Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Review: Your Cleft-Affected Child by Carrie Gruman-Trinker

Title: Your Cleft-Affected Child: The Complete Book of Information, Resources, and Hope
Author: Carrie Gruman-Trinker
Usefulness Rating: 7/10
Referral: Found on Amazon
Source: Ordered used from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 136

While A Parent's Guide to Cleft Lip and Palate was a more useful book from a medical perspective, there were things I really liked about Carrie Gruman-Trinker's Your Cleft-Affected Child. Gruman-Trinker's son Aidan (the fifth child in her family) was born with pretty serious bilateral cleft lip and palate, and the book is part memoir, part information resource, and part cheerleader. One of the things I like best about the book is the short set of profiles of other people who were born with clefts (including Tom Brokaw, Jesse Jackson and Joaquin Phoenix). I also appreciated reading about her experiences with Aidan.

However, Aidan was still a preschooler at the time the book was published, and I'd love to hear how a cleft lip and palate affects a child as she grows. Part of the reason why I'm interested in that is because I'm making this research do double duty. In my fiction class we were assigned to write a short story that we had to do some research to write about effectively, and since we got our referral of Rose shortly after we got the assignment, it seemed natural to write about cleft lip and palate. I don't want to write the story from the point of view of a young child, and I'm finding it hard to get information on the lasting effects of this birth defect (is birth defect a p.c. term? Gruman-Trinker uses it in this book). It served my purposes as the mother of a child, (but only hand-in-hand with the more technical books about cleft lip/palate) but not my purposes as a writer. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A letter to Rose- October 25

Dear Rose,

Tomorrow it will be a month since the first time we saw your beautiful face. It's hard to believe it's only been a month, because it feels like forever. We're completely adjusted to the idea of having you join our family, and if we could jump on a plane tomorrow to go get you, I'd do it without a second thought and I think I'd feel like we had most of what we needed to welcome you into the family. The hard thing is that we probably won't actually travel to see you for another four months.

Mimi has been staying with your Aunt Jilly, watching your cousin Sammy while she's at work. So nearly every day I get an update on Sammy. He's playing with his gym, he's trying to turn over, he's grabbing things, he loves taking walks in the morning. Sammy is just a couple months younger than you are (we're very lucky that you have two cousins, Reuben and Sammy, who were born in May and July, so you have built-in playmates), and on the one hand, I imagine you, all the way over in China, doing the same things. They mentioned in your referral papers that you really liked playing with the toys in the baby gym, so I know that's something you do. On the other hand, I think of the time that Aunt Jilly and Uncle Carl have with Sammy, smiling at him and carrying him around and just enjoying him, and it's hard to think that you need and crave the kind of love I so want to give you.

I spent this weekend up in Idaho with a bunch of girlfriends. We try to get together every year, and a few years ago, Maren and I slept on the floor of a room with about ten other women. The sleeping arrangements were great, but it was really fun to get together with so many friends. This year, we stayed in a lodge where we were completely pampered. I got a massage and a pedicure and every time we turned around someone was giving us delicious food, made from scratch. At the end of the weekend, we were all talking about coming again next year, and as much as I love getting together, I knew it was something I couldn't commit to.

You see, the lodge has a strict "no kids" policy, which I totally get-- we went up there to get a break from motherhood. If we went again next year, you'd be a year and a half, and by the time your older brothers and sisters were that age, I didn't feel too much guilt about leaving them overnight. But one thing I've learned is that we'll need to interact with you based on your "family age." So even if you're ten or eleven months when you come home, you'll be a newborn according to your "family age." I didn't spend the night away from any of my babies when they were under a year, and I don't plan to leave you for one night, let alone three nights, the first you're home either. I imagine that my friends, many of whom have kids who are quite a bit older than you'll be, might get sick of me packing you around in your baby carrier or toting you around on my hip everywhere we go.

But I think that as important as it is to get you into a home and get your physical needs taken care of, my most significant challenge in the upcoming year is going to be to get you to feel connected to us as your family, to feel like our home is a place of safety for you, to feel like you can love us back as much as we love you. I'll be honest-- it's going to stretch me. Your brothers and sisters are older-- they don't need me in the same way that they used to, and getting back to the 24/7 kind of mothering will be a challenge. But I'm up for it if you are.


Book Review: Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray

Title: Falling for Hamlet
Author: Michelle Ray
Enjoyment Rating: 6/10
Referral: Janssen from Everyday Reading
Source: Kindle for iPad
Books I've read this year: 135

The premise of this book sounded so cool-- a modern-day update of Hamlet. Immediately my mind went to the screwballness of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, and I was prepared to be delighted.

I think my expectations were too high. The book is part Oprah-style talk show, part police interrogation, and part recollection. It's told from the point of view of Ophelia (who faked her suicide in order to get away from the castle), and although the book claimed to be set in Denmark, it felt a lot more like Denmark was a city in Southern California, complete with pernicious paparazzi,  and Ophelia was Claire Daines in My So-Called Life, and Hamlet was Jordan Catalano (which took place in Pennsylvania, but there's no paparazzi in Pennsylvania).

