Book Review: Here Comes Everybody

here comes everybody.jpgI took a break from fiction last month and read Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky. To explain my interest in this book, I should mention that Bryan once read me an entire keynote speech given by Clay Shirky, from his iPhone, while sitting on a bench as the kids played at the park.

Such is geek love.

The book was interesting, though not as riveting to me as Freakonomics was. I think most people who are interested in reading it will not find anything Earth shattering about it, but I did enjoy the case studies.

“The power of organizing without organizations.” That’s what the internet and all its social media provides the common man. Professionals and institutions and governments are scratching their heads at our ability to create, publish, gather, and move mountains.

We are polite, and exercise rules of etiquette as we collaborate. But if you steal our cell phone, or trap us on an airplane for several hours, or overthrow our government, our collaborations will spread the word faster than a wildfire. And before you can hit ctrl+alt+delete, you’ll have a flash mob on your hands, or a hundred bloggers calling you out, or a customer manifesto enacted into law.

That’s right: if you choose to step on the toes of social media’s children, you will reap the consequences of their collective roar.

Out of all the things I found interesting about the book, I will mention two that hit on Real Life discussions I’ve had. The first comes from the chapter titled, Solving Social Dilemmas. Shirky tells us the most popular group currently on is Stay At Home Moms (SAHM). I know. I KNOW. I’m tired of hearing about us, too. But hear me out.

Shirky points out the significance of SAHMs adapting to media and technology, and what that says about the tools we choose:

Some groups we expect to be technology-obsessed; maleness, singleness, and youth all correlate with technophilia, while femaleness, age and family life don’t. So when a group of mothers adopts a piece of technology, it indicates an expression of preference far more serious than seeing a thirteen-year-old boy go wild over an Xbox. The popularity of groups like Stay At Home Moms indicates that Meetup’s utility in helping people gather in the real world is valuable enough to get the attention of people who are too busy for most new tools.

In other words, do what Mom says.

I found this refreshingly intelligent in light of all the emotional battle cries I hear about the importance of SAHMs on the internet.

The second topic that struck me in light of Real Life discussions comes from the chapter titled, Fitting Our Tools to a Small World. “What a small world!” we say when we bump into a friend of a friend (FOAF). Shirky breaks down the social phenomenon of Six Degrees of Separation, and reminds us our large world is simply a series of smaller world connections. As our network grows it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain healthy relationships, so we must continue to break down our network into smaller groups, remaining connected to the larger network through one or two members of each group.

(are you following me?)

Shirky points out that a network of 5,000 people would require half a million connections – hardly the formula for healthy relationships. So what do you do? –

…dense and sparse connections – at different scales. You let the small groups connect tightly, and then you connect the groups. But you can’t really connect groups – you connect people within groups. Instead of one loose group of twenty-five, you have five tight groups of five. As long as a couple of people in each small group know a couple of people in other groups, you get the advantages of tight connection at the small scale and loose connection at the large scale. The network will be sparse but efficient and robust.

This pretty much sums up the organizational structure of my church, and also closed off any doubts I’ve had regarding said structure.

Our congregation has grown to epic proportions over the years, so our leadership relaunched us into a multi campus structure. I won’t get into all the details of how this works, but generally speaking we have one main campus (HUB) with one main preacher, and multiple campuses spread around the city, each with it’s own leadership (SPOKE).

I had my reservations about this structure for many reasons, the first being my perception of a Starbucks-like taking over of the world. My church on every corner and even in some grocery stores? I think not.

But this new perspective on breaking the “network” down into a smaller, more socially manageable size, makes sense. Our large church of 5,000 now meets in smaller “campus” groups of 100-300, which then have multiple in-home community groups of less than 15 people. All of these smaller groups stay intimate, but they are connected to the larger body. in this way we can teach and meet the needs of many, while encouraging growth and discipleship intimately.

There were many more interesting topics covered. I recommend reading Here Comes Everybody, particularly if you are new to the Interwebs or have any sort of reservations toward social media or enjoy historical case studies on the use of technology.

Book Reviews: Atonement and The Secret Life of Bees

atonement.JPGI finished two fiction books this month, which seems like a grand accomplishment considering all that divides my time. Atonement, by Ian McEwan, was chosen by a friend for our book club. It has three distinct sections, plus an epilogue, and most reviewers on Amazon had pretty strong feelings about which section they preferred.

