaders and even socio-political issues of concern, but I would say that our patriotism shouldn't necessarily be reflected in our worship services. Instead, how about reserving it for other venues? For instance, have a fireworks display on the Fourth, a choir and orchestra production of America's great music on Saturday night, but leave the focus on God during His worship service.

But what do you think? Am I off-base here? Share your thoughts!

Read from the beginning...