The relocation of the novel wasn't what made it problematic. And although I am totally okay with just about everything in a novel for adults, a YA novel where high school kids get drunk, do drugs and have sex bugs me, but that wasn't the main problem of the book for me. The main problem was when Ray tried to translate the soliloquies from Shakespeare's language into ours. Even though she talks in her afterword about how her readers kept encouraging her to rewrite them, I still don't think she gets it right. The book picked up speed in the last third, but the first two thirds of the novel were not that compelling, because from Ophelia's perspective, the first two-thirds of the book could be summarized by listening to Katy Perry's "Hot n Cold." The whole thing left me a little cold, personally. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: The Connected Child by Karyn B. Purvis

Title: The Connected Child: For Parents Who Have Welcomed Children
Author: Karyn B. Purvis
Usefulness Rating: It's hard to say until Rose gets here, but I thought it was useful for my other kids
Referral: Terri Coley, an adoptive mom and friend of my godmother
Source: purchased from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 134

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may have noticed that considering the fact that I have a bunch of kids, I really don't read a lot of parenting books. I used to when Bryce and Annie were little. Then, eventually, I learned to trust myself more than I trusted the advice of some expert and didn't feel like I needed them all that much. But I did notice that I was a more engaged parent when I was reading the books and attempting to put them into practice.

Now that Rose is joining the family, I feel a little bit like I'm starting over. I know how to handle sleepless nights, the terrible twos, and time outs really well. What I don't know how to do is to help a child who didn't spend the first year of her life with me feel connected to me as her mother, since that Mommy-baby nursing, cuddling, gazing thing all just happened by instinct. I need to learn how to recreate it for someone who didn't get it in the first year. And that's what The Connected Child sets out to do.

The book reminds me quite a lot of Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child-- the idea of connection is central to both, but PYIAC covers a lot of other things too and it's a much bigger book, while The Connected Child feels more focused. When I read PYIAC I felt like I knew I had to come back and read it again once Rose arrived, but with The Connected Child, there were lots of things I felt I could apply in my connection with the kids who are in my family already, particularly the Aspie one who struggles socially. So I'll work on trying out some of these techniques now, and maybe by the time Rose gets here, they too will feel instinctual. If not, I always know where I can go for a refresher.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear

Title: The Mapping of Love and Death (Maisie Dobbs Book 7)
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Enjoyment Rating: 9/10
Referral: The 7th book in the series
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year: 133 (recordbreaking!)

In 2010, I read more books than I'd ever read before, at least since I started counting (and I have a feeling that counting was what made me read so much-- being public about my reading really motivates me). This year, I wasn't sure it was possible to read more books than I did last year, so I was stoked to break that record by the beginning of October. And it felt particularly fitting to break that record with an audiobook, since listening to audiobooks is the primary reason why I've read so much more this year than last, and also the primary reason why I am now woefully uninformed about current events (because I used to spend that time listening to NPR). I was delighted that I broke last year's record with this particular book, because of all the Maisie Dobbs books, this one was my favorite.

Okay, okay, I know that when I read Maisie Dobbs I should care about more important things, like the plight of homeless veterans or whether or not Maisie will ever trade in her black daydress for something more fashionable. As I've said before, I feel lame because I keep wanting Maisie to get emotionally healthy enough to want a man in her life. I mean, the old girl has got to be 35 or so now, so time's a-ticking (this said by someone who is 36). The thing is, I'm not sure Maisie has wanted a husband or kids, and evidence in the books points to the fact that she'd find it difficult to make some of the sacrifices children and husbands require. Also, Maisie sees herself as a bit of an unintentional trailblazer-- she got an education, rose above her low social class, and now she's a working woman with an excellent reputation. But I want her to fall in love!

Way, way back in Book 1, I said something to myself. I said, "I think Maisie is eventually going to fall in love with _______" (I don't want to spoil it for you). Of course, it seemed impossible at the time that she would ever fall for __________-- even more impossible than Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy actually getting together. But lo and behold, in Book 7, Maisie and _________ fall madly, deeply in love. Not really. They fall discreetly and companionably in love, but wildly and madly would be out of character for Maisie. I found myself wiping my eyes when I was running and driving more times than I can count this week-- I was just so glad that Maisie finally found love. Now I just hope she doesn't screw it up!

And, oh yeah, the mystery of this one is pretty decent too. And there's a very sad, very engrossing event in Maisie's personal life. You have to read it to find out-- and I promise, if you're a Maisie Dobbs fan, don't quit because six was a little lame. Seven is worth it!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Review: Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child by Patty Cogen

Title: Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years
Author: Patty Cogen
Usefulness Rating: 10/10
Referral: I think our social worker recommended it during the homestudy process.
Source: Purchased from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 132

This book has been sitting on my bedside table for months. I tackled the memoirs about adoption first, and saved all of the hard, serious books, the ones about politics and parenting, for later, when traveling to China and getting our baby were actually on the horizon. I've decided that it's time to tackle the hard books (and besides, I think I worked my way through all of the memoirs), and so I did a cursory reading of Parenting Your Adopting Child. It reminded me a little bit of when I read What to Expect When You're Expecting before the baby actually arrived. It was interesting, but not really relevant yet. I can tell that when it is finally relevant, the book will be useful. So I read all of the early chapters and skimmed through the later chapters (about older kids and teenagers) since I won't be dealing with an adopted older kid or a teenager for many years.

