Book Review: The Nexus Trilogy

A friend once declared that my husband, Bryan, is from the future. And it’s true, he is.

He sees the beginning of things and understands the likelihood of where it’ll end up — like that season in 2005 when he’d go to geek gatherings in Seattle with a video camera and say, “Have you heard of this thing called YouTube? I think it might be important.” (A chain of events that eventually lead him to help the first ever Ignite Seattle turn into a worldwide movement).

I got the same vibe from author Ramez Naam when I read his three-book series, Nexus, Crux, and Apex, set in the year 2040.

Ramez Naam at Ignite Seattle, 2008; Photo by Randy Stewart.
Ramez Naam at Ignite Seattle, 2008; Photo by Randy Stewart.

The Scoop

The story is built around nanotechnology and the ability to connect our brains with computers. Then imagine the ability to build software on top of that technology — an app store for your brain, if you will.

Need to calm your anxiety? No problem. There’s an app for that.

Lost an arm? No problem. We’ll connect your prosthetic arm to nodes in your brain so you can make it move just by thinking about it.

As you might suspect, there is conflict over whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, communicating telepathically with my mom, who’s had a stroke and is no longer verbal, sounds fantastic.

On the other hand, my brain could be hacked and used to control my body to do something terrible.

In Context

I read the first two books many months ago, but I was reading Apex recently as people boycotted Target for their transgender-friendly bathrooms, and Donald Trump’s destructive rhetoric rose to power, and Hillary Clinton was absolved by the FBI of her email scandal, and the Orlando night club was shot up, and Alton Sterling was killed, and Philando Castile was killed, and eleven Dallas police officers were shot, leaving five dead.

These were interesting times to be reading a global, political, science fiction thriller, as fiction and real life seemed to be running in parallel.

In real life, I was consumed by articles and videos related to human rights issues on race, sexual orientation, and gender identification. In fiction, transhumans — those with nanotechnologies in their brains — faced discrimination, oppression, and other atrocities.

In real life, I watched the Facebook Live broadcast of Philando Castile’s girlfriend following his death — the first time I’m aware of that this live feature was used to broadcast an incident like this. In fiction, I read of people broadcasting protests worldwide, in real time, using connected networks from their minds.

I also read about political scandal, inciting rhetoric, and roadblocked policy changes, all while tracking with similar issues in real life.

On a day when I was too distracted by the Facebook Snowball Effect to get much work done, I was reminded of this passage from Apex:

Carolyn Pryce watched the screens, transfixed. It was blowing up. Everywhere. Maybe Shanghai had started it. Maybe something else. But now… Every shooting, every explosion, every brutality someone on Nexus captured went viral. They ricocheted around the globe. They fed more violence, enraging protesters, driving police to more extreme measures. It was a feedback loop. White noise. The whole thing going to a screeching caterwaul that was going to break the windows of civilization.

As my Facebook feed exploded with articles and conversations about the chaotic world around me, I realized the character of Carolyn Pryce was witnessing the futuristic Nexus Snowball Effect.

My Takeaway

As I mentioned earlier, the series takes place in the year 2040, when my kids will be in their 30’s, and I’ll be in my 60’s. The nearness of that time frame is one thing that made the books so exciting for me. I can imagine using nanotechnology in my lifetime. I can imagine my son, Thomas, who’s firmly planted in the YouTube and virtual reality generation, grasping the benefits of it while also being cautious of its achilles heel.

But in Naam’s future, some things never change. Politics is still politics. Corruption in leadership is still a thing. People who are different are still marginalized. Policy still doesn’t change hearts. In other words, we’re all still very human.

But that shouldn’t leave us hopeless.

In Micah 6:6-7, the narrator asks (my paraphrase), What can be done to please the Lord? What can be done to bring about change? The prophet Micah reminds his listeners that we already have the answer. In verse 8 he says quite poetically:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

That’s how we maintain our humanity in a changing world.

My takeaway from this trilogy is that technological advancement is inevitable, and I’d rather be on the side of understanding it than fearing it. But I will always be an advocate for humanity.

Books: Blackbird

This weekend I finished reading a memoir called Blackbird, by Jennifer Lauck. It was an engaging page turner that I couldn’t put down, but I had mixed feelings about the story.