Even though the story seemed pretty typical – would be lovers torn apart by circumstances out of their control – McEwan’s writing was smooth and poetic and beautiful enough to keep me attached to the story, particularly in the first section. His descriptions of movements, interactions, and setting were stunning. While on the airplane heading to our white water rafting trip, I read a certain passage that took place in the dark corners of a home library, and let’s just say I needed a cold glass of water to bring down the heat after that one.

I wasn’t a big fan of how the ending was written, but I understood the usefulness of it. I would have just preferred something more challenging for the writer. It seemed too easy. But then again, I’m a big critic of story endings because i struggle with them so much myself.

Atonement will make you ache for what can’t be taken back. It will make you angry for all the seemingly minute events in your life that you wish you could change, had you known what lied ahead. But that’s okay, go ahead and read it anyway. It will be a good lesson on the sovereignty of God.

secret life of bees.JPGI loved loved loved The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd. I’m discovering that I love first person stories written from the perspective of a child (like Davita’s Harp), and I love coming-of-age stories. Lily is fourteen, and she lives in the south during the late 1950’s (or maybe the early 60’s? There was talk of voting for President Johnson). She is motherless and lives with a father so unfatherly she calls him by his first name, and she worries she is responsible for her mother’s death. Circumstances prompt her to run away with her black servant, the woman hired to raise her after her mother died, and they find themselves in a little corner of heaven just a few hours away, at the home of three black, bee-keeping sisters.

Each chapter begins with an epigraph on the life or characteristics of bees that foreshadow the coming plot. I’m not sure which was more fascinating to me – the resemblance of bee communities to human society, or the ability of the author to weave a story in and through and around the secret life of bees. Those who keep bees (and you know who you are) and those who are writing memoirs with a nature theme (and you know who you are) will enjoy this book. The author creates a little hive, a put-together family with a queen, and we watch and wonder whether it will survive the heat, the cold, and the stress.

The Secret Life of Bees
is a definite Must Read for the summer.

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

Book Review: A Girl Named Zippy

zippy.JPGThe first time I ever met my blogging friend, Heidi, in person, she brought me this book. And now that I’ve gotten to know her a little better, I can see why she liked it so much. It’s clever, it’s dry, and it’s ironic. I couldn’t help but imagine Heidi’s face when I read lines like, “Decoupage hit Mooreland pretty hard.”

A Girl Named Zippy
, by Haven Kimmel, is a memoir of her childhood in Mooreland, IN during the 70’s, and as far as memoirs go, this one lacks the drama and tragedy and depressive nature of most books in the genre.

But I wouldn’t call it lighthearted or uplifting. There are undercurrents of dysfunction as you read between the lines: the poverty of the area, her father’s gambling habits, and the lack of attention paid to her that borders on neglect. Zippy – nicknamed so because once she started walking, she zipped around like crazy – was an “oops child” as I call it, or a caboose kiddo, as another friend calls it, which is to say she came unexpectedly, ten years after her sister. The family house was not prepared for her, nor did they make room for her, so she slept on a cot next to the wood burning stove (and to think I felt bad for sitting at a t.v. tray off the corner of the dining table at family holiday dinners).

As a writer, this aspect of the memoir is fascinating, and I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time thinking about it. I think her humor and wit are brilliant, and could be taken one of two ways. Either she’s the class clown type who avoids the confrontation of stress by telling a joke, or she is able to look back on her small town dysfunctional life in a glass half full sort of way. I’m leaning more toward the latter interpretation. She doesn’t avoid the dark upbringing, nor does she cheapen it with shallow humor. She alludes to it by telling the story through the eyes of a child who doesn’t fully comprehend the life she’s living.

Although she pokes fun at her friends, and her friends’ parents, and the old lady across the street, and everyone else she writes about, she does so with the honor and respect of someone who generally thinks fondly of those days. I never get the impression that someone is stupid, or simple, or anything cruel like that – only that she likely imagined, as she grew up, that her absurd life would make the most excellent t.v. sit com – a cross between The Wonder Years and Married With Children.