In this reading, however, Cogen did a great job pounding one thing into my brain-- although I'm concerned about Rose's physical needs right now, those will be easy to fix, and the ramifications of losing her parents, then losing her caregivers in the orphanage, and not having opportunity to spend significant amounts of time bonding as a baby will be things that we'll have to work through when she arrives. Even though she'll be a baby who doesn't walk or talk, we'll still have to work through helping her connect and knowing that we'll be her forever family. It made me glad that I'll be done with school by the time she arrives, because she's going to need to have my focus for a while, and I feel fortunate that I'll be able to give it to her.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Review: Rewriting by Joseph Harris

Title: Rewriting: How to do things with texts
Author: Joseph Harris
Usefulness Rating: 6/10
Referral: Required reading for my Fairy Tale Folklore class
Source: Purchased from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 130

 I think that if I were planning a career in academic writing, this would be a useful book to read as a graduate student. It contains many of the same ideas about writing that Booth, Colomb and Williams present in The Craft of Writing (which we used last year in the 311 class I taught), but the focus is more on academic writing than on writing research papers. However, the ideas of countering, forwarding, and responding are present in both books, and I think that The Craft of Writing is more accessible and interesting. However, the Harris book is more in-depth in its focus on academics.

I'll just say this-- reading Rewriting made me glad that I'm a creative writer. It's so much more fun to write stories than it is to write about things other people have written.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review: Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Title: Invisible Cities
Author: Italo Calvino
Enjoyment Rating: 8/10
Referral: Required reading for my Creative Writing seminar
Source: Purchased from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 129

I really, really wish I had been able to attend my class discussion on Invisible Cities. I drove down to Provo, walked across campus to the building, and sat down at the seminar table when the phone rang. It was Isaac's school calling to say he was sick. And I was super-bummed, not just because I now had to walk back across campus and drive back to Salt Lake, but because I wonder what everyone else thought about the book.

I labeled Invisible Cities a book of short stories, but it feels more like a book of dreams. The premise is that Marco Polo is talking to Kubla Khan about the cities he has encountered in his travels. He recounts visits to dozens of places, but these places are all magical and mystical, and don't feel like places in the Orient in the 13th century. In fact, as Polo and Khan continue their discussion, it's evident that the places are much more in Polo's head than they are in any real place.

The language of Invisible Cities is exquisite-- it's more poetic than poetry. As a result, I felt like I approached it like I approached poetry. I tried to soak up the rhythm and the images, and didn't care too much if I didn't "get it." I think the book worked, and some of the cities were haunting (like the one where a mirror of the aboveground city existed underground and all of the dead were positioned in the underground city, engaged in the kind of work they did while they were alive).

Anyway, I wish I could have heard what other people felt about the book. I feel like 90% of it went over my head, but the 10% that stayed with me was pretty enjoyable.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

Title: Among the Mad (Maisie Dobbs, Book 6)
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Enjoyment Rating: 6/10
Referral: Still plugging along with Maisie Dobbs
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year: 128

I like the Maisie Dobbs books least when they seem too issues driven. If you could call Messenger of Truth "the poverty book" and An Incomplete Revenge "the discrimination book," then Among the Mad would be "the mental illness book." Maisie would say that these phases would come into her life through serendipity, but even though I find both Maisie and the books completely delightful, I have to admit that I feel like the themes feel less serendipitous than convenient for Winspear. In fact, sometimes if feels didactic, like she's pushing an agenda.

In Among the Mad, Maisie is nearly killed off in the opening scene, when a disabled veteran sets off a suicide bomb just as Maisie reaches out to stop him (suicide bombs in the 1930s? who knew?). Maisie works with Special Branch to try to figure out first, who the man was, and as she and other important citizens receive threats through the mail, who else out there has a mind to murder. While Maisie and Billy work on the case, they also grapple with the fate of Doreen, Billy's wife, who continues to struggle with depression after the death of their daughter (two books ago). Maisie's best friend Priscilla is also struggling with depression. It feels like a terrible time to be in London, with everyone going off to mental hospitals or threatening to set off bombs all the time.

One of the things I like best about the Maisie Dobbs books is that they're generally kind of understated. By that I mean that as a reader, I'm not really fearing that Maisie is going to be offed in the course of the novel. The only time I was kind of surprised by someone's death was when Billy's daughter died, and she was definitely a minor character, and one whose death provided a lot of the impetus for events in future novels. However, in this book, Maisie keeps ending up in life-threatening situations. In a book that comes in a series, it feels like a cheap shot to have Maisie's life in danger twice in one book, because we know she won't die. I think I have to believe that death is a possibility if someone is in a situation where the character could die.

