On my Bedside Table

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro

I'm really wishing we hadn't just watched a certain recent bad sci-fi movie that happened to have a similar theme.

I find myself thinking, "God, hasn't this been done to death already?" I also found myself getting annoyed by the first-person narrator and her fast-forward/rewind storytelling: "I remember this one time when blah, blah, blah...but that wouldn't have mattered so much if it weren't for what happened next...(blah, blah, blah...)" kind of stuff. That kind of little conceit gets used over and over, and it gets old.

Other than that, I was fascinated by how Kathy, the narrator, is very clued in to what people really mean, as opposed to what they say -- she notes tone of voice, attitude, non-verbal/physical stuff, and manages to figure out what's going on with people as they communicate, sometimes to the point where she knows how they really feel about something even if they aren't aware of it on a conscious level. On the other hand, she doesn't seem to have that level of awareness about her own feelings -- she doesn't even realize
that she is in love with Tommy, and has been for years. There's a total disconnect between her feelings and that analytical part of her mind that figures out how people tick. Probably why she's good at her job. On balance I enjoyed the book even though the narrative style bugged me.

Also recently finished The Art of Raising a Puppy by the Monks of New Skete. What can I say, I do want a dog... Interesting after reading Pack of Two to find many of Caroline Knapps observations echoed by Maurice Sendak, of all people (he got a puppy from the monks, and they visit him and talk to him about his relationship with his dog at the end of the book).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I'm Just Here For The Food

Alton Brown

Yes, I read a cookbook straight through. Well, to be honest I skimmed some of the recipes a little but I read all the sidebars, theory, and practical application stuff. Including how to build a roasting oven out of firebrick in your carport. (A carport? Must be a southern thing…) Even the kids got into this one. C has been reading it almost as thoroughly as me, and S wants to check out pictures of the exploding guy every other day. Anyone should know that my respect and enthusiasm for AB knows no bounds, but even given my prejudice, this was really, really good.

(the exploding guy pic)

I’ve been debating whether I’m going to include a post for every little thing I read – because I tend to pick up a lot of how-to stuff that I skim through, plus house porn (as small hands terms it) that I just get for the pictures. I don’t know, I might do a month-end summary with brief notes. I want to keep my momentum going, account for everything, but not get bogged down in my reading because I don’t know what I’ll say on the reading blog….

Speaking of porn… let’s do a “quickie” entry on For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn (not the Berman and Berman one by the same title, which I’ve also read… for work!) OK, no, that’s a much-too-salacious way to start talking about what was really a pretty inoffensive little book. It’s a “what your husband wished he could tell you, but is afraid to because it would probably be followed by the worst kind of ‘discussion,’ including tears and maybe sleeping on the couch for a few weeks” type of book. I picked it up one day in Kmart, while C was flipping through the magazine rack and read a chunk of it, then found it at the library and finished it off. Somehow I missed the heavy religious slant while thumbing through in Kmart, so I found the author’s recommendation to “sit down and pray before reading on” at the beginning of one particular chapter to be a bit disconcerting. But really, I kind of enjoyed reading this one. It points out what the male gender finds important in a relationship and is very soothing about saying yes, it’s probably different from what you find important but that’s ok – that doesn’t mean either of you are wrong. As for my segue up above – the author does seem to be a little preoccupied with the issue of pornography. She includes a rather atrocious excerpt from her novel at the end of the book – about a Christian husband dealing with “temptation” (i.e. internet porn sites and strip clubs). That was off-putting.

I tend to have a proclivity for picking up books that probably worry J. The above would be one. Also The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver. Then there was the time I was reading Listening to Prozac (Peter Kramer) and Feeling Good: the New Mood Therapy (by David Burns -- required for a psych class I had in nursing school). That prompted an “is everything ok?” talk. Things are ok – I just read everything. And I hear about so many problems at work that if I weren’t interested in reading about problems too, I’d be at a disadvantage…

Monday, September 11, 2006

Writing to Change the World

By Mary Pipher

Read Reviving Ophelia ages ago, and thought I'd pick this up to see what she had to say about writing.

