Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A parable

The first few months of Eddie's mission were tough. He was miserable in the Missionary Training Center, and I spent a lot of time worrying about him. Would he stay? Would he be okay? Would we be okay? Gradually, over the course of the first year, we settled into a routine. He wrote me every week, and I wrote him every other day and sent packages at least once a month. And yes, I was heartbroken the first Christmas when he said he didn't think it would be a good idea for us to talk on the phone, but in general, I felt like I knew what to expect-- a letter once a week, some funny pictures every once in a while, and no promises for the future.

The second summer he was gone, I went to Belgium. I'd planned the trip as a safeguard for our relationship-- if I had it to look forward to the first year he was gone, I wouldn't go off and do anything stupid like throwing myself at some new, available guy. Then, by the time I got home, there'd only be eight months until he came home too, and if I'd already waited sixteen months, I could wait eight more. I took the cultural-sensitivity classes, I got hooked up with a job at a grocery store bakery, I got a room in a student apartment.

Then I got to Belgium and the job was horrible, all the students living in the apartment had moved home for the summer, and I didn't speak French nearly as well as I thought I did when I was back in Provo. I'd go to work in the day, come home to an empty house at night, and feel sorry for myself.

And then there was Eddie. We were closer together, physically, than we'd ever been. I could hop on a train and be in Ukraine in 24 hours, if I'd been more of the rule-breaking type. But he'd gone silent. I'd been getting letters every week, and once I got to Belgium, they stopped entirely. He was writing to me via the missionaries in our branch, and when two weeks passed without a letter, I accused them of hiding them from me. When three weeks passed, I started writing him hysterical letters, wondering why he hadn't had the good decency to tell me if he'd had a change of heart. I woke up every day feeling hopeless about hearing from him, and whenever the missionaries showed up at the grocery store (which was pretty much every day), I'd inevitably have to ask them, and they'd inevitably tell me that they hadn't gotten anything.

This went on for a month, maybe even forty days. I started to mentally write Eddie off. At this point, I'd invested two years of my life in him and had every intention of marrying him and spending the rest of forever with him, but his silence made it seem that he didn't feel the same way.

I'd given up hope when the missionaries finally showed up at the store one day, smiles on their faces, both holding something behind their backs. They held it out to me-- six fat envelopes and a package containing a tape. I don't know what happened, why the mail was held up (is there no reliable postal service between Belgium and Ukraine?) but I do know that when the mail finally showed, when I thought we were over and I'd have to come home from Belgium both chubby from cheese and chocolate and boyfriendless, it was one of the best moments of my entire life. I savored those six, fat letters as I rode the bus back to the house, and then the next morning, I sat in the bathtub and listened to the tape, crying at the sweetness of his voice. You see, during the time that I was having a crisis that he might not want me any more, he was starting to realize how much I did love him, and that I was not going to break his heart, that I was going to wait. That tape was the first time he mentioned marriage (a foregone conclusion in my mind) as something he saw in our future.

So while I wait for this letter saying that Rose is officially, immutably ours, while I whine and complain and disbelieve that the letter will ever come, I feel just as hopeless and impatient as I did that summer when I waited for Eddie's letters. But I also believe, because I've seen it come true in my own life back in that summer of 1995, that I will be happier on the day it comes than I am irritable and sad during the wait.

P.S. One of those Elders did ask me out once we were both back at BYU that fall, so maybe he did hold the mail on purpose.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Title: Out of My Mind
Author: Sharon Draper
Enjoyment Rating: 8/10
Referral: Annie read it and insisted I follow suit
Source: School book fair
Books I've read this year: 151

Out of My Mind is the story of Melody, a ten-year-old girl who has never said a word. Melody has cerebral palsy, and although her parents and a kind neighbor believe that there's a brain that works inside her damaged body, they don't know how to access it until a fantastic teacher and a helpful aide find a computer that will speak for Melody. Suddenly, everything she has learned and held bottled up over the last decade comes spilling out.

I think that Out of My Mind is probably a pretty good representation of what life might be like for a young girl with cerebral palsy. She knows she's different, but desperately wants to fit in and have a friend. Some of her typical peers are outright mean, others ignore her, and others want to be nice as long as it doesn't compromise their own social standing. Melody is aware enough to pick up on even the subtle slights. As she gains more recognition for her smarts, the stakes become higher in how she's treated.

One thing that I like about Out of My Mind is that there's no saccharine happy ending for the book. Melody's life, even though it's better now that she can communicate, will always be hard. I think that's a bold move for Draper to make as an author of a YA novel. But I think that she unnecessarily complicated the action of the novel by throwing in a dramatic plot device at the end. The story would have been powerful enough without complicating it with tragedies involving other family members. But overall, a great book. I think Annie has read it three times since she got it a few weeks ago. I'd like to see more books written with strong YA/middle grade characters who are learning to live with disabilities.