What I liked about it was the voice. She chose to write it in first person from the perspective of herself as a child. I found this haunting and unsettling, because just as she didn’t understand what was happening around her, neither do you. She never stepped outside of the child’s voice to interpret the scene or explain what she learned years later. She simply left a million little cliff hangers, unanswered questions, and mysteries unexplored.

It was maddening and brilliant.

As a parent, it reminded me that children don’t have a mental database of reference experiences to draw from like an adult. They watch and listen, but without explanation a child is left with nothing to help them interpret what they’re experiencing. Lauck captures this childlike perspective beautifully with vivid descriptions of body language, facial expressions, and physical sensations.

In reading her story, I became sensitive to how often I respond to my son’s questions in an exasperated tone because OF COURSE the answer should be obvious. But to a seven year old, hardly anything is obvious.

The downside to writing in this childlike perspective is there is no accountability. While it served as a beautiful and chilling way to tell the story, we’re left with no resolution re Lauck’s personal journey. We’re expected to believe everyone around Lauck is filled with wickedness and maliciousness except for her.

While this is a common and expected perspective of most children, I would expect an adult to move beyond this emotion and begin to explore how she might be blind to her own blindness, how things may not have unfolded how she remembered, how the people in her life may be more than one dimensional Disney step-mothers. Lauck gives no indication that she’s matured beyond her childhood anger and feelings of victimhood.

And to my point, I did a little googling after finishing the book and learned that Lauck’s step brother is raising a stink about certain accuracies in her story. He’s gone so far as to write emails to every reviewer, and is pressing the publisher to change the genre of the book from memoir to historical fiction.

On the one hand, I believe she wrote an account of what she remembers seeing and feeling as a child. Though it may not be factually accurate, it’s what she remembers, which is kinda the point of a memoir. But on the other hand, Lauck offers no nuance, no third dimension to her characters, no disclaimer to the memory-based nature of her account. Almost every memoir I’ve read begins with a disclaimer, but not Blackbird.

I don’t doubt that terrible things happened to Lauck, that she was neglected, mistreated, and abandoned. But her story is very one dimensional and filled with unforgiving blame. Though beautifully told, we don’t learn whether she overcame her anger, if she was able to forgive, or in other ways recover from the tragic experiences.

This leaves me wondering if she’s still holding on to that childhood pain.

[UPDATE]: After sitting on this overnight, I feel like I should mention I didn’t experience a tragic childhood. I may have suffered ongoing consequences due to choices the adults made around me, but I would in no way classify those consequences as tragic. I’m not sure this disqualifies my opinion above, but some might argue that I just have no idea. Which is fine.

I don’t know why this matters to me so much. Maybe it’s because I personally know children who suffered, and I personally know adults who suffered as children. When I read this book I saw those friends in my mind’s eye, and maybe I’m trying to connect and compare Lauck’s experiences with what I know of theirs to make sense of how these tragedies play out and how I can be a good friend.

Anyway, if you read the book, I’m curious about what you think.

ZugHaus: Honorary 5th House at Hogwarts

The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory, and spend free time in your house common room.
– Professor McGonagall, Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone

I’m reading Harry Potter to the kids, and when we got to the Sorting Ceremony we had fun comparing what it was like living at the ZugHaus compared to one of the houses at Hogwarts.

We’re in our 9th year of living in community with others, and currently have a full house with five adults and two kids. I know that sounds crazy to some people. It sounds crazy to me, sometimes, especially when no other adult in this house replaces the toilet paper roll. But I’m very thankful for our big giant house and the crazy people who live in it.

Here’s why we think the ZugHaus would fit in at Hogwarts:

  • People who live at the ZugHaus become like family.
  • We host a weekly small group through our church community, which is kinda like a class.
  • Our bedrooms are all kinda small, like a dormitory.
  • We spend our free time in a big common room too!

What do you think? Should I get a wand?

Momageddon: Brought To You By the Number 17

I’m starting to like my daughter again. I know it’s not very parental to dislike your own children, nor is it probably very Christian-like, but there’s the truth of it.

Sometimes I don’t like my kid.

Sorry for that pause. Had to deal with my daughter.

What was I saying?

Oh right. I like my kid again.

