Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday (2015's middle 10)

Click to link!
This week the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish are asking:
What are your top ten 2015 reads so far? But since I haven't written reviews for most of my 2015 reads, I don't want to spoil things by listing my top ten yet.
So, I'm opting to list my "Top Middle Ten" so far in 2015.
These are books that won't make it to the top ten for the year, but they still deserve some love.
Top Middle Nonfiction: 
Top Middle Memoirs:
Top Middle Poetry and Grammar:

Top Middle Self-Help:

I'm interested to know what is on your top 10 (or top middle 10) so far!

Monday, June 29, 2015

It's Monday! (6/29/15)

 It's Monday! is sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.
Last week I finished four books--all with white covers, apparently.
First was Life Is Short (No Pun Intended) about the Klein/Arnold family of TLC's The Little Couple, all of whom live with skeletal dysplasia (dwarfism). I learned a lot about Bill and Jen's early years, so that was fun.
Next was Trisha Yearwood's third cookbook, Trisha's Table. Most of the recipes were straightforward and normal, but some involved the current fad of health foods (e.g. cashew milk, quinoa) that sort of turned me off.
Then I finished off Flower in two big gulps. It's a photography book of huge (life-size or larger) photos of flowers. Awe-inspiring.
Lastly, I finished In Defense of Food which is Michael Pollan's treatise on what and how to eat. It answered some questions, but raised some as well.

Going into this week, I'm reading three books off of my July reading list: Jane Smiley's Early Warning (book two in her American farm trilogy); Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, which gives the history of the Latter Day Saints church and the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints church/movement; and a re-read of Around the House and in the Garden, in which Dominique Browning (former House and Garden magazine editor-in-chief), talks about picking up the pieces after her divorce.
I'm enjoying all three quite a bit.

What's on your bedside table this week?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

And the Good News Is..., Dana Perino

And the Good News Is…: Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side

Dana Perino

Category: Memoir
Synopsis: Dana Perino, Press Secretary to President George W. Bush, talks about her life, in and out of politics.
Pages: 242
Date finished: 16 May 2015

Rating: ***½ 

When I read a memoir, I’m always keeping track of how much I have in common with the author. A lot of times, there isn’t a lot, maybe a physical feature here and there or a shared love of food, say, or writing. But every now and then a book comes along that catches me by surprise because the author and I have so much in common. And the Good News Is… is one such book. Dana Perino and I are, apparently, soul sisters.

Here’s a little chart of our commonalities:

Item                                       Dana Perino                                        Carrie Butler Becker

Born                                      1972                                                      around 1972
Raised                                   on a ranch in Wyoming                        on a farm in Wisconsin

Attended                               state university                                     state university

Studied                                  journalism                                            creative writing

Met husband                        on a plane                                             online

First date with                     awkward, kissed a lot in a taxi             awkward, kissed a lot in an
   husband was                                                                                   Oldsmobile Alero

Dated husband                     long-distance                                        long-distance

Husband is                           18 years older                                       26 years older

Children                               decided not to have them                     decided not to have them

Stepkids are                         her age                                                  my age

Grandkids                            call her “Grandma America”               call me “Grandma”

Loves                                    dogs, reading                                        dogs, reading

Believes in                            God and manners                                 God and manners

AM or PM?                         morning person                                     morning person

Spells swears with               yes                                                        yes
Thinks she’s funnier           yes                                                        probably…
   than she is
Politics                                  conservative                                         conservative

Job                                        press secretary for leader of the           okay, so this is where
                                              free world & co-host of cable              it all breaks down, but still…
                                              news commentary show

You see? At least the non-White House stuff was like reading my own memoir, just written by a petite blonde with expensive clothes and a home in NYC. But seriously, you can imagine how rare it is to find someone my age who was raised on a farm, whose marriage enjoys a 20-year age split, has grandkids but no biological kids, and who votes conservatively. The odds are low, my friend. L-O-W.