Despite this being one of the weaker Maisie Dobbs novels, I still enjoyed it and I don't feel like the 10 hours I spent listening were a waste, because what comes next is well-worth putting in the time with this one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A letter to Rose- October 18

Dear Rose,

This week we went out and got pumpkins. Maren, my little shadow, who I'm confident will blossom into a wonderful big sister when you arrive, insisted that we needed seven pumpkins, not six pumpkins. She picked out a white special little white pumpkin for herself, and she picked out a matching one for you, too. So in a few weeks, we'll carve it in your honor and wish you were here.

Where we live, fall is a beautiful time of year. The mountains turn red and gold and orange, and the canyon near our house stops my breath it's so pretty. It's a season of pumpkins and honeycrisp apples and cool nights. October is when we pick out our Halloween costumes and start making desserts with lots of pumpkin and cinnamon. We even had pumpkin chocolate chip pancakes for dinner on Sunday. In China, I know that the moon festival just passed, and I expect that next October, we'll have moon cakes alongside our ghosts and goblins. I'm not quite sure how it will all work out, this American-Chinese hybrid, but I'm confident that it will work out.

This Saturday, Annie had a viola lesson. The teacher had the students play a song they knew by heart, then tried to trip them up by asking questions. Annie was doing great-- she'd answered a bunch of questions with no problem at all (that big sister of yours is really smart!). Then the teacher asked how many brothers and sisters she had. I expected that she'd say two brothers and a sister, but she said that she has two brothers and two sisters. Even though you're not here yet, you're already Annie's sister in your heart.

This morning Maren and I were at the grocery store, buying bedtime Pull-Ups. We'll be going back to diapers in the daytime for you, sweet Rose, but at night, you'll be in good company with half of the other kids in the family. Maren was looking at all of the baby stuff, and she said, "Rose is so pretty. She's prettier than the babies on these pictures." I think so too, and I'm glad that Maren, at least, is getting comfortable with the idea of you, and isn't seeing you just as the cleft of your lip.

There are a couple of families in our Yahoo group who are going to your orphanage in the next couple of weeks to pick up their babies. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they might find a way to snap a picture of you, even though it looks from the picture that your crib is up against the wall in a corner.

Your crib here in Utah is all set up and waiting. Annie and I set it up last week, and then the girls each added a doll they thought you'd like. Annie added her Ivy American Girl doll, and Maren added the tiny little Asian Corolle doll that she picked out months ago. So every morning when I walk into the room, I feel a little pang. On the one hand, I'm thrilled that you're coming, and delighted that everyone in the family is excited for your arrival. On the other hand, I want you here. Now.

Until next week, my sweet.



Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lego Star Wars Strikes Back (Isaac's 7th Birthday)

Isaac thinks he's gotten cheated in the birthday party department. Last year we took a van full of kids to the Dinosaur Museum, and the year before that we went to Chuck E. Cheese. I thought that taking them to "exotic" locales was way cooler than just having a party at home, but apparently Isaac didn't think so, so this year we had a Lego Star Wars party at home.

Of course, at my house, there's always a catch. Isaac invited nine friends, plus his cousin. Then I checked the schedule and realized that Ed would be out of town. If you add in my kids and the other cousin, that makes 15 kids at the house for the party. And just one adult. Me. Annie and her cousin Natalie were hugely helpful. We got through it. Then I shut myself in my room and took a nap.

When the kids showed up, Darth Vader greeted them at the door. We got pictures of that, then it got too crazy, and we missed most of the party.

Here's what we did:

* Ate pizza, grapes and carrots. Mostly pizza.
* Had a LEGO relay-- three teams each had to fill up a bucket of LEGOS with a spoon.
* Played LEGO bomb (essentially "hot potato") and we played the John Williams music.
* Had a LEGO building contest (pictures below). Each kid had ten minutes to build.
* Went on a scavenger hunt. That's why they're in the garbage in the pics below.
* Hit a pinata. At least two of them did. Then the pinata broke.
*Ate the cake. It was cute, but the kids were not really fans.
* Opened presents.

Then I sent them back in the house and picked up in a frenzy while they watched a LEGO Star Wars video. By the time it was over, there was only one kid left. Isaac said he had a great time, and I hope I bought myself a few more years of Chuck E. Cheese with this party.

 The party ended, and I looked at the pictures and realized that there was only one of Isaac. So when he woke up this morning at 7:00, eager to open his presents, we made sure the camera was ready. He looks a little bleary-eyed, and very long-legged.

We still haven't served the LEGO man cake I made. It's not too adorable, but I think Isaac likes it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A letter to Rose- October 11

Dear Rose,

It was a rough morning around here. Isaac was sick in the night, which means I got to spend part of the night on my hands and knees cleaning up vomit, which you will soon learn is my least favorite part of being a parent. Your big sister Annie is not a morning person, so she spent the morning stomping her feet and rolling her eyes, and Bryce was teasing Maren and making her squeal and scream. At one point I went out the back door to "let the chickens out" (didn't I tell you we have chickens?) and I stood in the frosty, dewy morning and just took a deep breath.