Oops. Be right back.

Last week I–


Hang on.


So, I’d like to point out how calm I am, despite all these interruptions. Did you notice that? Did you notice how my blood pressure didn’t spike? How I didn’t type in all caps or go out for a smoke?

Thank you, Lou Priolo.

The Heart of Anger was an amazing read for me. And Priolo’s not kidding when he says you should read the book twice – once for yourself and once for your kid. This is not just a book about dealing with an angry kid, it’s also a book about taking responsibility for your angry kid.

I realized quickly that I’ve developed some bad parenting habits that needed to change – habits that were provoking her to anger.

— Issue #1 —

I tend to “answer a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:4). Though, I kinda knew this already. We all know this about me. When my kid sasses me, I tend to respond more like a 14 year old than a grownup, and we end up getting into a YES YOU DID/NO I DIDN’T/YES YOU DID situation.

Priolo describes in great detail how Jesus responds to all the fools in his life, and never once does he 1) justify himself to a fool, or 2) bark orders at a fool. What Jesus does do, is show a fool his own foolishness.

My child acts foolish often, and by responding “according to her folly,” I create a dysfunctional dynamic between us. Basically, I’ve trained her to only take me seriously when I’m yelling. But as soon as I quit answering “according to her folly,” I began to see immediate change in Ruthie.

In fact, the first time Bryan saw me in action he was all, “Whoa. When did you become the Bitch Whisperer?”

— Issue #2 —

I allow myself to get caught up into an emotional tangle of manipulation and guilt. Priolo starts off chapter nine by giving a test “to determine just how manipulative a child might be.”

A score of 90 or better means “you are probably quite adept at preventing manipulation by your child.” A score of 75-90 means you’re probably being manipulated “to a small degree.” A score below 75 means “it’s likely you’re being manipulated to a great extent.”

My total added up to 17.

Perhaps one might freak out by the number 17, but this was actually a great relief to me. In fact, I heaved great big ugly sobs of relief because I’M NOT FUCKING CRAZY.

Somehow the number 17 was like that lazer thing Luke Skywalker fired into the exhaust vent of the Death Star. With great precision, it found a very exacting path to my guilt and blew it to pieces.


A friend asked me if Bryan would have scored the manipulation test differently.

(Do you have a friend who pokes you like this? I have many. They are annoying.)

To be honest, yes. He would have scored it a little differently because he’s less likely to be manipulated. But not all the questions were subjective, so we would have agreed on many answers.

What I loved about the book is that it doesn’t allow me as a parent to walk away blaming my kid for being angry and manipulative. The responsibility is mine to improve my parenting skills, and the responsibility is mine to mentor Ruthie through her anger responses.

2012 Reading List

I thought I’d get organized about the books I want to read this year so I created a 2012 Reading List on my Shelfari page.

I’ve come up with 8 and would like 4 more. Any suggestions?

I’d like some more fiction in the mix, but if you have a good non-fiction I’m missing out on, let me know!

Update: Here’s what I read in 2011!

Update: As I add books to this year’s reading list, the shelf above will be updated.

Friday Link Love: The Danger of Moralistic Parenting

The Danger of Moralistic Parenting | The Resurgence.
I loved everything about this post, then realized at the very end that it’s an excerpt from a book I just ordered on the Kindle. WIN!

An excerpt from the post:

Certainly the faith that has empowered the persecuted church for two millennia isn’t as thin and boring as “Say you’re sorry,” “Be nice,” and “Don’t be like them.” Why would anyone want to deny himself, lay down his life, or suffer for something as inane as that?

I really struggle in sorting out my role vs the Holy Spirit’s role when it comes to my children’s conscience. My parenting style is built on a solid foundation of being a control freak, so I end up requiring some sort of proof that the kids are really truly sorry for what they’ve done.

This has turned them into great actors – Ruthie especially. She gets that striking George Clooney gaze from the top of her eyes thing down really well. And sadly, this often satisfies me. I know it’s highly possible she’s just telling me what I want to hear, but in my lazy moments I’m okay with that.

(If I haven’t mentioned this before, parenting is hard. It requires effort. I don’t always feel like doing it).

It’s only recently that I’ve admitted to myself I’m not actually the Holy Spirit.