There are scenes so outrageously funny, I laughed out loud and woke up Bryan. Her brother finally gets fed up with her sister’s monopoly of the bathroom and unhinges the door from the frame, only to find her sitting on the edge of the bathtub, fully clothed and ready for school, busted in the act of passive aggression. Her sister convinces her she was adopted, and when she asks her mom about it, the woman doesn’t skip a beat and tells her she traded a handbag to the gypsies for her. When she asks her dad about the gypsies, he also doesn’t skip a beat and simply says, “you been talkin’ to your mother, then.” She has an entire chapter devoted to things her father won and lost while gambling. And then there’s the showdown between her father and the neighbor which involved a yard full of howling coon hounds.

It’s funny, and charming, and quick to read, yet poignant if you give yourself opportunity to let its reality soak in. I definitely recommend it for a good laugh while at the beach this summer.

Book Review: Mama Rock’s Rules

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.)

Books: Where do babies come from?

Where do babies come from?I’m sure there are many books on the market today for explaining this question to a preschooler, but I stumbled across an old one at my local library: Where Do Babies Come From? – written by Margaret Sheffield & illustrated by Sheila Bewley. It is beautifully illustrated with artful paintings – not at all cutesy or cartoonish as some books do.

The book explains the different “parts” that make up a boy and a girl in a straight forward yet discreet way, and doesn’t bog you down with too many technical terms or explanations. It uses language appropriate and easy to understand for a young child. For instance, the man’s testicles contain a “special liquid” that holds sperm. A woman’s body contains eggs that are located “near the womb.”

IMG_9348.JPGIn addition to the technicalities, the book is also a good story. It feels light, and airy, and magical. Each page contains only one short paragraph – just right for holding a small child’s attention. From the point in the story when “the man [is] lying so close to the woman that his penis can fit into her vagina,” through the baby’s growth in the womb, to a loving portrait of a baby coming out of the woman’s vagina, the author is telling a story as if she is the mother and you are the curious child. It lays the ground work for you as the parent to fill in any gaps as you see necessary. And the pictures are beautiful, and provoke questions and intrigue.

IMG_9349.JPGMy daughter was in awe as I read it to her, and when I was finished she looked through the book again, explaining back to me what was happening in all the pictures. Then? She slept with it under her pillow – the highest honor bestowed on any object.

One thing that cracked me up was when I read, “It’s impossible to tell whether a baby is a boy or a girl while it is still in the womb.” What?! That made me check the publication date: 1973! But though it’s an older book, it’s approach remains strong and true. Sheffield writes a book that is as innocent as its intended audience.

Sadly, it’s out of print. But I highly recommend tracking it down at a library or a used book store. Amazon had several used copies listed, and so did Powell’s.

As a naive first time parent, I honestly didn’t think I needed to explain these things at such an early age. Then I read this post on Christa’s blog a year ago about a lecture she attended on the importance of teaching preschoolers the basics of sexuality, and it really made sense to me. Christa writes:

The first thing that kind of “got” me was when she said that our kids should know the basics of how babies are made by age 5…that stunned me until she reminded us that by that age, they are entering school with older kids who are going to tell them all sorts of things about sex, right and wrong and she reminded us that at that age, its all about the science there is no emotion behind it for them yet…I was quickly reminded of the 7 or 8 year old boy from church that told me how babies were made when I was about 6, and boy was he wrong. I really want my kids to know the “real” scoop, from Mark and I, not some kid on the playground.

not the stork.JPGAnother book we checked out from the library is, It’s Not the Stork! by Robie H. Harris. In contrast to the other, this book was published only a couple years ago, and is illustrated like a cartoon. But it contains more information than just the story of one man and one woman making a baby. This book contains other important information such as “good touch vs bad touch,” which teaches kids what to do and say if someone touches them in their private parts. It also discusses how babies are born by C-Section, and how families are made through adoption.

The only thing about It’s Not the Stork! I don’t like is it’s length and the amount of detail it includes. Okay, technically that’s two things I don’t like. For instance, I really don’t think a 5 year old needs to know what her clitoris is. I’m not saying I live with my head in the sand, but I’m much more in favor of handing out information on a need to know basis, if you know what I mean.

It’s a thorough book containing charts of labeled body parts, but there’s so much information to digest I’m not sure a 3-5 year old is going to sit still for the entire thing. This one would be much better read in various sittings, which is easy enough to do since it’s divided into many “chapters.”