I came back and told the kids that on mornings like this, I really question bringing another child into the house. But the truth is, I want you, even if it means more shrieking, more vomiting, more teasing, more noise. Even if it means my morning runs have to come to an end, and I never finish my novel, I want you. I'm telling you that now. Even though you're concentrating now on survival and you might feel alone, we want you, desperately. We need you to come to our family.

What have we been doing to get ready this week? I'm still deep in shopping mode. I think that if I'd had a week or two to get ready after the referral, it would have been better for everyone concerned. Now I feel like I need to pace myself, picking up a few things here and there. I found an awesome jogging stroller for $35 this weekend, and with all the money I saved by not buying a new one, I decided to get your crib and the baby carrier. Annie and I went out last night and got a crib, and she's determined to set it up with me this afternoon, so today I'm taking care of Isaac, doing homework, and ironing the crib skirt. I'm excited to be able to carry you around in the carrier-- I want to keep you right next to me, so we can make up for lost time and I can snuggle you close.

I've also been reading about working on making a connection with you. I thought that since you would be a baby when you came to us, you'd grow up blissfully unaware of what it feels like to be cold, lonely, or abandoned, but I've learned that those things will likely stay with you, and it will be my job in those early months to help you make up the gaps between your actual age and your "family age."

Whatever it takes, my little Rosie, traveling around the world, not running as much, spending my waking hours helping you along, it will be worth it. You will be worth it.



Book Review: A Parent's Guide to Cleft Lip and Palate by Moller, Starr, and Johnson

Title: A Parent's Guide to Cleft Lip and Palate
Authors: Karlind T. Moller, Clark, D. Starr and Sylvia A. Johnson
Enjoyment Rating: 8/10 (I'd actually call this a "usefulness rating" in this case)
Referral: Amazon search
Source: Ordered used from Amazon
Number of books I've read this year: 127

A Parent's Guide to Cleft Lip and Palate is a useful introduction for people like me who are just beginning to grasp what it means to have a child with a cleft lip and palate. The book covers the various issues associated with the condition, including lip surgery, palate surgery, ear problems, dental issues, speech therapy and social impacts. While I read the whole book, I think that the first part was most useful to me. Right now, I'm not thinking about speech therapy or middle school, I just want to get Rose's lip and palate closed and have her eating well. While the book feels dated (it was published in 1990) it seems that surgeries and the team approach that are used today are very similar to what the authors describe in the book. I found the stories that spotlight kids' experiences were the most interesting and helpful part of the book.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Title: Sarah's Key
Author: Tatiana de Rosnay
Enjoyment Rating: 7/10
Referral: I saw it on enough of my friends' Goodreads lists to decide to tackle it myself.
Source: Kindle for iPad
Books I've read this year: 126
I read Sarah's Key in one evening. When I read a book in one sitting, I usually have this feeling that the book was completely enjoyable but didn't challenge me as a reader very much, and I feel the same way about Sarah's Key. And it's not because the story was light, because Sarah's Key starts out as two stories-- an American journalist living in Paris in 2002 with a daughter and a troubled marriage to a Frenchman, and a ten-year-old Jewish girl whose family is split apart when the French police shows up at their door and carts them off to an internment camp. Eventually, these two stories become one. De Rosnay handles the parallel stories skillfully, and I was very caught up in the plight of both women, so I'm not really sure why I feel like I wasn't challenged as a reader. Maybe it's just my own growing prejudice that good books should be hard in some way. Regardless, I enjoyed the book. In fact, I think it would be a great selection for book clubs-- it's an easy, quick, short read, but it also has some meat for discussion.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Book Review: Just Chris

Title: Just Chris
Author: Christopher Shiveley Welch
Enjoyment Rating: he's just a kid-- I refrain from giving a rating
Referral: Amazon search memoirs about cleft lip/palate
Source: Kindle for iPad
Books I've read this year: 125 (although this was more of a pamphlet than a book)

After reading Just Chris, I'm convinced that anyone can write a book. Maybe everyone should write a book. But maybe, just maybe, not everyone should make that book an eBook and sell it on Amazon. Especially if they're, like fifteen. And now I feel like a total jerk, because the book is about a kid who has had lots of struggles in life-- he was born with a cleft lip and palate and adopted when he was a week old, then he had lots of other school-related problems as he grew. I feel for the kid. I actually thought the first half of the book, when he was writing about his medical problems, was pretty interesting. But the second half is all about the trips he took with his family. It reads like an incredibly long Christmas card from someone I don't know, that I somehow got suckered into paying $1.99 to read.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Book Review: Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin

Title: Fascinating Womanhood
Author: Helen Andelin
Enjoyment Rating: 2/10
Referral: It's been on my reading list for years. Some of the girls in my fairy tales class were talking about it and I finally decided to read it.
Source: Ordered used (stinky and falling apart) from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 124

When I was an undergraduate at BYU, there were two books I heard a lot about, but I never read either one. The first was Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and the other was Helen Andelin's Fascinating Womanhood. In my mind, both of the books were equivalent (I must have equated "mystique" and "fascinating")-- I knew that both had a reputation for being scandalous in some way, and that both had the power to change people's lives. Ha!