A letter to Rose-- November 29th

Dear Rose,

I really want to write a sour grapes letter today. I miss you. I want you home with me. Today was a big day on the forum, and lots of people who got matched with their kids after we got matched with you got to move on to the next step in the process, while the last I heard, our dossier for you hasn't even been translated yet. So I sit, wait, reload my email, walk around, check for voicemail, reload my email, whine to God, whine to anyone else who will listen, and reload my email. Why can't things just go in order? I like lines. I like order. I'm not good with uncertainty, disorder, or waits of any kind. It reminds me of when I was trying to get pregnant with Maren and it wasn't happening as quickly as I wanted, and even though the process was entirely out of my hands (other than the obvious, but we'll talk about that in a few years), I couldn't think about anything else. I wasted a lot of energy that year, and I know I'm wasting it now too. I try to tell myself that it's because I love you and it's not because I'm cutthroat and competitive, but the truth is that I love you and I'm competitive.

But I'm not going to write about that ("Wait Mom, you just did," you say? Are you already taking lessons in smart-aleckery from your older siblings?). I want to show you this picture. It's your big sister, Maren. She's been the baby of this family for almost five years. While everyone's life is going to change when you join us, hers will probably change more than anyone else's. She gets in bed with me at night. She won't let me leave the house without letting her give me a "hug-kiss" where I stand at the back door and she hugs and kisses me until she deems it okay for me to walk out the door. She basically gets whatever she wants, and if anyone gets their wishes catered to, it's our little Mei-Mei (her nickname, from babyhood, is Chinese for "little sister," which now feels like a poetic irony). But pretty soon we'll have an even littler Mei-Mei. You.

One of the things that the kids in our family get, in exchange for making their beds and not giving me too much guff, is either a small allowance or, in Maren's case, a "toy of the month." At the end of every month, she gets to pick out a new toy. This month, she chose a "Chinese Baby Stella" and she hasn't let it out of her sight since she got here. I know that this doll isn't you, Rose, but it still warms my heart to see her cuddled up with your little proxy. I hope that in a few weeks (by Christmas, please? I don't want anything else!) we'll have that all-important letter, and it won't be too much longer until it won't be a proxy baby snuggled up with Maren, but the real, living, breathing you.



Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: Jacob T. Marley by William Bennett

Title: Jacob T. Marley
Author: William Bennett
Enjoyment Rating:
Source: Received a copy from the publisher
Books I've read this year: 150

It's been years since I've read or watched A Christmas Carol, but it's one of those stories that's been etched in my mind through repeated exposure during an impressionable time of my life. I don't think I'm unique in this experience, which is why telling the story from Jacob Marley's point of view is such a smart move on William Bennett's part. Much like Ahab's Wife or The Wide Sargasso Sea, Bennett chooses to focus on a relatively minor character in A Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley, aka "the ghost with all the chains," and to see his role in the redemption of Scrooge.

The book spends a certain amount of time chronicling Marley's own downfall, then showing his role in Scrooge's transformation from decent guy to total jerk. But most of the book takes place after Marley's deathbed repentance, and his focus in the afterlife is to reach out to Scrooge and save him from the same fate.

While the book isn't overtly Mormon, there are some interesting things going on here in terms of the idea of eternal progression. Although Marely was undoubtedly a bad guy for most of his life, he still has an opportunity to make things right before the ultimate judgment. Bennett chooses to mimic the writing style of Dickens, which, for the most part, works well, although no proper Victorian would utter the word pregnant, would he? All in all, I think this book, because it's short and deals with characters most people are already familiar with, will be a popular gift book for people who won't be asking for The Marriage Bed or The Art of Fielding this Chirstmas season.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Title: The Marriage Plot
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Enjoyment Rating: 9/10
Referral: My friend Lyn read it before going to a Eugenides reading and said it was great
Source: Ordered new from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 149

It's not too uncommon for me to find bits of myself in the main character of a novel. After all, who writes books but people who like to read? But I really identified with Madeleine, the college senior English major at Brown in 1982, writing her thesis on the idea of the marriage plot in Regency/Victorian literature (I wrote my first MA thesis on many of the same authors Madeleine was studying). While Madeleine works on her thesis, she's involved in her own marriage plot-- she's dating Leonard, someone entirely unsuitable (mainly because he's struggling to get in control of his bipolar disorder, which is a bold move on Eugenides' part because it feels totally un-PC to have a character be unsuitable because of a mental illness), while a perfectly suitable boy, Mitchell, pines after her from afar (literally, he spends much of the book in Europe and India).

I didn't read the reviews on Amazon before I read the book, so I was a little bit surprised when I went on the website to pick up a picture to see that readers are only giving the book 3 1/2 stars (on average). All of the Amazon reviews seem to say that The Marriage Plot is too detailed-- we don't need so much insight into what everyone is thinking or to what Paris looked like in 1982. We don't need a twenty page description of what's happening at a party. But I've decided that when the authors have serious writing chops (and Eugenides does) I don't mind going all Victorian with them in terms of the details. I had a similar reaction to Elizabeth Kostova's books The Historian and The Swan Thieves, which people said was similarly mired in description. In fact, I always think these books are fantastic reads because the authors do such a good job creating a complete world. So it you like your description or your access to the characters' minds to be a little more limited, this might not be the book for you. But if you're willing to push through 400+ pages to come to what is really the only satisfying end to this marriage plot, then you just may be surprised at how much you enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A letter to Rose- November 22nd

Dear Rose,

Over the last few weeks, I've discovered a new online addiction. I've been involved with online communities, blogs, and message boards since Annie was a baby, so when I found out that you were joining our family, it seemed natural to turn to message boards to get information and support and help pass the time. First I found a great group of people whose children have come from the SWI where you're living. They've been great-- they've reassured me that you're in a place where you're well cared for, and they really know the ins and outs of our specific adoption journey. They've given us advice on where to stay in Nanjing, how to schedule a trip to your orphanage, and they've just been a great group of people.