When I searched my library there were dozens of books on this subject, and I’m sure if I search Amazon there would be hundreds. What I found interesting is the wide variety of information and approach. Some books were very specific about every little detail, others were more vague. Some had entire pages filled with text that I was sure I wouldn’t have the attention span to read, much less a preschooler.

I discovered the important thing is to prepare yourself by reading the books ahead of time, pick one or two that fit the personality and learning style of your child, and that contain the information you – as the parent – find important. To be honest, reading the book was mostly my way of getting over the hump. I’m sure we’ll be talking about how babies are made all the time, now, at the ZugHaus.

What about you? What children’s books about making babies, building families, and the differences between girls and boys have you found? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, or write your own blog post and link to it from here.

Book Review: The Kitchen God’s Wife

kitchen_god.JPGI just finished The Kitchen God’s Wife, by Amy Tan, for my book club. This was a great read, and rich with Chinese culture and history. The setting for most of the book is in China during the late 30’s and 40’s, as current-day Winnie tells her daughter about her life before coming to America.

It’s during this time the Chinese were defending themselves against invasion by Japan. If you are a fan of Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun as I am, the context will be familiar, as it takes place during the same time frame. I recognized many of the names, cities, and battles mentioned in that movie.

Two things struck me as I read this book, and they are related. In fact, it’s difficult to decide which affected the other – the age-old chicken/egg dilemma.

But I’ll start with the character of Winnie. She has strength of character that wasn’t necessarily modeled for her. She has a strong sense of right and wrong, despite the fact she is surrounded by relatives who cheat and connive and manipulate their way into favorable situations. She sees these people and their actions for what they are, and chooses to not be like them.

And here lies the other amazing thing, my second observation. Despite her strength of character and sense of right and wrong, she still submits to the system. Women in China during this time (and perhaps even now?) had no rights apart from either their parents or their husband, and marriages were arranged for them. Because her extended family wanted to be rid of her, they married her into a bad family.

She suffered greatly in this marriage, the details of which are the main plot of the book. Yet she remains strong and clear-headed. At times she rebels against her husband, but even that is done respectfully. I get the sense there were ways she could have left her husband, but she would have been left poor, a beggar, and with nothing. For years she sought a way to leave her marriage legally, and with her dignity intact.

With the closing of every tragic story I expected her tale to wrap up, for the story to return again to modern day San Francisco where it started. But her suffering continues, one tragedy after another. And though this is fiction, you get a sense that a life like hers was not uncommon in China – was, in fact, normal.

I’m not dismissing the poor treatment of women in China lightly, or advocating for their backward customs. Rather, I’m drawing from the story an important lesson for my own life. How often to I cry out for my rights! My right to be heard, my right to be understood, my right to be important, my right to hold a certain position or office or station! I fight my own battles to gain my own honor in the eyes of others. But to what gain!

My friend, Wendy, recently started a blog called Practical Theology for Women (to coincided with the release of her first book by the same name), and she posted this just yesterday:

I know deep down in my heart of hearts that my identity, even as a woman, is completely tied to who Jesus is and what He’s done for me. He is the vine and I am the branch. He is the head and I am part of His body. And apart from Him, I can do nothing (John 15). If I can’t look to Jesus to be completely equipped for my life’s work, I know I am sunk.

And in this post, she quotes an excerpt from this book:

If we believe that somehow it is up to us to take control of our lives and the lives of those we love, fear is inevitable, because we simply aren’t in control of anything. Many of us are quick to dismiss a link between our stress and our view of God. “I don’t hold God in low regard,” we object. “I live a Christian life and attend worship each Sunday, and I spend lots of time with other believers.” But if we suffer from chronic anxiety and fear, we are kidding ourselves. Our view of God isn’t as majestic as we think. A right view of God is the only thing that will dispel our illusion that we have to
control our lives and that everything depends on us.

In connecting all these dots, I was really struck with how little I trust Jesus to guard my reputation, to guard my heart, and to take care of me. I am a slave to my own worries, to my own attempts at protecting myself. Rather than trust in Jesus and be content with how he sees me, how he loves me, what he thinks of me, how he gently calls me to change, I puff up my chest and wag my finger around, defending who I am and what I do to others.