I read The Feminine Mystique when I was in grad school for the first time. I was working full-time, going to school part-time, and I had no kids. I thought the women portrayed in the book were total whiners-- after all, I would have given anything to be home with an adorable, angelic baby, devoting my life to my husband and my family, instead of working myself to the bone. I noticed that many of the women in the class, most of them mothers in their 40s and 50s, really loved the book, so I kept my eye-rolling to a minimum. A year later I had my first baby, and I totally got where Betty Friedan was coming from.

Over the years, I've heard more and more about Fascinating Womanhood, but I could never bring myself to read it. I felt like I'd already subjugated myself to my husband enough-- he went to med school, I went to work instead of starting a PhD program of my own. He started a residency, I had babies (which I desperately wanted, to be fair). He did a fellowship, I had more babies. Eventually I felt that all I was good at was having babies. So I didn't want Helen Andelin telling me I had to have babies and wear a dress while I cleaned the house, and put my husband in charge of all the money, and nod my head and smile while he made ridiculous financial decisions (which he doesn't, by the way, I take credit for any misinformed handling of money around here).

But I'm in a better place now. My kids are a little older, I've gained some confidence as a wife, a mother, and a person with a brain in her head. So I read the book, and it was just as bad as I thought it would be. Some of the interesting parts: Andelin's "good" examples of womanhood come from novels- and I'm convinced it's because the feminine ideal Andelin describes does not exist in real life. 90% of the information in this book is total crap and propaganda (letters from people whose lives were changed from reading it. 10% might be good advice (stuff like "find ways to compliment your husband"-- which I'm not very good at doing sometimes), but I find myself trying to discount the good advice because the bad advice is so very, very bad. I was talking to Eddie about the book, and we decided that it might be practical, last-ditch effort advice for a woman who really wants to stay married to a guy who is a total jerk and needs some help in figuring out how not to drive herself crazy, but for most people with healthy self-esteem, it sounds like a complete nightmare of a way to live.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Title: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Author: Stephen King
Enjoyment Rating: 9/10
Referral: Someone in my fiction seminar last winter mentioned it
Source: Purchased from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 123

I've read quite a few books on the craft of writing since starting the MFA program (and I have quite a few more to read in order to make the books I've listed on my prospectus an honest reflection of books I've actually read). In general, I don't like these books. Yeah, I've gotten a few good tips from them, but they basically say the same things-- use fewer adjectives, avoid adverbs entirely, trust yourself, write regularly, blah, blah, blah.

Stephen King says all these things, but he couches the advice in a memoir of his writing life, so instead of feeling like a book I was reading for work, this felt like a book I was reading for pure enjoyment. The funny thing is that I am not a Stephen King fan. In fact, this is the first Stephen King book I've ever read. But after reading it, I feel like I know and trust him as a writer and as a person. He gives great, practical advice, talks about his own strengths, shortcomings, and neuroses as a writer, and isn't afraid to poke fun at himself. I also feel like I learned some things about writing-- particularly about the discipline King puts in at his writing desk (he writes at least 2000 words EVERY day) and about what tasks he tackles in a first draft and what he tackles in a second draft (symbolism, for example, is a second draft element in a SK novel).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book Review: An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs, Book 5)

Title: An Incomplete Revenge
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Enjoyment Rating: 8/10
Referral: Book five in the Maisie Dobbs series
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year: 122

The fifth book and still going strong. I liked this one even better than the last few, and even though I know I should be growing sick of Maisie by now, I can't get enough of her. Yes, there's still too much of WWI (Maisie's modus operandi: If in doubt, go back to 1916 and you'll find your answer), and we suddenly discover in this book that Maisie's grandmother was a gypsy (2000 pages into the series that seems like a convenient plot device, not a natural progression of Maisie's character), but this book had a strong central image (fire, in this case), which brought all of the disparate stories together, and I think Winspear just gets better and better at making a whole bunch of seemingly unrelated mysteries work together in a believable way.

Also, I think I've harped on this before, but in past books, I've felt guilty for being so interested in Maisie's love life (or lack thereof). I found myself rooting for her to settle down and find someone-- she's not getting any younger (she's probably 33 or 34 in this book) and there are far more women than men in her age group, and the time will come soon when men stop throwing themselves at her feet. I hate myself for feeling this way-- just because marriage and motherhood make me happy, I know they come with big sacrifices, and Maisie has made it clear that they're not sacrifices she wants to make. But still, I don't want her to be lonely when the people she's closest too (all in their seventies) leave this world. Thankfully, this book was delightfully free of romantic entanglements, so I could just enjoy the story and not worry so much about how someone so smart about other people's relationships can be so dumb about her own. See what I'm doing here? I'm way too personally invested in Maisie Dobbs-- I feel like she's become a friend over the last few months of listening to her story.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review: Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs, Book 4)