I wrote that last sentence before I found this post from THREE YEARS ago, so I guess this is something I’m fairly slow at learning (ya think?!). Here’s an excerpt:

My first instinct when Ruthie gets this stubborn is to make her life as miserable as possible until she cries UNCLE and repents. In my imagination we play a game of chicken to see who lasts longer – me or her. Forcing behavior seems to be what I am most comfortable with, though I know intellectually it’s the worst way to parent.

I had a revelation awhile ago. I realized that Ruthie is a person, not merely an object I own or control. She is a person with a conscience who can feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Or not. I realized there are more consequences to our actions than just the circumstantial ones, that she is growing up not only in body, but also in faith. I realized that I won’t always be able to make her feel sorry, that sometimes she will rebel against repentance and have a hard heart, and that there’s not really anything I can do about it in the moment.

I’m ready to be over the whole control freak thing. It’s what makes me take things so personally and respond with unholy anger. I’d much rather just parent obediently and trust Jesus with the outcome.

I can’t wait to read the whole book!

Books: Mama Rock’s Rules (a repost)

With everything going on lately, I’m reminded of a book I read a few years ago by Chris Rock’s mom. I don’t think I appreciated it is as much when I first read it, as my kids weren’t in school yet and we lived a pretty isolated, preschool-mom life.

Now that my kids are in school and I find myself entrenched in my local community, I think I would enjoy another reading. The following is a review I wrote in 2008. The original is here.

mama rock's rules.JPGHarper Collins Publishing recently sent me the book, Mama Rock’s Rules: Ten Lessons for Raising a Household of Successful Children, by Rose Rock – mother to comedian Chris Rock. It’s a great, quick, entertaining read filled with simple wisdom, such as the benefits of eating dinner together as a family (“Feed Them and They Will Tell You Everything”).

Rose raised one step-son, six birth children, two “children of her heart,” and one best friend to son, Chris. In addition, Rose counts more than seventeen foster children that came through their house starting in 1969. Her house was the one on the block all the kids hung out at, but it wasn’t because she was easily duped. Her kids were the kids who had curfews. Her kids were the kids who got in trouble for not being where they said they would be. Her kids were the kids who weren’t allowed to sass or swear or otherwise disrespect their parents.

Regarding curfews, she tells a story of Chris complaining about the family rules. “Why can’t I stay out? Other kids are still out there,” he said. “The day will come,” Rose said to him, “when you are going to leave Decatur Street and go out on your own. You’ll come back sometime and those same kids who sit on the stoop will still be here, sitting on the stoop, I promise you that.”

Years later when Chris drove through the old neighborhood, “he actually saw two of those neighborhood guys still sitting on the same stoops, even at that late hour.” Chris went to his apartment, called his Mama, and told her she was right.

She seems like a no-nonsense mom, but one who is filled with enough kindness and love to share with anyone who comes into her home. Her tough love won the respect and admiration of many children, including her own. It was a great book, and I definitely recommend you pick it up.

(For ratings and other reviews on books I’ve read, visit my Shelfari page and my books category.)

She Got Up Off the Couch

she got upOccasionally I work long hours after the kids go to bed, and Monday was one of those nights. I was a little manic, and despite being tired I couldn’t shut my brain off. As I tried to tear myself away from the laptop and just Leave It All Undone, I remembered how I gazed longingly at the Shelfari line-up in my blog’s side bar recently.

Those were some mighty fine books I used to read, I thought. I kinda miss those days.

So I pulled this off the bookcase and read until I dozed off and the book crash-landed on my face.

It’s a follow-up memoir to one I read last year titled, A Girl Named Zippy, and this one promises to be just as good.

Then Tuesday, as I sat in my car waiting for Ruthie’s bus and obsessively checking my work email (I’m telling you, I tend toward work-a-holism), I realized I’d be better off leaving the iPhone at home and reading a book while I wait instead.

I seem to be making a transition re my devices. My computer and iPhone are no longer the avenues by which I connect with the outside world for community and entertainment, but are now tools used for work, and work is definitely something I need to cut off with some pretty clear boundaries.

for the book pile

As I think about a book I will one day write, I consider what form I want it to take, what shape. How specific do I want the theme to be? Is there an event or experience I can use as the backdrop for a story?