Romans 6:20-21 says, When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! Death! How foolish I am to work so hard at protecting myself, when I will only work myself to the bone.

Verse 22 says, But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. How much more peaceful it is to trust in Jesus alone, and not worry about what I feel like I’m lacking in this world.

In The Kitchen God’s Wife, Winnie has one weak moment in which she places her need to protect her reputation above all else, and the consequences of this decision are troubling. Yes, many things she suffered were troubling, but for this one thing she feels regret. She knows she could have done a wiser, more honorable thing.

So there you have it. I don’t know if this book will have as profound an inspiration on you as it had on me, but it’s worth reading, nonetheless!

Book Review: Jesus Land

jesus landThis was a compelling read, but not at all delightful. It is sad, and tragic, and doesn’t really even have a hopeful ending. Yet for some reason, I still highly recommend it. Maybe because it’s not necessarily depressing, and there is humor to be found in it.

The Scheeres family adopted an African American boy, David, at the age of three. In the 70’s. While living in rural Indiana. As far as multi-racial adoptions go, this is probably as bad as it can get. Even his own adoptive parents despised his blackness, and did little to defend or protect him from Middle America (turn the other cheek!). How this boy got placed in this family I will never know. As far as I’m concerned, it should never have happened. And not because of the racial differences, but because they obviously didn’t want him.

He and Julia are the same age – merely four months apart. A few times in the book she refers to herself and David as twins. They are close, made closer by huddling together against a racist culture and a dysfunctional family. Because on top of everything else? Julia and David’s parents are Christians of the rediculous* kind – legalistic and… ridiculous. I don’t know better how to explain it. I’ve known this kind of ridiculousness, personally, and barely survived it with my faith intact (it should be noted my family was not the source of ridiculousness. I attended a ridiculous church for several years in my 20’s).

While Davita’s Harp was a novel that read like a memoir, Jesus Land, by Julia Scheeres, is a memoir that reads like a novel. It’s filled with dialog, and I often wondered how she could remember so vividly word for word. I’ve heard it said that memoirs are often embellished for the sake of narrative effect, and I wonder if that is the case here? Hopefully not, especially to the extreme of these authors (thanks for the link, Julie!).

At any rate, her narrative is good and compelling, and she tells her story well. As a potential memoir-ist, I found this style of memoir (narrative) to be an interesting contrast to Anne Lamott’s style (essay). I see myself as more of an essayist, and after reading this narrative (with all my suspicions of reasonable memory), I’m inclined to stick with my choice.

*Spell checker indicated I spelled this word wrong, but instead of clicking on the correct spelling of the word, I accidentally clicked on “add to dictionary.’ So not only is the incorrect spelling now a part of my blogging vernacular, I STILL don’t know how to properly spell it.

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

Book Review: Davita’s Harp

davita's harp.JPGI finished Chaim Potok’s Davita’s Harp last weekend and loved it. I read it in less than a week, which is a big commitment to the 5% of free time I have left at the end of every day.

The entire book is from the perspective of Ilana Davita Chandal, who is around eight years old during The Depression when the story begins. Her father is Christian and her mother is Jewish, though neither practice their religions, and are actually very anti-religious. They find religion blinds people to the truth around them.

As the story unfolds, it’s fascinating to view world events and complex human relationships and emotions through the perspective of this girl. She is describing things as they are happening, but without the wisdom or experience to interpret them, which leaves the reader putting clues together as to what’s happening.

She tries to piece together her parents’ political views, their religious backgrounds, and their family history. At times her presence in the family takes a back seat to the ideologies of her parents, and always she feels different around other kids whose parents are more “normal.”

Davita is of strong character and asks tough questions (“But why aren’t girls aloud to pray the kaddish?”). I am drawn to stories of children with strong character, like the boy in Duma, and the girl in Pan’s Labyrinth. I did not have strength of character as a child. I did not ask tough questions. I did not cling to strong convictions.

I followed. I worried what people would think. I avoided confrontation.

My daughter has strength, and she asks really tough questions – the kind of questions that make me uncomfortable because I don’t always know the answers. It remains to be seen whether she will be a follower or a leader, but she is most definitely curious and exploring.