So I’m no great reviewer of this book. I feel like I’m wildly prejudiced. But I do have two things:  

If you think George W. Bush is the devil, don’t read this book. Because Dana is unabashedly close to the president, and you’ll just get upset about that. If you respect George W. Bush, read the book. She humanizes him and gives instances of his steadfastness of character. For instance, when she was going into resentful overdrive trying to protect the president from his less-than-kind portrayal in Scott McClellan’s memoir, he told her something to the effect of, “You have to let this go, Dana.” He knew not everyone liked him, and he knew he’d even make enemies of those he trusted most, but that was something he had to deal with, not something she had to take on herself.

Thing two. A portion of the book was advice to young professionals and it. Was. Awful. It was the most banal advice ever. (Send thank you notes. Don’t wear stupid boots to work. Etc.) I was embarrassed for her. I wish she would have talked about confidence, courage, and clarity—things she knows something about and many young women struggle with. The dress-for-success stuff and how to speak intelligently—young women will learn that on their own. What women (of all ages) need mentoring in is how to feel successful, not how to be successful.

Overall, though, I enjoyed this “celebrity” memoir because she’s my little blonde spirit-doppelganger.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
If you’re a conservative woman, yes.

You might also enjoy:
No Higher Honor, Condoleezza Rice
Spoken from the Heart, Laura Bush

Monday, June 22, 2015

It's Monday! (6/22/15)

It's Monday! is sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.
Last week, I finished Candice Bergen's A Fine Romance and L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. Both are fine books. I'm glad I finally got to read most every book blogger's favorite childhood book!
As soon as I finished Anne of Green Gables, I began my audio of Jon Krakauser's Under the Banner of Heaven about fundamentalist Mormonism. I added "Reading a book by Jon Krakauer" to my list of reading goals for 2015. This book has been on my TBR for a long time, and when I noticed that my public library owns it in audio, I determined to finally read it.
This week, I'm also reading, Life is Short (No Pun Intended), Trisha Yearwood's Trisha's Kitchen, and going through the feast for the eyes photography in Flower.

I also plan to start Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. (I swapped out P. D. James's Death Comes to Pemberley for it, realizing I'd never get a Jane Austen book read this year if I read Death.... I only have so much attention for regency romance, I guess.
And with that, my June reading list will be completed.
What's on your plate this week?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Other Side

Several weeks ago I wrote about the difficult time I was having in my church experience. I shared my emotions, my fears, my confusion. And I promised to update you from the other side of those feelings. While I’m not through those feelings, and may not be for some time, just a week after sharing that post, the healing of the situation had begun. 

I have made the difficult decision to leave my church. It was a decision made after much prayer and searching. And it was a decision made in tandem with my husband. We had to agree with the same conviction before we moved forward.

My husband was in the process of quitting his job for a job for our church. The board had agreed unanimously, but while we were out of town one Sunday, the other members held a meeting to reconsider their offer. We were shaking up our lives, losing good benefits, taking a big financial hit. And now we just felt betrayed. We felt alone and so misunderstood. We had somebody praying with us as we discussed our options in bed until midnight one night.

I was still running up against the brick wall of responsibility. If we left our church, they likely would not have enough members to hold church services. They wouldn’t have a Sunday School teacher. They wouldn’t have anyone to run the library/bookstore. We lived close and spent many hours each week working and ministering wherever we found the need. What if we left, and the church closed? Would I be able to live with that?

But deeper than that was the feeling I just couldn’t shake that God would never direct me to leave my church. Could there be blessing to the church in leaving a church? What would be the divine point of abandoning one church to bless another? I never doubted I’d end up in the right place, but I doubted my church would. Why did I keep forgetting that God was in charge of both?

Somewhere in that long night of sharing our sadness and fears, this sense of responsibility lifted from me and I could see more clearly. The responsibility for keeping this church running was not mine, but God’s. We made our decision: we’d tender our resignations.

In the next couple days, I was finally able to fully admit to myself that I’d wanted to leave the church for months. The relationships felt poisonous, and I was becoming ill with the worry and pain. I had not allowed myself to leave, though. I had not even given myself the option of leaving. I didn’t think I had the right to leave. This realization has been a pivotal point of my growth. I allowed myself to be trapped by the thing I loved most. But it was false imprisonment. Church is not a prison, but my thoughts about it were. How many other places in my life am I falsely imprisoning my sweet soul when there is absolutely no need?