I've also joined a message board for the families of adopted children with cleft lip and palate. While getting you here is more of a concern to me now than getting your lip and palate fixed, I know that in the future, they will also be a great resource.

Both of these message boards are relatively slow, with only a handful of posts on a busy day. The Xuzhou board, in particular, has been really welcoming, with lots of people emailing me off the board to give me advice. It's really taught me a lot about what kind of mentor I want to be after we get you home.

One of the women on the Xuzhou board introduced me to another message board for families adopting special needs kids from China. It's a busy board, and it sucked me in and has me held tight in its grasp. I reload this board at least ten times a day, mostly to check and see who has gotten approvals, so I can get a sense of how long the wait will be until we get you. The good news is that it's helping me accustom myself to the idea that we won't be there until March or April (before your birthday, please!), but the bad news is that I now feel all competitive about something over which I have zero control. For example, there was a family whose dossier was sent to China at the same time as ours, who got a referral the same day we did, who got their preliminary approval at the same time we did, and whose next step, the LOA/LSC, took only 34 days (the average is 72 days). They're now two steps ahead of us, and it's hard not to be jealous that they'll undoubtedly have their baby six weeks before we will. I'm happy for them, but I want you without any delays or hiccups. When someone gets their letter in 34 days, that means that someone else might wait 110 days, and I've watched those people post and try to learn patience through the process, and it's hard to watch and to worry that I might be there in another month.

I pray for you every day, and pray that your papers won't be lost and the process will go as smoothly as possible. One thing that watching these families wait has taught me is that they're praying and hoping as much as I am. All of us have part of our hearts in China, with our babies. It's not necessarily families with more faith and prayers whose papers get processed faster. That doesn't mean I'll stop praying, but I do have to realize that part of the speed of the process will just lie in the luck of the draw.

I'll try not to go too crazy checking the charts twenty times a day, but I won't stop praying that you're happy and safe and your papers will be processed as quickly as possible.



Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Title: The Kitchen House
Author: Kathleen Grissom
Enjoyment Rating: 9/10
Referral: I'm not sure how this one ended up in my Audible account.
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year: 148

 You know when I've got the earbuds plugged in at the grocery store that I'm listening to something so good that it trumps social niceties. It's ironic that The Kitchen House, where social niceties (or the lack thereof) play such an important role in the book, had me being rude at Smith's yesterday while loading up on milk and Coke Zero. The Kitchen House is the story of Lavinia, a six-year-old whose parents died while immigrating to Philadelphia from Ireland. In exchange for the family's passage, the ship's captain takes her on as an indentured servant, and deposits her in the slave quarters of his Virginia plantation. She grows up unable to understand racial prejudice, and she carries her innocence into adulthood, with tragic consequences.

While the book was beautifully written and wonderfully narrated (that Orlagh Cassidy! I have such a crush on her!), and now that it's done, I'm left with two impressions. The first is stewardship. You'll have to trust me because I don't want to give so much away that you don't read this wonderful story, but it seems that a lot of the problems that the women and the slaves find themselves in in The Kitchen House is a result of men who don't take their stewardship seriously. When the men sleep with slaves and mismanage their finances and keep secrets and worse, everything is bad. When the men work hard and try to do good by the people in their stewardship, things generally go well. I know that's not a brilliant insight, but I was struck by how concentrated the power was in this society, and one bad man could make life hell for so many people.

The other thing I want to say is that this book would have been a 10/10, but it broke my number one cardinal rule for fiction (which I think I alluded to a few weeks ago in my Girl in Translation review). Incidentally, I also broke it in a short story I wrote for class this week (but I fully intend to change it in the editing process). Please authors, please give up on the trope of women getting pregnant after having sex one time. I know it's possible, and parents of teenage daughters use the "it only takes one time" to scare their girls into celibacy, but it doesn't happen in real life in one shot with nearly the frequency that it happens in fiction.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig

Title: The Whistling Season
Author: Ivan Doig
Enjoyment Rating: 7/10
Referral: Picked it up cheap on Audible
Source: Audible for iTunes
Books I've read this year: 147

I read my first Ivan Doig book (Dancing at the Rascal Fair) earlier this year and I was completely charmed by it. I love that Doig just tells stories and doesn't concern himself with being avant-garde in any way. In The Whistling Season, Doig tells the story of a widower (Oliver Milleron) and his three sons (Peter, the narrator, Damon, and Toby), living on a dry farm on Montana, who have been wanting for clean sheets and a good meal since their mother died a year ago. Oliver decides to hire a housekeeper, Rose Llewellyn.