I love stories about children like my Ruthie, because it helps me to appreciate and cultivate her tenacity. In watching Duma I saw spunk in a different light. In watching Pan’s Labyrinth I saw bravery and sharp thinking in a different light. In reading Davita’s Harp, I saw questions in a different light.

Davita asks questions. She is curious about words and their meanings. She wants to know about things the grown-ups are talking about. She questions tradition, but not in a rebellious way. She truly wants to know why things are the way they are because she desires to participate.

As is usual for a Chaim Potok book, Davita’s Harp is rich with Jewish culture and tradition. I read The Chosen, In the Beginning, and My Name is Asher Lev in college, and this book did not disappoint my love for his writing and ability to see the world through the eyes of a child.

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

Book Review: The Wonder of Girls

wonder of girls.JPGAfter Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral bombed and I quit reading in the middle of it, I switched over to a non-fiction book I had on my shelf: The Wonder of Girls, by Michael Gurien. This was a fascinating and informative book about the brain function and hormonal make-up of girls.

Did you know that when children are 10-12 years old their brains go through another growth spurt that is comparable to the first year of life? Yeah, that’s why all pre-teens drive you nuts – their brains are overstimulated! And also? It is during this time their frontal lobe is developing, which is their moral center.

This means if you have a child who is under an incredible amount of ongoing stress like abuse, the trauma of these events can “rewire” their brains. This is the time a sexually abused boy, for instance, will most likely be “rewired” as a future pedophile, as an example.

Also, it’s not just fable that girls have a better memory than boys:

The hippocampus is one of many areas of the brain that develops differently in girls and boys. It lies on the ridge along the lower section of each lateral ventricle of the brain. One of its biggest jobs is memory storage. This hippocampus is larger in a girl than in a boy, and just as important, the number and speed of neuron transmissions in it is higher in females….A seven- or eight-year-old girl will tend to be better than the average boy at complex memory functions. For instance, if you tell an eight-year-old boy to do three things – clean up his room, take out the garbage, and wipe the table- and tell the same to an eight-year-old girl, you are more likely to see the girl complete the three tasks with less reminding.

Another aspect I appreciated about the book is its emphasis on the importance of raising children in a three family system. The first family being the mom and/or dad. The second family being the extended family. This includes not only extended family, but also mentors, counselors, and close family friends who are like aunties and uncles. This is especially important when living apart from extended family. The third family consists of institutions like church, day care, and other programs, provided the kids are bonding with people or aspects of the institution, not just attending.

In the process of reading this book I learned so much about myself, too. I don’t remember having discussions with my mother about my hormones or my cycle. I remember her showing me the mechanics of the tampon, but it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I finally realized I was having a nervous breakdown, like every 28 days or so, and that maybe I should look into this pattern. I hope to be able to guide Ruthie through these hormonal changes.

The Wonder of Girls includes a section on what a girl needs from a mother, what she needs from a father, and how to help girls in crisis. This discusses eating disorders, suicide, cutting, and other areas of concern.

I highly recommend this book to anyone raising girls. Gurien also wrote a book for boys, called The Wonder of Boys, which I can only assume is also full of rich information.

Many thanks to Mommy Needs a Cocktail for sending me this book ages ago!

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

Bloggy Giveaway: win a free, SIGNED copy of Auralia’s Colors.


It’s that time again, the time in which I give something away. For free. And it’s all her fault.

Remember the last time I gave something away for free? It was awesome. It was like a party on This Pile with all those comments.

Here’s your second chance if you missed all the hoopla before – you’re chance to shine, your chance to sparkle, your chance to dance your way into that Big Finish like the cute chubby girl from Little Miss Sunshine. DON’T LET THE SNOOTY JUDGES GET YOU DOWN! All kinds are welcome here.

I’m giving away a signed copy of Auralia’s Colors, by Jeffrey Overstreet. It’s a poetically written book from the fantasy genre, and I guarantee you will love it. Not into the fantasy genre? You don’t know that. You just say that like you say, “I don’t like country music.” Have you even seen country music lately? What’s NOT to like about Keith Urban?? So before you go making any claims about what you do or do not like, READ THIS BOOK.