We stopped by the church to drop off our resignation letters and keys, and I took one last look around: the church painted in the colors I’d chosen, the drapes I’d ordered, the podium my husband read from, the pew I always sat in, the nursery room I’d furnished, the Sunday School where I taught my grandson the ten commandments. So much of my last 15 years was poured into a place and a people who were happy to see me leave. I was heartbroken. I left with tears in my eyes. I remember thinking, “It’s such a pity it had to end this way.”

A short time later, someone we’d respected and looked to for guidance in our decision told us we’d made the wrong choice. It was human will, she told us, not divine direction that made us leave. We needed to be more humble, she said. This could have been healed. Dealing with her assertions was almost as difficult for me as the decision to leave. She was sure we should stay. I was sure we should leave. Surely we couldn’t both be listening to God if we got such opposite answers.

My head and heart are still a stew of emotions. I’m processing so many feelings (disappointment, failure, relief). I’m still trying to puzzle out some things. Still trying to forgive the members of my church who did not reach out after I handed in my resignation letter. But mostly, I’m trying to better understand that boundary between the human and the divine—that’s what religion is, after all—and how one makes the right human decision when they are endowed with the divine.

It’s been several weeks since I left. They’ve been difficult weeks. I’ve had some really bad days. But I’ve also had feelings of unspeakable freedom. I can feel myself opening up in a dozen different ways. I’ve made new friends, shared my heart in ways I haven’t in years, learned so much about who I am as a woman and child of God, moved forward on several creative projects, and taken a few emotional risks I didn’t know I had it in me to take. I’m experiencing a creative surge, with ideas coming to me from every direction. I’ve had to start taking notes on my life to keep up with myself! My marriage is also stronger. We’ve been able to grieve this loss together instead of separately, and we’ve been sure to check in with each other periodically and uphold each other when the other is having a hard time.

We haven’t found a new church yet. We’ve visited one and met some beautiful people there, and we plan to visit others before we make our choice. Our closest options are about two hours away which makes for a long commute. And it makes me kind of sad to think of the distance.

In all, if I had to settle on a current feeling, I guess I’d say I’m hopeful. Hopeful to put this behind me and experience the freedom of finding a new church to grow in and serve. Hopeful to better understand my relationship to God. Hopeful to see the full extent of what comes out of this change.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday (summer 2015 TBR)

Click to link!
This week the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish are asking:
What's on your summer reading list?
Here are my top ten...
First stop, food! I plan to read Stephanie Smith's 300 Sandwiches, Jeff Gaffican's Food: A Love Story, and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.

Next stop, fiction! I need to tackle Jane Smiley's Early Warning before book three in the series comes out in October. And, like everyone and their brother, I'll be reading Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman.

Next up, poetry! I'll be reading Billy Collin's The Trouble with Poetry (love the cover)
and Mary Oliver's Blue Horses.

Last stop, memoirs! I hope to read Gretchen Carlson's Getting Real, Jen Arnold & Bill Klein's
Life Is Short, and Jen Lancaster's I Regret Nothing.

What do you plan to read this summer?

Monday, June 15, 2015

It's Monday! (6/15/15)

It's Monday! is sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.
Last week I finished Girl in the Dark (kind of an odd, quirky, depressing little book)
and Horoscopes for the Dead, another great book of poetry by Billy Collins.

I continue to enjoy my audio of Anne of Green Gables. It's comical and "tragical".
Last week, I began Candice Bergen's A Fine Romance and Trisha Yearwood's new cookbook, Trisha's Table. I'm enjoying both. Bergen is a good writer, and she talks about marriage and motherhood with intelligence and wit. She's pretty much exactly how I expected her to be. Wish Trisha's book had a photo of each dish--that's a pet peeve of mine--but so far it's pretty scrumptious.
Next up:
I can't wait to read "The Little Couple's" book about their family, Life is Short (No Pun Intended).