Okay, so if you're like me, you say to yourself, young widower, young widow, they have to get married, right? For the next 300 pages, that's not what happens at all. Rose shows up with her brother, and the families have lots of everyday Montana adventures as Rose's brother Morrie takes over as the teacher at the one-room school. The adventures are delightful, and as 60 year-old state administrator Paul contemplates closing the one-room schools where he and his brothers were educated, there are some wonderful moments of rumination. Pretty soon I had forgotten all about Rose and Oliver getting together. 

And then (spoiler alert!) it happens. The romance almost seems to come out of left field. And then what happens after that, the secret which brought Rose and Morrie to Montana in the first place, which I won't detail here, seems to come right out of left field (the sports metaphor works because Damon is a sports nut, just trust me). Although I enjoyed that something was (finally?) happening in the book, the first 300 pages didn't prepare me for the last 50 pages. I guess life is like that sometimes, but I don't usually expect good fiction to be.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Book Review: Crossed by Ally Condie

Title: Crossed
Author: Ally Condie
Enjoyment Rating: 6/10
Referral: I read Matched, and I liked it enough to give this one a go
Source: Ordered new from Amazon (mostly for Annie's sake)
Books I've read this year: 146

When I'm reviewing books, I sometimes feel torn. When I've met an author and really like him or her, I want to write a glowing review. But I also feel like it's my moral obligation to be honest. Here's me being honest.

I had food poisoning over the weekend and spent all day Saturday sleeping on and off. I was cranky, and in the moments when I wasn't sleeping, I read Crossed. I could use the state of my intestinal tract and my tired brain to explain why this book didn't really do it for me, but then I think back to when I read Matched last year, and I was underwhelmed by that too.

Really, I don't think it has a lot to do with the writing. I think Condie writes beautifully, and I was impressed by the way she adapted the Southern Utah landscape of her childhood to a dystopian novel. I also love, love, love the way she interweaves great classic poems into her texts. On those two points alone, I want my kids to read this book. I also love the way she includes the cave paintings into this one. The details are fantastic.

The problem for me is probably my own, and it's a lot more basic. First of all, I think that the romance that drives the books gets old. The romance more than the life situation seems to be the driving force in both of the books so far, at least for Cassia, the seventeen-year-old protagonist. Okay, I'll admit that when I was seventeen I was pretty boy crazy myself, and there was no expectation that I should be matched off or married at that age, so I guess it makes sense. The thing that I'm having a hard time reconciling in this series is that I think Cassia is going for the wrong guy. Maybe lots of girls (Cassia, Taylor Swift, Demi Moore) want the bad boy instead of the one who is plodding along within the system (or is he?) but I fell hard for Xander, probably because he reminds me so much of my own lifelong match, that every time she talks about her love for Ky, I want to shake her and tell her to rethink her options.

Does this mean I'm getting old?

Friday, November 18, 2011

After the match

Don't get me wrong, I love paperwork. There's something totally satisfying about a project that doesn't require me to use my whole brain (unlike schoolwork), that doesn't need to be redone every day (like dinner and laundry and the dishes), and that doesn't talk back. But when we started the adoption process, I naively thought that all of the waiting associated with paperwork was done when the dossier was sent to China back in August. Oh, I knew that we couldn't hop on a plane the next day and I'd still have to fill out a few forms, but I thought I'd spend the four months (because it would be four months, not six, right? right?) between referral and travel making travel plans and buying clothes for Rose. I didn't realize how many steps there were in the process after the referral.

So for all the people asking when we're going to go get her, and asking if we can get special approval to hurry things up because she has a medical need (Answer: no, virtually all of the 5,000 or so kids coming to the US from China this year have special needs, most more severe than Rose's), here's an idea of how the process has gone since the match and how it may go from now until we get on the plane:

What's Happened So Far
September 26th-- We got a call from our agency with the referral of Rose. We wrote a Letter of Intent the next day and emailed it to our agency.
September 27th or 28th-- Our agency submitted the Letter of Intent to the CCCWA (the government office in China that oversees international adoption).
October 12th-- We got Preliminary Approval from the CCCWA.

What Still Needs to Happen
1) We need to get a Letter of Approval/Letter Seeking Confirmation from the CCCWA. These letters usually come in two to three months after Preliminary Approval, although I've seen them take as little as 34 days and as many as 150 days. Here's to hoping we're not in the group of long waiters. As I understand it, the process takes quite a while because the entire dossier (the 50+ stack of papers representing us to the Chinese government) needs to be translated from English to Chinese before we can be approved. While we're waiting, we filled out another big stack of papers for Rose's visa and immigration and stuff like that.
2) After we receive the LOA/LSC, we send a copy of it, along with our completed I-800 form, A Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative, to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services office. It usually takes two weeks to a month to get that form approved.
3) This is where things get hazy. There's something called the NVC cable, which I think involves getting her visa. I know we need visas to enter China too, but I think that's something different. This part is usually pretty quick, about a week I think.
4) Then there's something called an Article 5 letter, which involves the US Embassy in Guangzhou. I think that we don't really do anything here, but someone in China does it on behalf, and it doesn't take very long either.
5) The next long wait is for the Travel Approval. This takes another few weeks after A5, I think.