For instance, I wrote several essays about various home renovations we did several years ago that coincided with my step-father’s cancer, and I have a friend who is working on a series of personal essays that weave her life’s story through her experiences exploring the craggy shores of Puget Sound.

So I found this interview interesting, today, as I drove around running errands with Thomas. The author is Rachel Simon, and her book is “Building A Home with My Husband: A Journey through the Renovation of Love.” Here is the Publisher’s Weekly Review from Amazon:

In her second memoir (after Riding the Bus with My Sister), Simon writes about her relationship with her husband, Hal. The two married after 19 years together (including a breakup and reunion) and moved into Hal’s historic row house in Wilmington, Del. When the house is burglarized, the couple consider moving, but decide to renovate instead, both to save money and give Hal, an architect, the opportunity to design their abode. The decision, Simon writes, will blow open the tight seal around everything I think I know about myself, about family, about the misunderstandings and resilience of love. It makes for an intriguing narrative, punctuated by musings on everything from quitting to the definition of design to her life as a writer and public speaker. In this inspirational book, readers who have completed or are contemplating remodeling will empathize with Simon’s frustration-induced fits of pique or the couple’s rush of gratitude for a lovely home. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

I look forward to reading her book, both for the story she has to tell and to see how she weaves her life’s story throughout the Everyday.

Books: What Remains

what remains.JPGCarole is from a working class family outside of Manhattan. Through hard work and tenacity she worked her way up the ladder at ABC from the age of nineteen when she was hired to duplicate video tapes or something like that. She eventually got into producing, and many of her documentaries won awards.

It was while working at ABC that she met her husband, Anthony Radziwill, who is John Kennedy’s cousin on his mother’s side. When John began dating Carolyn Bessett, she and Carol became friends. Best friends, eventually. Carolyn was her closest confidante as she waded through years of cancer treatments and operations, often accompanying them on their hospital trips to lend support and good humor.

What Remains is not marketed as a Kennedy story, and I never got the sense she was name dropping or taking advantage of the friendship to promote her book – though I did notice she begins the book by describing the events of the Kennedy airplane crash before flashing back to her childhood memories. But honestly, it comes off more as a great hook than a cheap ploy. Anyway, we get no Kennedy fluff – just the parts of them that describe her closeness with Carolyn and John’s closeness with Anthony – they were best friends, and in the telling she respects their privacy.

I first heard about the book several years ago while on the treadmill at the gym – there was an excerpt of it in Oprah’s magazine that absolutely captivated me. It was this passage that grabbed me, and the reason I eventually came to read the whole thing:

There is an imperceptible shift of a life in the moment of time between the event and the knowing. After the thing has happened, but before someone has said it.

It’s the moment before you pick up the phone and something is announced. They’re not here yet and I was just wondering, are they there? With you? When the thing is still yours to lose. It’s not real until you say it out loud. This is what it feels like, the click between one life and another. This is the blink of time between the way things are, and then never the same again. Like changing the channel on a television. It’s this way – click – and now it’s this. This, and then this. Fate. Fortune.

She was reading Anna Karenina when the plane went down. She was reading quietly and sipping wine. Occasionally she would pause from her reading and gaze out the window at the water, not knowing her friend’s life was ending as she crashed into that same body of water.

You never know when something is going to happen to change your life, You expect it to arrive with fanfare, like a wedding or a birth, but instead it comes in the most ordinary of circumstances.

Carole’s husband, Anthony Radziwill, fought against cancer for five years – almost the length of their entire relationship. She describes how it swallowed them up, how it consumed their lives even though Anthony seemed in denial for most of the ordeal, how she hated it and at times wanted out.

For the last year, in particular, Carole prepared herself for his death. Even wished for it, at times, when he came close but pulled through. Not because she was cruel, but because she was overwhelmed, and losing hope, and not sure she could continue keeping up the pace.

One summer in 1999, as Anthony’s strength was leaving him and his ribs poked through his skin – the summer John Kennedy began writing the eulogy for his cousin’s funeral – death came suddenly and out of nowhere. A plane crashed into the ocean – John and Carolyn Kennedy’s plane.