And, well, it was kinda clunky. It was OK, but nothing special. Not terribly inspiring either. But I do want to check out The Middle of Everywhere, which she wrote about the immigrant/refugee experience in America -- their interactions mainstream American culture and how they are viewed and dealt with by the rest of us non-first-generation folks. Based on her experience with immigrant communities in her home of Lincoln, Nebraska -- the "middle of nowhere."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Pack of Two

The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs
by Caroline Knapp

I remember the author from her days as a columnist for the Boston Phoenix. That's kind of why I picked it up, but also because a subset of my longing for a house of my own is wanting to get a dog. The setup -- both her parents die, she gets sober after X number of years of alcohol abuse, she gets a dog. Throughout the book she explores her relationship with the dog and what that relationship means to her at that point in her life. And that's the jumping off point for an exploration of the relationship between people and dogs in general.

She's very good at teasing out all the nuances of this relationship. Boy, you can really tell, though, that she spent years in therapy (no, she doesn't sound really messed up -- she's just got this whole different level of awareness about the meaning behind our responses within a relationship -- where they come from, what they might be doing there).

She also has some breathtakingly scary stories about dysfunctional people and how their issues manifest themselves through their relationships with their dogs. Very entertaining read, but a little bit more than I was looking to get into, I think.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Last Child in the Woods

by Richard Louv

I picked this up because I heard the author being interviewed on a radio program about half a year ago and it stuck with me. The premise is that kids today don't get outside enough. Soccer practice doesn't count -- it's a qualitatively different experience than exploring, making forts, catching frogs and climbing trees. Our children's lives are poorer because of this. A crucial part of their development -- physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual -- is being stunted because of this lack.

Where do I even start? Argh! He's right! My kids don't go outside enough! And I know what they're missing, because I was a very lucky kid in this regard. All through elementary school I lived in a house next to the school, with fields behind it giving way to the swamp (of course we'd call it wetlands now) which froze over every winter, giving everyone a place to skate and play hockey. You just had to steer clear of all the cattail stubble. There was a willow I used to climb up into so I could survey the fields. At my grandmother's there were woods and a stream behind her house -- that's where all the good salamander hunting was. My dad's house had neighbors on both sides and an apartment building behind, but we would climb over the stone wall that marked the back of our property, cut through the apartment building's lot to get to the park. It had everything -- a big pond, fed by a stream, swampy areas (where you could find tadpoles when I was little -- brush gradually filled that spot in over the years) woods, fields, blueberries on the hill overlooking the pond, mulberry trees, hickory trees.

Over the course of 30 years visiting the park I'd seen deer, rabbits, kingfishers, pheasants, frogs, turtles (once I watched a snapping turtle eating a dead fish underwater). Once after a fresh snowfall I saw where a crow had taken flight -- crow footprints leading up to a perfect, crisp impression of crow wingtips, feathers spread, in the snow. Once after a particularly heavy snowfall (maybe 2 feet) in the clear day that followed I saw 10 or 12 bluebirds -- the first I'd ever seen. They looked like bits of sky flying from branch to branch.

And I pretty much always went exploring on my own. Kids aren't allowed to be on their own these days, and they don't generally have access to the kinds of places I used to hang out, and they'd rather be on the computer. The world changed while we weren't looking, and no one asked if we wanted it this way.

So my kids are having a very different childhood than I had. But I had a different childhood than my parents -- my mom grew up on a farm. I missed out on a lot by not having a chance to do that. And I was so jealous of my uncle who was in 4H and had his own flock of sheep to take care of.

But our kids are overscheduled to a ridiculous degree in structured activities that basically demand they perform to a certain standard -- and they don't get a chance to just hang out with no agendas to fulfill. And I don't know how to fix it. I work full time. I come home and work some more. When I was a kid, the number one time to get sent out to play was when the kitchen floor was being washed -- but I don't send my kids out while I do housework.

Louv presents ideas for contering this deficit. They involve restructuring school curriculae, redesigning suburbia, basically reimagining society. I don't know if we have the will to do that. Don't know that anyone cares that much. When we buy a house, though, I'm holding out for one that backs up to woods or fields.