And then.... the long wait ends. Once we get the travel approval, we make a Consulate Appointment and hop in a plane within 3 or 4 weeks. If we end up going to Beijing (unlikely considering Ed's work schedule), we'll get Rose on the 4th or 5th day of our trip. If we go directly to Nanjing (the provincial capital of Jiangsu province, where she lives now) then we'll probably get her the day after we arrive. We'll be in China for 10-12 days total, about half in Nanjing and the other half in Guangzhou, where the consulate is. We also hope to travel to XuZhou, which is where Rose's orphanage is.

So, there you go. I may be wrong about some things, but I hope this answers some questions. All I know is that the wait is way too long, and there are too many steps where things could go wrong, and where the waits can vary by several weeks.

Book Review: Troll's Eye View by Datlow/Windling

Title: Troll's Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales
Editors: Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Enjoyment Rating: 7/10
Referral: Annie said I should read it and I thought it might inspire me to write another retelling for my Fairy Tales Class
Source: Our bookshelf-- someone gave it to Annie for Christmas last year, I think
Books I've read this year: 145

I wrote some fairy tale retellings for my short story class this semester, and I've been flirting with the idea of writing another for my fairy tale class final, so when Annie suggested that I read this book, I hopped right on it. I'll admit now that I didn't read every page, but the stories I did read were pretty entertaining. Like the story of Hansel and Gretel from the POV of the witch, who not only lives in a house made out of sugar, but she's made out of sugar too. A lot of the heavy hitters in YA and fairy tale fantasy are included in this collection (Jane Yolen, Gregory Maguire and Neil Gaiman, to name a few), and it simultaneously inspired me to think differently about fairy tale retellings and depressed me because my attempts are so pathetic compared with some of these.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A letter to Rose: November 15th

Dear Rose,

A week or so ago, Dad and I were at the bank, getting a huge stack of papers notarized. The woman at the bank asked why we needed her services, and I said that the papers were forms we'd filled out to bring you home from China. Then she said something I won't repeat here, that she undoubtedly meant as funny, but it wasn't. It was ignorant and unkind. I didn't know how to respond, so I ended up not saying anything. When you're with me, I promise that I'll find my voice.

When it comes right down to it, I've never faced much prejudice in my life. Sure, there was the time when I was applying to be a writer for a Baptist church in Missouri, and they were really interested in me until they learned that I "wasn't a Christian" because I'd gone to BYU. But let's face it, I'm a privileged white woman, and while I will try to make your life here as easy as possible, by bringing you from China, where you look like everybody else, to the United States, I'm setting you up to encounter the ugliness and prejudice in a way that you might not if you stayed in China. (Of course, that tiny little split in your lip, the one that will be so easy to fix once you get home, would have set you up for a whole different set of challenges in China, but that's an issue for another day).

But because my skin is white, my hair is blonde, and my eyes are blue, I'm afraid that I won't be able to empathize when people treat you differently because of your Asian features. When people see us together, they might not automatically think that we belong together, but we do. I won't know what you're going through from personal experience, but I will always be here to listen, to love you, and to let you know that even though you look different from the rest of us, you are a vital, loved, essential part of our family.



Sunday, November 13, 2011

Book Review: A Sense of Order and Other Stories by Jack Harrell

Title: A Sense of Order and Other Stories
Author: Jack Harrell
Enjoyment Rating: 9/10
Referral: I bought this book a few months ago but only got around to reading it this week because he was visiting campus.
Source: I think I ordered it from Amazon but I can't remember
Books I've read this year: 144

I've read a lot of bad books lately. When I picked up Jack Harrell's A Sense of Order and Other Things earlier this week, I worried that it would be one more thing on my "have to read" list for school. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised, delighted even, at Harrell's stories. In fact, after reading A Sense of Order, I have officially revised my "I don't like short stories" opinion. Sure, there are still short stories I don't like, but I'm not going to pooh-pooh the genre any more.

Jack Harrell's writing gives me hope that the LDS tradition does have room for excellent writing, and that there is an audience for that writing, even if it's a small one. His stories take place in settings as varied as rural Illinois, Rexburg, ID, the office of the prophet, and the lone and dreary world. Not all of his characters are LDS, but many are. Some of the stories contain supernatural elements. But all of the stories, regardless of setting or worldview, feel very real and grounded. They also contain an element of hope and faith. I'm eager to read more of Harrell's work, and hope to become one of the people who can ride on his coattails as a writer.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book Review: Why Fairy Tales Stick by Jack Zipes

Title: Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre
Author: Jack Zipes
Usefulness rating: 6/10
Referral: I picked it for a book review required by my fairy tale films class because I'm writing a paper about how one particular tale has evolved
Source: Borrowed from the BYU library
Books I've read this year: 143

This is the review I wrote for my class:

In the early chapters of Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre, Jack Zipes seems to set up a pattern for what he’ll do in the rest of the book. In the first chapter, he lays the groundwork for how fairy tales became a genre in the first place. He shows how there needed to be a critical mass of people, reading and writing in the vernacular, before the oral folk and fairy tales which had been circulating for centuries could be written down. While we can’t see how stories changed in the oral tradition, Zipes attempts to demonstrate how the tales have changed in the years when they have become part of the print and mass-media culture. While Zipes deals primarily with the history of language in the first chapter, his focus shifts to the history of fairy tales as a whole in the second chapter. The most surprising part of these first two chapters may be Zipes’ definition of a fairy tale, which is broader than many others I’ve read. While many other fairy tale scholars keep the definition narrow because they consider all tales that are fairy tales to come from the oral tradition, Zipes includes Barrie, Wilde, Andersen, Baum, Tolkien, Salman Rushdie, and even the creators of X-Men as authors of fairy tale. Zipes says, “The institutionalization of a genre means that a certain process of production, distribution, and reception had become fully accepted within the public sphere of a society and plays a role in forming and maintaining the cultural heritage of that society. Without such institutionalization, any genre would perish” (89). It seems logical that Zipes, who argues that the fairy tale is alive and evolving in the 21st century, would keep the definition broad, because if the traditional tales fail to speak to those in the future, there will undoubtedly be other tales to take their place.

Based on these first two chapters, I expected that Zipes would continue to look at the genre as a whole, perhaps looking at the evolution of various issues or linguistic elements in Western European tales. However, Zipes seems to change the scope of his work quite dramatically as the book progresses past the first two chapters. In the next four chapters Zipes looks at various tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, and Bluebeard) and show how each tale has departed from the traditional literary versions in the retellings that have been written over the last two or three centuries. He finds trends in the patterns of retellings (Bluebeard characters after World War II seems to represent some of the anxieties and feelings of emasculation that men felt after the end of the war, Cinderellas in the late 20th century show trends toward multiculturalism) and attempts to draw some conclusions about what those patterns may say about particular periods of time. Zipes seems to feel that the Aarne-Thompson classification index is a too categorical and formulaic to be useful in the modern era, but his book works best as an extension of that index. It would be particularly useful to anyone studying a traditional tale and its many retellings, since he provides exhaustive lists of retellings as well as more in-depth summaries and analysis of particular retellings which seem to highlight a certain moment in history.

When I chose this book to review, I was surprised at just how ubiquitous Jack Zipes seems to be in the world of fairy tale studies. I wondered how he could possibly write all of the books and articles he does. In reading Why Fairy Tales Stick, I think I found some of the answer—he reuses significant portions of his material. This book is only seven chapters long, and at least one of the chapters is a condensation of previously published work (in this case, a study of Little Red Riding Hood). If other chapters function in the same way, that might explain some of Zipes’s ability to be prolific in his publishing, but I’m not sure how it reflects on his academic work as a whole. Zipes is at his least successful when he’s catty. He goes on for several paragraphs about Ruth Bottigheimer’s argument that print culture was responsible for the dissemination of the fairy tale, and the attack was so mean-spirited that it seemed to veer from the academic into the personal. Ultimately, while Zipes’s book can be useful for researchers who want to find retellings for their own research, I think that because he never announces his intentions to look at patterns individual fairy tales rather than continuing to look at evolution more broadly, those reading the book feel somewhat unsatisfied when the book takes that direction. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Review: Fairy Tale Films by Pauline Greenhill and Sidney Ann Matrix

Title: Fairy Tale Films: Visions of Ambiguity
Author: Pauline Greenhill and Sidney Ann Matrix
Usefulness Rating: 6/10
Referral: Required reading for my fairy tale folklore class
Source: Ordered from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 142

I took away two things from reading this book. First of all, pretty much any story can be seen as a fairy tale narrative. Greenhill and Matrix selected essays in which Eyes Wide Shut, Harry Potter, and Edward Scissorhands are considered fairy tales. Secondly, it's almost impossible to talk about fairy tales without talking about gender. While reading these essays was sometimes interesting, I think it would have been a more interesting read if we actually watched some of the films discussed in the chapters. Reading the secondary sources without watching the primary sources was ultimately unfulfilling.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Review: A Reason to Believe by Blaise Winter

Title: A Reason to Believe
Author: Blaise Winter
Enjoyment Rating: 4/10
Referral: I searched for cleft lip/cleft palate memoirs on Amazon, and this was the only thing I found
Source: Ordered used (and autographed!) from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 141

I often talk to people who want to write, but who say to me, "I could never be a writer." As a writing teacher and a wannabe writer myself, my advice is, "Anyone can be a writer who has the desire and works hard enough." Blaise Winter obviously had the drive, he obviously worked hard, and he even had a co-author to help him along, but this book is making me rethink my advice. I had high hopes for this book, because it was basically the only book I could find where someone with a cleft lip and palate wrote about their experience in a memoir (why is there such a dearth of books written about this?), but Winter, despite his protestations to the contrary, tended to write about his life in a way that it was obvious that he had a "woe is me" attitude about life. His dad was abusive. His brother accused his wife of being money-grubbing. His mom was nice, but weak. His coaches didn't believe in him. His teachers held him back. People treated him like he was mentally retarded because of his speech problems. Teams cut him when he didn't deserve it. He seems to say that inner strength and Angie made him the powerhouse of a man he is today. Maybe someone who liked Winter as a football player may enjoy the story, but it didn't do much for me in providing insight on cleft lip and palate.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book Review: Inside by Brenda Novak