I tried to imagine it: Bryan sick, dying, years of treatments, hope, and hope lost. Surrounded by friends who hold me up, who listen, who make us laugh, who rescue us from thinking about dying. Then, the friends are suddenly gone. All the support, the shoulders for crying, the hands for wiping tears: gone. I can’t imagine the isolation she felt after that.

Her husband, Anthony, died three weeks later.

For all the influence and resources the Family had for cutting edge treatments, for hundreds of flights to a D.C. hospital, for countless vacations to islands I’ve never heard of where they pretended they didn’t have cancer – for all their privilege and power – they still had to experience what every person, what every family experiences, when someone is terminally ill. Each of them still fell into a particular role, whether deny-er, fixer, soother, problem solver, rescuer.

In the end, no amount of money or family influence could save Anthony from cancer or John from crashing.

What Remains is well-written and descriptive of grief both planned for and taken by surprise. I highly recommend it.

In search of memoirs

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog

These are some memoirs (and a couple fiction selections) I’ve read in the last few years – if you hover over the book my review or thoughts will pop up (if I’ve written any). I like to read other people’s stories, and am always curious about how or why they choose a certain style, how they recall memories from the past, and how they perceive events in comparison to how they really happened.

Many of these books helped shape my own vision for memoir writing.

If you’ve read a great memoir recently, please leave a comment and tell me why you liked it.

Have you read a great novel that reads like a memoir (see above notes on Secret Life of Bees & Davita’s Harp)? I’d like to hear about it!

books: poisonwood bible

Last month I read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. I’d heard great things about her and about the book, and was intrigued by its plot summary. It proved to measure up to all I’d heard about it.

There were a few exceptions to the praise, however. I found some who saw no value in it, and some who cried “foul!” at the cliche Southern missionary pastor who sought to bend all of Africa to his will.

But that Southern pastor is precisely who I identified with the most.

Shocking, I know.

He’s the one you want to hate – the one who drives his family and an entire African village into the ground, the one who offends a culture and puts his family in grave danger, the one who never relents even when the end is neigh.

But if you strip away the specific circumstances he created and put his family through, what you are left with is a man who was lost if not in control of his own destiny.

Nathan the preacher had a worship dysfunction.

And really, don’t we all?

Don’t we all have our little idols to comfort us? To give us courage? To get us through? Don’t we all mold Jesus – just a little bit? – into something we want him to be? To do for us? Don’t we all?

As the story unfolds – and I’ll warn you now of the spoilers lying ahead – the reader and Nathan’s family simultaneously discover their missionary trip to the Congo was not only ill advised, but forbidden. During a time of political unrest, most Americans and Europeans were fleeing the country. But Nathan, a Southern Baptist preacher with four daughters forged ahead with his plan to baptize the savages despite warnings against doing so by the missionary organization he claimed to represent.

Nathan continues to insist the villagers get baptized, despite the translator’s tip regarding crocodiles in the river, despite Nathan’s misuse of a local word which translates literally, “Jesus is the poisonwood” – a wood that, when burned, will kill you if the smoke is inhaled.

Then one day, after a long drought in the land, it rains. It rains on the same day one of his daughters is laid to rest. While the villagers mill about, saddened by the loss but joyful in the rain, Nathan touches each child on the head, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The picture of this scene is forever engraved on my mind. I will never forget the vision I have of the maniacal man in denial of his own defeat, who mind-tricks himself into believing he’d fulfilled his destiny while the remains of his family marches off into the jungle, deserting him.

Throughout the story I tracked with Nathan. I understood him – his need to push through, to ignore, to stay on course because dammit that’s the course he’d set.

I tracked with him through the lies, the denial, the rage, and through the pressing down of those who loved him most so he could rise to the top.

I am Nathan.

I watched in horror as the consequences of his actions played out, imaging my own children hating me, my own husband deserting me, my own reality deceiving me.

The Poisonwood Bible woke me up. It got my attention. Like the ghost of Christmas future it revealed a logical outcome of my tight-fisted will.

It was a beautiful book. But even more, a beautiful revelation.

“I wanted to write a story about a monster like me.”

Cyndere's MidnightTonight we were at Third Place Books attending the release party for our friend, Jeffrey Overstreet’s second fantasy fiction novel, Cyndere’s Midnight.