I’m not even in to fantasy, either. I’ve read, like, two fantasy books in my life. I liked those other books fine, but Auralia’s Colors was full of beautiful, artful, colorful imagery and imagination. But don’t just take my word for it – check out these reviews from

“The late John Gardner said that a good story should unfold like a vivid and continuous dream. With Auralia’s Colors, Jeffrey Overstreet has crafted just such a story, one that will leave readers ready to dream with him again.”
–John Wilson, Editor, Books & Culture

“Through word, image, and color Jeffrey Overstreet has crafted a work of art. From first to final page this original fantasy is sure to draw readers in. Auralia’s Colors sparkles.”
–Janet Lee Carey, award-winning author of The Beast of Noor and Dragon’s Keep

“Jeffrey Overstreet’s first fantasy, Auralia’s Colors, and its heroine’s cloak of wonders take their power from a vision of art that is auroral, looking to the return of beauty, and that intends to restore spirit and and mystery to the world. The book achieves its ends by the creation of a rich, complex universe and a series of dramatic, explosive events.”
–Marly Youmans, author of Ingledove and The Curse of the Raven Mocker

auralias_colors.GIFImagine a world without color, art, or any creative expression at all. Imagine a gray world in which all things beautiful are stowed away in a dark, damp, abandoned basement. And then imagine a little girl who can weave color, whose colorful creations have magical qualities.

Can you imagine? You haven’t grown up and lost your imagination, have you? If you have, Auralia’s Colors will revive it.

To win this book, leave a comment (only once, please). All are welcome to enter, and I will ship anywhere (again, you Australians know who you are – especially that jobless one). The contest will be open until noon on Sunday, February 3rd, West Coast time. I will announce the winner on Monday, picked from a random drawing.

Good luck!

Oh, and for other giveaways, check out the bloggy giveaway site!

[This contest is now closed.]

Book Review: Thumbs down for Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral.

annie freeman.JPGSo what do you do when a book you are reading is terrible?

I’ve never walked out of the theater in the middle of a movie, and I quit watching only one rented movie that I can remember (for the record, I would have never picked Lethal Weapon IV, had it been up to me). I’m a pretty good judge of movies to start with, and I figure even if it is bad, it’s only a two hour investment of my time.

But a book? She is a labor of love. Hours. Weeks. Time invested.

I’m only half way through Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral, and I am so annoyed with it. It is melodramatic and tedious. It is unrealistic. I keep reading because the concept is so lovely, and I keep hoping something amazing will happen.

But it is executed so immaturely.

These are supposed to be women in their fifties fulfilling their dead friend’s last wish to have her ashes scattered in four meaningful places around the country, but they all come off as peppy high school girls who are crying over their latest boyfriend drama.

I know it’s “chick lit,” but I didn’t know chick lit had to be that bad to fit the genre. I was just looking for a fun book about friendship, because the alternative topics for novels seems to be death, loss, affairs of the heart, or other depressing topics, and I started this while on vacation.

I was talking to a friend about how bad this book is, and she made a good point. Thelma and Louise was good, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood was good, and when you have greatness, people try to cash in on that same idea. But girlfriends, while Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral had the potential to be a truly hilarious and touching book, it makes me want to scratch my eyes out.

So, do I quit reading? Or be a purist and trudge through to the end?

Book Review: All is Vanity

all is vanity.JPGOne of my best friends thought I would like All is Vanity, by Christina Schwartz. She told me it was about an aspiring writer who rips off her friend’s life and creates a novel out of it.

I wondered if my friend was feeling…concerned?

The author developed the character, Margaret, as an over achieving, self-centered egotist – and she did a fabulous job of it. So many subtle inner thoughts of how fantastically wonderful she is for doing such and such a thing, and so forth. It was painful to watch her spiral deeper into self denial (in the same way I find it painful to watch The Office) and procrastination.

The story begins with her quitting her job to write the “great American novel.” The fact that she has never written anything – no blog, no short stories, no drafts, nothing! – seems to not matter to her. And what’s more, is that her husband goes along with this plan. I know it sounds unbelievable, but trust me that given their two personalities, it works.

As expected, Margaret runs into writer’s block, and can’t even get her story off the ground. She seems to miss the number one rule of writing, which is to write what you know, and decides to create a story about a Vietnam Vet named Robert who comes home from the war. This is about the furthest you can get from her own circumstances. He ends up doing a lot of cooking, because that’s about all she can relate to in his character.