Title: Inside
Author: Brenda Novak
Enjoyment Rating: 3/10
Referral: I wanted to read a Harlequin romance by an LDS author for an article I was writing
Source: Ordered used from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 140

I read this book at a Girl's Weekend a few weeks ago. I brought it, along with two or three other books, and I expected that with no scheduled activities, I'd whip through this book fast. Instead, it took me the whole weekend, plus a few more days to finish it. The first problem is that the first few chapters were confusing. The premise of the book is that Virgil Skinner served fourteen years in jail for a murder he didn't commit (although he did kill a couple other people while he was in jail). He's been exonerated, but he wants complete freedom, and the people he allied with in prison to stay alive want him to stay true to them now that he's on the outside. In exchange for an entrance into Witness Protection for himself, his sister, and her kids, he decides to hook up with the California Dept. of Corrections to go back inside and give them information on another prison gang. While he's waiting to go back inside, he meets Peyton Adams, the unlikeliest of prison wardens-- she's hot and single and in her 30s. She's also all buttoned up, but she and Virgil quickly end up in bed and in love, so her heart is all aflutter when Virgil goes inside (for a book called "inside," Virgil actually spends about 80% of the novel outside-- it's all lead up).

The book just wasn't good. Maybe some readers will like it, if those readers prioritize romance over believability in terms of plot and characters. Add a confusing narrative and a totally nonsensical psychotic villain, and the book was torture to finish.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A letter to Rose- November 8th

Dear Rose,

Yesterday you turned seven months! Happy birthday! There's a baby in our ward who is about a month younger than you. Her mom is in the Primary presidency with me, so every Sunday I see how big she's getting and how much she's learning how to do. Now she's sitting up and laughing and putting everything in her mouth, and seeing her makes me feel close to you.

Mimi was here this week, and we transitioned from Halloween right into Christmas. She spent many hours in our dining room, toiling away on your stocking. We all know that there's no way you'll be here for Christmas, Mimi felt it was important for us to have your stocking hanging on the fireplace with all the others. I've even set aside a few things to wrap up and give you for Christmas-- I know your brothers and sisters will have fun opening them in your honor.

We've also been having fun planning your "Good Fortune" shower. While I never expected to have a baby shower for our fifth baby, so many of our friends and family want to celebrate your arrival into our family. So over Christmas break we're going to have a little party with Chinese food and a rose cake. I'm excited that there are so many people who are happy for us and for you to join our family, so I think it's going to be lots of fun.

Your brothers and sisters continue to wish that we could hop on a plane tomorrow and come get you. We filled out a huge stack of papers this week, all kinds of official documents for the American government side of things, and as much as I don't want to wait any more than the kids do, I also know that I want all of our "i"s dotted and "t"s crossed because once you're ours, no one is going to be able to pry us apart. I love you sweetie!



Book Review: The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout

Title: The Sociopath Next Door
Author: Martha Stout
Enjoyment Rating: 6/10
Referral: I found it browsing a sale at Audible
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year 139

I'll admit now that Martha Stout may be right. She asserts early in The Sociopath Next Door that 4% of the population is sociopathic, and she repeats that fact at least once (and probably more like three times) each chapter. But each time the narrator said "one in 25 people is a sociopath" I had the same reaction-- disbelief. Is it really possible that four people in one hundred doesn't have a fully-formed conscience that Stout describes as the hallmark of sociopathy? The DSM-IV suggests that sociopathy is one of several antisocial personality disorders, and that the prevalence of all antisocial personality disorders is approximately 3% of men and 1% of women. Maybe I recoil at Stout's figures because she does such a good job of presenting people who are sociopaths (several of her chapters are stories about sociopaths) and it's creepy to think that if Stout's figures hold, there's a sociopath in each of my kids' classes, three in our Primary, and half a dozen in my ward. It's also a little freaky when she says that most people who aren't sociopaths can't recognize sociopathy in others. I'm also reluctant to buy her numbers because she doesn't seem to present any possibilities for redemption for these people-- the book wants to show that they are devoid of conscience, that they are manipulative, and that you should avoid them. She never talks about how someone can develop a conscience who was not born with one or whose conscience was lost due to traumatic events in early childhood.