Title: Messenger of Truth
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Enjoyment Rating: 7/10
Source: Audible for iPhone
Referral: the next one in this series
Books I've read this year: 121

By the time I've read three books in a series, I'm usually so sick of them that I need a break before reading another. My sister had digital copies of all of the Maisie Dobbs books, and even though I have a plan with Audible where I can pick out two books a month, I've listened to nothing but Jilly's Maisie Dobbs books since I started them a month or so ago. They're relatively long books-- probably 12 or 14 hours apiece, but I listen to them for several hours a day while I'm running, driving, or doing stuff around the house, and so far I'm not giving them up. I think that Orlagh Cassidy, who narrates the books, deserves much of the credit-- she is fantastic! Her ability to modulate her voice to do all of the different genders and accents is impressive. When I finally finish Maisie Dobbs (and I'll be sad!) I'll do my Audible searches based on Orlagh Cassidy. If we could get her to do an audio reading of the Book of Mormon, I'd probably be much better at getting my scripture reading done.

Back to the book. In this story, Maisie needs to decide if a suspicious death was a suicide or a murder or an accident. She's drawn into the life of a dynamic, wealthy family of artists, and the book focuses on the nature of art, smuggling, and being forced into situations by one small wrongdoing. Like the other MD books, there's a big focus on class difference in England in the 1930s, as well as on the poverty of the London slums. It felt a little bit preachier than some of the other novels, but I definitely enjoyed it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Review: The Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar

Title: The Classic Fairy Tales
Author: Maria Tatar
Enjoyment Rating: 6/10
Source: Ordered used from Amazon
Referral: Required reading for my Fairy Tale Folklore class
Books I've read this year: 120

This is another "school" book, and one that I would have been unlikely to pick up on my own. After all, I know the basic fairy tales, right? Well, after reading Tatar's book, I've decided I barely know the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fairy tales. The book gives a bit of history on the genre in the beginning, then includes versions of six different tales (Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Bluebeard), then stories by Oscar Wilde and Hans Christian Andersen, then some fairy tale criticism. What it can't include are the early oral versions of the tales, but I've been forced to reframe my thinking so now I see all of the written or film versions as retellings of older versions, or even as retellings of each other. For each tale, Tatar includes at least half a dozen versions, ranging from Perrault and the Grimm Brothers' traditional tales, to Roald Dahl poems based on the tales, to modern short stories by Anne Sexton and Margaret Atwood that use the tales as inspiration, but aren't straightforward retellings. Anyway, it's an interesting book and it's forced me to look more deeply at a subject that I may have dismissed as child's play before taking the class.

A letter to Rose- October 4

I realize that using the blog format to write to Rose is a fiction-- after all, she lives halfway around the world, the people caring for her don't speak English, and she's a baby and wouldn't care anyway, but I hope that writing to her will help me feel connected to her, so indulge me.

Dear Rose,

It's been a little more than a week since we first saw your picture, and the week has felt more like a year. Waiting twenty more weeks, well, I just can't think too much about it, because it will mess with my head. It's kind of like when I run marathons-- if I think of the race as a 26-mile run, I get overwhelmed. Last month, on the Top of Utah course, I met a new friend, and just when I started to get discouraged, she said, "we only have to run to the next water station." We did. Then we set a new goal-- the next water station. I have a feeling that I'll be breaking down the wait into weekly increments. With your older brothers and sisters I looked forward to the "Your Pregnancy This Week" emails from BabyCenter. With you, I'll be pacing myself. I'm notoriously impatient, so it will be hard (and file that fact away for when you get here).

Only we won't be as alone in this wait as we thought. After we got your referral, I spent the next two days unable to focus on anything except you. I taped copies of your picture over my desk so you'd always be with me, I researched cleft lips and palates, got the next series of shots for our trip, and spent hours on the internet watching videos of Xuzhou, the city where you now live. I found that there's a whole community of people who have adopted babies from the orphanage where you're living right now. The families who have already gone to get their children say that's it's a great place, and that the people who work there have their hearts in the right place and take great care of their kids. That is such a relief, because your welfare has weighed heavy on my mind since the first time I saw your beautiful brown eyes. With luck, we might be able to get new pictures of you from the families who are planning to travel to the orphanage before we can make the trip.

I'm also gaining some confidence that we'll be equal to caring for your medical needs. I've learned that several people I know have kids who have had cleft palates, and they've assured me that we live in a place that has a great team of doctors and specialists who will work with us. Leslie, who has worked for years with Operation Smile, is working to find you a great surgeon. It may be a long path, but we're no strangers to kids and surgeries-- we'll get through it fine.

So how are we going to get through the next few months? I'll be working hard on my thesis, getting ready for Christmas, and shopping. Lots and lots of shopping. I have a weakness for all things frilly and pink, and you already have three outfits, two dolls, and crib bedding waiting for you. With four to six months to wait, I could do some serious damage. I hope that you'll be eating a lot, growing big, and learning how to live in this world. We can't wait to come get you!



Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Review: The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud

Title: The Magic Barrel
Author: Bernard Malamud
Enjoyment Rating: Some stories 9/10, others 5/10, overall 7/10
Source: Ordered used from Amazon
Referral: Required reading for Creative Writing workshop
Books I've read this year: 119

I'm a little bit embarrassed that I've come this far in life without reading Malamud (I've been too busy reading Maisie Dobbs, I guess). I know he's considered important and he won all kinds of big awards in his day, so I should have had the internal motivation to tackle one of his novels earlier, but I didn't. Now I've been compelled by my professor to read Malamud, and despite my prejudice against the short story, I have to say that I'm finding this book delightful. Malamud has kind of a stock thing in these stories-- they're all about some guy (usually either Jewish or Italian), living in New York (I imagine them in the Brooklyn of the 1950s and 1960s), and they're all impotent in some way. They have dreams that they can't seem to rise above. Sometimes bad luck holds them down, but more often they just can't get their stuff together. And now that I've read about a dozen of these guys, I have a soft spot in my heart growing for them. Malamud's writing is also really engaging-- mostly simple, straightforward sentences, a great ear for voices, and occasionally these zingers of an image that really stand out. While Malamud does some zany things (the black Jewish angel, for instance), I love that his stories seem to focus on conflict and character rather than impressing an audience with his bag of tricks. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Book Review: Design Sponge at Home by Grace Bonney

Title: Design Sponge at Home
Author: Grace Bonney
Enjoyment Rating: 8/10
Source: Ordered new from Amazon
Referral: I've been reading Design Sponge for years, so I've been eagerly anticipating this book
Books I've read this year: 118

Ever since a friend in Texas made fun of my plaid couch a few years ago, I've tried to pay more attention to what's going on in the world of home design. I've frequently added and dropped design blogs from my Google Reader since then. For example, I love Apartment Therapy, but I start to hyperventilate when my Reader has more than about 20 posts in it, and I can rack up 20 posts just from AT every day. Other blogs seemed lame or repetitive after a few months. But I always read Design Sponge. In fact, it's probably the only design blog where I give at least a passing glance to pretty much every post (not the ones about building a business because it doesn't apply, or the ones about flowers because I have zero floral intelligence and I can't open that can of worms right now).

So the blog is great, and the book captures everything I love about the blog. I have a voyeuristic obsession with Monday's"Sneak Peeks" (and a secret desire to be included one day), and the images in the sneak peek section of the book are amazing. The Thursday "Before and After" is my other favorite feature of the blog, and the B&A section of the book is awesome. I wasn't as big a fan of the two middle sections (DIY and flowers), probably because all of the DIY stuff looks so easy in the book and it scares me that it won't be, and flowers just plain scare me. But if you like the Design Sponge blog, or if you appreciate an aesthetic that involves bringing other stylish, eclectic and personal design, often on the cheap, I think you'll find it in this book. I've already referred back to it several times since I read it a few weeks ago.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Book Review: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

Title: Birds of America
Author: Lorrie Moore
Enjoyment Rating: some stories were 10/10, others were 3/10, overall 7/10
Source: Ordered new from Amazon
Referral: My creative writing professor recommended one of the stories
Books I've read this year: 117

As I've loudly proclaimed since I started this blog, short stories are not my thing. I do not like to write them, I do not like to read them, I do not like them Sam I Am. And I've resisted all the "Try them, try them, and you may/Try them and you may I say." Well, this semester I've had no choice but to try them since I'm taking a fiction seminar where we read and write short stories exclusively.

What is it that I don't like, exactly? I guess it's that I don't feel like there's often resolution to a short story-- I feel like it's more a venue for experimentation on the part of the author, which is all fine and good for the author, but often has mixed results for the reader. Some short stories in a collection will be fantastic, but others don't seem to work at all. I also like the chance to spend several days with an interesting character, and short stories are over too soon to develop a real relationship. What can I say? I'm a monogamist.

So, kicking and screaming, I've been eating my green eggs and ham reading short stories. On the first day of class, my Amazon addiction kicked in (a subject for another post), and I bought two of the collections that included stories that professor recommended. The first was this Lorrie Moore collection, and I bought it on the basis of the story "People Like that are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onc." My professor introduced it in the context that it's a story where the author's life and her character's life are similar, so in a reader's mind it might blend some elements of fiction and nonfiction. For example, Moore was living in Madison, WI and had a child with kidney cancer, and her character is a writer living in Madison, and her story focuses on her son's kidney cancer. Furthermore, the character's husband tells her to take notes and write a story about the experience. It's a brilliant story, and I felt a strong emotional connection to the character, probably because of the things we went through with Isaac several years ago. Anyway, I'd buy the book again just on the basis of that story. The other stories are fairly typical for a short story collection-- some are awesome, others leave me scratching my head. But overall, I've discovered a voice I really like in Lorrie Moore, and I see myself in her characters, who are, in large part, overly educated Midwesterners. 

Now I need to go order some of her novels.