Like I said, it’s so painful in that “how bad is it really going to get?” kind of hilarious way.

Several month in to the project, when all she has are a bunch of random notes about character, she realizes an interesting story is brewing in her email exchanges with her best friend on the opposite coast. Her novel – and her conscience – takes a turn for her benefit.

And I will leave you with that so as to not spoil the story!

As an aside, I’ve seen the term “chick lit” used around Shelfari and other book communities. And while I had a pretty good clue that it referred to books with a female audience in mind, I am now also cluing in that these books are pretty light and easy to read. They don’t require a lot of chewing or mulling. I don’t need to put it down after each paragraph just so I can absorb all the ways that one paragraph has changed my life.

After reading mostly books with such depth and seriousness, I am enjoying the less meaty “chick lit” options. I would classify All is Vanity as “chick lit.” It’s funny, it’s serious, it makes you think, but you can also read it while driving to your brother’s house amidst five million interruptions to “watch this mom!” requests.

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

Book Review: To Own a Dragon (Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father)

to own a dragon.JPGThough To Own A Dragon is written by a man for other fatherless men, this book appeals to the human race. I think we are all “fatherless” in some way, in that our parents are not capable of being perfect or giving us everything we need emotionally. We all missed out on something important growing up, and I think that’s why I liked this book so much.

Don Miller, like Annie Lamott, is a writer I admire for his frank honesty and conversational style of writing. He reveals a lot about himself in this book – his shortcomings – taking responsibility for those while also mapping out what he lacked in training and modeling by not having a father.

I was particularly convicted at times as a parent. I know that in my own selfishness I have not led my children in ways that are important for them to be led, and I felt very convicted by some of the ways he describes how his boyhood mind interpreted his place in the world. I didn’t bring the book with me on vacation so I can’t quote directly, but I’ll do my best to recap what struck me the most.

He writes at one point that his mother worked long hours to support him and his sister, and was tired when she came home. At the time of his childhood he didn’t connect her exhaustion to his lack of having a father – to his mother not having a partner in earning income or in raising the family. Rather, his boyhood mind assumed he was a burden to his mom, and that her life would be much easier if he weren’t around.

Isn’t that tragic? The choices one man makes – his father – shapes how Don viewed himself in the world even into adulthood. It made me think of the way I act toward my kids when I’m trying to Get Things Done. I still haven’t figured out the magic formula for parenting AND keeping house – it seems in my home one is always lacking while the other excels. Never do I have well loved children AND a clean house ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

When I’m busy, I’m grouchy. And when they get in my way of Getting Things Done, I’m not very graceful about it. I have wondered lately: am I oozing a vibe that makes them feel like a burden to me?

So you can see how this book is not just for other men who don’t have fathers. You should read this book if you are breathing.

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

Because I couldn’t stand to see that last post on top…

I showered, I did some laundry, I made an actual dinner, I picked up the house. Suddenly the world doesn’t seem so dark, and now I’m wondering if I’m just being hormonal. Or maybe this is what peace that passes understanding feels like. Who knows? I don’t want to think about it for too long, lest something breaks and I feel like I’ve fallen into a hole again.

I finished a book tonight, Light On Snow, by Anita Shreve. My friend Dacia sent me this book in a care package ages ago, during a time when I wasn’t reading much. But now that I’m devouring fiction, it was nice to have this on hand.

This was a much easier read than The Weight of Water, also by Anita Shreve. I couldn’t finish that book – the trying to solve a murder that happened in the 1800’s thing just didn’t seem to grab me. But Light On Snow kept me engaged. It was sad, but light. I’ve read sad books that leave me feeling heavy and depressed, but this was a book about sad circumstances that always held a glimmer of hope. Or maybe it’s lighter because it’s told from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl.

Read this book now, though, in the winter – especially if you are surrounded by snow. It takes place in the New Hampshire winter, and there is nary a page without a mention of snow, ice, or some form of snow clothing. You would much rather be curled up next to a fire reading this than on the beach in July.

For my blogging friends who also like to read books

Here’s a fun site called Booking Through Thursday. A question is asked, and you answer it on your website with links all around. I like this idea for those times when I’m feeling blocked and burned out, but I still want to write for the discipline of it.

Thanks to Writing and Living for the link!