Reading The Sociopath Next Door made me think a lot about Dexter. Dexter asserts early on in the show that he is a sociopath, possibly due to genetics, but likely due to early childhood trauma. He only feels whole when he kills. In the first season, he doesn't know how to love, he fakes emotion, he doesn't like sex, and he goes through the motions of all of these emotional aspects of life because he needs to fit in. Most of the villains he encounters in each season are also sociopaths-- his brother, Lila (possibly the best example), Jimmy Smits (Stout says that sociopaths do well in politics, and the Smits character resembles one of Stout's examples quite a bit) and the John Lithgow character. Lumen (in season five) has to turn away from him because she eventually recognizes that she is not a sociopath, but the guy who locked her up definitely was. So if you look at Dexter as a show where a recovering sociopath (that's how I would characterize Dexter, even though Stout doesn't seem to think recovery is possible) encounters other sociopaths. For that insight alone, reading the book was worthwhile.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Title: Girl in Translation
Author: Jean Kwok
Enjoyment Rating: 6/10
Referral: I saw it on several friends' Goodreads lists
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year: 138

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." That's how I'd characterize Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation. On the one hand, Ah Kim and her mother have it hard. They exchange a relatively comfortable life in Hong Kong, where Kim's mother was a music teacher, for a life living in an unheated, rat- and cockroach-infested hovel in Brooklyn, for a job that pays a penny per skirt, for choices determined by Kim's bitter aunt, the one who found them the apartment and the job and feels inclined to keep them in a state of destitution.

On the other hand, Kim has brains. She knows how to work hard. And after a rough start at her public elementary school with an almost criminally unfeeling teacher, her brains are recognized. She goes straight from one of the worst public schools in NYC to one of the best private schools. Still, culture and language continue to make Kim feel foreign. I think that Kwok does a nice job portraying Kim's inner struggles, but the book would have worked better for me if it had been a little more nuanced. Instead, Kim comes off as some kind of Greek goddess, a character where only the best or the worst things happen to her and nothing in between. In the last few pages, I get a sense that Kim might see her overarching ambition as something that has its drawbacks, but her perspective is so singularly focused during the first 90% of the book, that this maturity seems a little out of place.

This next part is a spoiler, so don't read it if you think you might want to read the book. While I know it is possible to get pregnant the first and only time a couple has sex, even if that couple has sex with a condom, it seems like every time a teenager in a book has sex, she will definitely get pregnant. That's a trope that we need to give up. Please promise me that if I ever include a character who gets pregnant after a single sexual encounter, you will shoot me or something. Yuck.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book Review: A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

Title: A Lesson in Secrets (Maisie Dobbs, Book 8)
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Enjoyment Rating:
Referral: The 8th book in the series (and the most recent one published, sniff, sniff)
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year: 137

Dear Maisie,

I know you're a fictional character, but I can't help but depart from my standard format and drop you a little note. I fear that you're about to do something dumb. Very dumb. Even dumber than your poor friend Sandra getting arrested in this book. I know that you're independently wealthy now, but money isn't everything. You would admit that money isn't everything-- you've lived long enough without it. But this last installment of your book was so different from the first seven. In those books you worked hard at your business, you tried to solve life's little mysteries, and you lived an economic, measured life. You were, it's fair to say, sort of damaged goods in the first few books. But you've gotten healthy, and in the last book, I was hopeful that you, a 1930s working woman's Cinderella, was about to live happily ever after.

In this book, I worry that you're taking some aspects of your life too fast (trying to solve everyone else's financial problems, switching to work in secret service) and others not fast enough (are you really going to make James wait? You're not getting any younger, dear). I worry that the first 35 years of your life have made you comfortable only when you're in control, and you have to give up a certain measure of control to share your life with someone else. Can you please try to make that leap of faith, Maisie? Please? I'm not suggesting that you hang up your hat and have a bunch of babies, but don't let James get away. Have a little faith in him that he will be your partner and not your boss.

Love (I think I can say love after all this time),


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A letter to Rose- November 1st

Dear Rose,

It was Halloween last night, and you were missed. Your brothers and sisters kept asking, "What will Rose be for Halloween next year?" and "Do you think Rose is trick or treating tonight?" They were disappointed to learn that you probably didn't dress up or go trick or treating. "We'll have to make sure she has an extra-cool costume next year," they said.

They wanted to show you their costumes, as a preview of things to come:

 Darth Vader and his Storm Trooper buddy.

Taylor Swift and Olivia the Pig

Maren thinks you should wear a pumpkin costume next year, and Isaac wants you to be the Headless Horseman. Unless you have strong opinions one way or the other, I promise to pick out something sweet for your first Halloween. I'm a little sad that the older three have progressed beyond the cute, but I'm really lucky that I'll have you to be my little doll.

Since we couldn't dress you up and parade you around the neighborhood, we decorated a pumpkin in your honor.
Here's Maren sitting next to her pig pumpkin (I know you're impressed)

Here's yours. We tried our best to make a Rose, but it came out looking more like a Daisy.

This week I found some more fantastic websites to help pass the time until we can get you. I joined a Yahoo group for kids with cleft lip and palate, as well as a message board for parents waiting for kids from China. Both groups have been informative and welcoming, but on the China Adopt Talk board, I learned that instead of being able to come get you in February or March, if things proceed like they have over the last few months, it will probably be late March or April before you are in our arms. Not good news at all! It seems that I keep encountering situations to teach me patience, which I think is funny because I've never possessed much. We also sent you a letter and a little package and are hoping for some new pictures of you soon. If we can't have you, I hope that we can at least see you.

But even if we can't have you or see you, know that we love you.

Love, Mommy