What's on your pile this week?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Middlemarch, George Eliot


George Eliot

Category: classic fiction
Synopsis: Observations on the interwoven lives of the residents of the fictitious English town of Middlemarch.
Pages: audio CD
Date finished: 14 April 2015

Rating: *****

If you ask me today what my top three favorite novels are, I’d say “Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, and…Middlemarch.” Seldom does a book stop me absolutely dead in my tracks, but this one did. This is a long book, one that I’d heard mentioned over the years, but I had no idea what it was about. Being so long (my Penguin clothcovered edition is 900 pages), I knew I wouldn’t get to it any time soon unless I “read” it on audio. (More on that experience in a minute…)

I find writing reviews of books I love a nearly impossible task. I’ve put off writing this review for weeks, at first because I was still processing, then because I was still savoring, and finally, out of fear for finding the correct words. But it’s time to get my thoughts on paper (screen?) before I lose them.

I’ll start by saying that nothing particularly spectacular happens in this novel. I have a high tolerance for that in novels—in fact, they’re my favorite kind. I’m much more interested in characters than plot, and I appreciate authors who put their energies into presenting a fully-fleshed human character (likable or not) rather than into fantastical plots. I don’t like to “escape” into fiction; I like my fiction to imitate real life. The characters in Middlemarch aren’t excruciatingly complex, but they are three-dimensional. Each has good qualities and foibles. Each has setbacks in the course of the novel, and each either shows real human growth because of how they deal with them or takes their unlearned lessons to their grave.

This book was originally published serially in eight parts, and at the time no one knew how Eliot would end it. I find that naively unbelievable. I’ve got to tell you, I knew how it would end, but there were dozens of plot twists along the way that made me giddy with “I didn’t think of that!” This serial nature explains, too, why Eliot was still introducing characters almost halfway through the book, and why plots were thickening right up until the end. While I never really doubted how the book would end, I did wonder often how the “how” would happen.

But what I loved about this book is how astute George Eliot is in diagraming human nature and calling out her characters’ assets and arrogances. She’s absolutely dead on with her wry descriptions of people and situations. She makes her characters realize things that subsequently change them. And, alternately, she keeps some of them in the dark as to their own motives. This is a big book with dozens of characters and it covers the range of human emotions, experiences, and relationships. We see pride, humility, manipulation, piousness, sincerity, morality, earnestness, envy, futility, callousness, cruelty, self-importance, selfishness, pettiness, tenderness, and jealousy. We see how wealth corrupts, how irresponsibility sets off a chain of events that touch on more lives than the selfish source of it. We see secrets uncovered, passions revealed, devotion as both a safety and an albatross, as one’s reinforcing and also one’s undoing. We examine interpersonal relationships in families and in civic contexts. We see the depths of marriage exposed; Eliot does not shy away from plumbing the hard truths of marital intimacy. Faith and religion is examined, politics and art are examined, the esoteric worthlessness of some (most?) education and self-study is examined. Timeless topics such as social class, medical progress, finding ones true vocation, female beauty, debt, and vice are all stripped bare and presented. In short, we see a microcosm of the human experience in one small English community. And one book holds it all. Eliot’s emotional intelligence is brilliant. Her writing is stunning. And her interweaving of characters and plots and destinies is flawless. This is a book that you don’t stop reading once you’re done reading, because it continues on into your life.

As I said, I listened to the audio. There were times I wished I was reading the book, though. I would have enjoyed savoring certain passages and giving others more time. Should I revisit the book—and I know I will someday—I think I’ll read it rather than listen to it.

That said, the audio I bought is superb. It’s narrated by Nadia May, who I guess is a big deal in the audio narration world (who knew there were awards for such a thing?). She’s British, so you can know that proper names are correctly pronounced (Casaubon = Casorbon; Caleb = Callub) and she reads with an understanding of the text but not too much interpretation of it so as to color yours. She excels in giving each character (and there are many) his or her own voice, so you can know who’s speaking before the dialogue clues you in. It really made the book come to life.

Now, the audio collection I bought contains 25 CDs of about 75 minutes each. I’d say it wasn’t until about disc 10 that I was able to give into the book’s pace and really settle in. So, keep that in mind if you’re listening (or reading) this one.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Oh yes. To everyone I meet from here on out.