Before he read an excerpt, he talked of beasts, and the appetite that drives them, and the things that transform them. “When we don’t understand the monster in ourselves,” he said, “we don’t understand the monsters around us. I wanted to write a story about a monster like me.”

It was a year ago this very week we attended the release party for his first novel. And in that time, I closely followed the progress of Cyndere’s Midnight through twitter and gtalk – reading of late night editing sessions, approaching deadlines, and final submissions. It was like being a fly on the wall like we so often wish for, observing the process unnoticed.

Cyndere's Midnight _ inscriptionIt’s funny, because I’ve known Jeffrey for years, yet since the invention of twitter we’ve had many more “water cooler” conversations than ever before.

Tonight at the reading and book signing, even as we chatted about Over the Rhine and the virtues of a Mac over a PC, he signed the following inscription in our book: “For the Zugs, with great affection for your daily companionship (online).”

It is an awesome thing to share in the success of our friends. As we left the building we sighed with contentment, and I felt a warm pride as if I had something to do with Jeffrey’s career.

We also remembered our other author friends, how we can count on one hand the number of published authors we’ve had the privilege of knowing before they were known. Regular people pursuing their dream, using their gifts, seeing a vision to it’s completion.

This? This was an encouraging night for a writer like me.

Book Review: Half-Assed, a weight-loss memoir

half-assed.JPGI met Jennette Fulda, author of Half-Assed, at the BlogHer conference in San Francisco. I attended a session titled Blog to Book, and she was one of the panelists, having converted her weight loss blog, Half of Me, into this memoir. She was lovely, and I was happy to buy a copy of her book, ask her a few questions, and have her sign it for me.

She mentioned during the panel discussion that she read back through her archives three or more times in the process of putting together the book. This was good for me to hear – daunting, but realistic. I can do this, I can read back through my archives and begin piecing together a train of thought. One of my writing friends also suggested printing out pages of my essays and laying them out on the floor, visually organizing them into the structure of a book. This I can do, and seems to fit right into my visual/spacial need for organizing.

I think these two pieces of information put together will surely lead to a national best seller by me, don’t you think?

Anyway, back to the book. This is not a “how to lose weight” book. It’s not really even a “how Jennette lost weight” book. She purposely doesn’t mention which diet plan she used, how many calories she ate, or how many miles she ran – she didn’t want it to be about a magic formula. I mean, obviously she talks about her weight, and how she lost it, but it’s really more about the mental game and the discipline of losing the weight (which took two years, by the way).

She writes about how she felt being fat, both mentally and physically, and how she felt as she got thinner. She writes about the struggle to remain on track, while at the same time allowing for flexibility, like eating cake at a wedding. She writes about how she changed more than just the numbers on the scale, how she became a different person altogether – a person she admired and respected.

She writes about plateaus and set-backs from a review mirror perspective, almost blowing them off as incidental. I appreciated this. It puts into perspective the blip on a two year process. I’m sure at the time she was discouraged, but looking at it in retrospect reminds me that it’s important to stay on goal, because in the end you get through it if you just don’t quit.

She writes about making the choice between weight-loss surgery versus diet change and exercise. She was not opposed to the former, but felt in good conscience she needed to exhaust all her effort before going that route. She doesn’t judge people who do have surgery, by the way. In fact, she poo-poos on people who tell her she lost the weight the “real” way, and maintains its just a matter of choice based on what you know about yourself.

I think Jennette is a very brave person. After a lifetime of eating fast food she learned how to cook, and once she got the hang of that she started experimenting and trying new things. After a lifetime of taking shortcuts, she began parking at the back of the lot, and even rented an apartment on an upper floor just so she could incorporate more exercise into her life. Jennette took on a new lifestyle, and stuck to it. It meant changing all her habits, her mindset, her comforts.

She is like the alcoholic who finally hits rock bottom, gets sober, and never looks back.

I’m proud to have met her, and proud to recommend this book. Even if you don’t need to lose weight, this book is a must read for anyone who loves a good story about persevering and overcoming ourselves.

p.s. here’s a sneak peak at her weight loss photos.

(For ratings and other reviews on books I’ve read, visit my Shelfari page and my books category.)