Everyday Life, Reading

Books of Bondage: Why I Broke Up With Some of My Books Today

When my husband and I moved into our second home after being married for two years, we had bookshelves that looked kind of like this:

 

The shelves really didn’t have anything to do with our decision to buy the house. No really… they didn’t….

I went wild at the freedom those bookshelves gave me. Used book sales were my favorite events. One library in our area has really great sales four times a year. It didn’t take long to fill our shelves. I’m sure we looked like a very intellectual couple. As long as you ignored that section of John Grisham and Janet Oke.

Everyday Life, Reading

Movies for Book Lovers

Do you get excited when a book you love is made into a movie? Sometimes I’m tempted to, but I usually manage to curb my enthusiasm. In fact, I’ve come to the point where I don’t even want to see the movies based on my favorite books. The Lord of the Rings movies stand out in my mind as failures in turning books into movies (I realize that many people think those movies are the bomb—they may be, but I can’t enjoy them because they didn’t come close to portraying the characters or settings in the way I imagined them as I read those books in my early teens). On rare occasions, the movie is good enough to stand alone as a great movie, but it just doesn’t compare to the experience of reading the book. Of course, there are exceptions. Little Women has been made into some great movies. I’m particularly fond of the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. But as a general rule, I stay away from movies based on books I love. I do, however, enjoy movies that involve books in the plot. Here are the ones I like the best:

Despite the fact that Will Ferrell is the lead role in Stranger Than Fiction, it’s not technically a comedy (though there many humorous parts, which I guess makes it a dramedy). Ferrell plays a rather stale IRS agent whose completely predictable life takes a crazy turn when he starts hearing a narrator inside his head. His search to discover who the narrator is and why he is the subject of the narration leads him into a whole new life he never expected. Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Maggie Gyllenhaal are excellent supporting actors in this quirky movie about a writer and books that truly come to life.

The hugely popular duo of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan makes You’ve Got Mail the classic romantic comedy it has become, but many of the lines stay in my memory on their own merit. Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly, says,

“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around?”

That line must resonate with book lovers. If I tried to track how many times per day something in my life reminds me of a book, I might go crazy. That line, and many others, makes me love You’ve Got Mail as more than just a chick flick.  It probably helps that the bookstore “The Shop Around the Corner” looks like the most perfect workplace on earth. All that’s missing is an ocean breeze and the aroma of fresh baked cookies.

Miss Potter is the quaint tale of Peter Rabbit’s creator, Beatrix Potter. The acting is stellar, the setting is beautiful, and the history and struggle of Beatrix Potter to be a published author is enthralling and informative in a historical way. I was captivated by the way Miss Potter’s characters were so alive to her, following her around each day and endearing themselves to her. I have this idea that when I finally hit on a good book idea, the characters in my mind will become alive to me as I’m writing about them. Maybe this doesn’t happen until you write and write–it sure hasn’t yet–but that’s the standard that always stays in the back of my mind.

 Finding Neverland is a beautiful film, from the scenery to the music to the really adorable children. Based on Finding Neverland (2004) PosterJ.M Barrie’s life, it follows his friendship with a fatherless family and how they inspired Peter Pan. The acting in the movie is phenomenal. There’s probably some actor somewhere with whom Kate Winslet can’t create chemistry, but I haven’t seen her fail yet (Exhibit A: her relationship with Jack Black, of all people, in The Holiday). I don’t know how historically accurate the movie is, but I love it still. You must watch it. If you don’t smile and cry at the same time while you watch it…well, we can still be friends. But I bet you will shed a tear or two!

I suppose an honorable mention should go Becoming Jane, though I really didn’t enjoy it. I couldn’t reconcile the witty, humorous novelist Jane Austen was with the tragic portrayal Anne Hathaway gave in the movie. Knowing Hathaway is a fantastic actress and does her homework thoroughly, I can’t argue with the historical accuracy. Still, I can’t help hoping that Austen in real life smiled a little more. Also, if you haven’t seen Dead Poets Society, I’d recommend it.

So what bookish movies do you like?

Reading, Reviews

July Reading

It’s July, and that means Summer just began, right? I live in South Carolina and we only just hit consistent temperatures in the 90’s. We had an actual Spring, for a change, and it lasted forever. No wonder it’s a jolt to my system when I walk into Target and see huge displays of “back to school” supplies. Wait! I haven’t even scratched the surface of my summertime goals! I haven’t made homemade popsicles! I haven’t finished the kids’ summer listeners reading program at the library! I haven’t been to a baseball game! Or picked out a preschool curriculum for my four-year-old! Or made that inspiring vintage chore chart I saw on Pinterest. I haven’t organized every closet in the entire house!

What’s worse, I haven’t found that awesome Summer of 2013 book. Luckily, my children aren’t school age yet and the end of summer comes at the end of, well, Summer, and not in mid-August. So I have time (theoretically) to do all of the above and maybe find a good book this summer. It’s proving to be a difficult task so far (although my Jean Webster discovery was a great treat!). To make the “difficult” reference clearer, I have started reading and abandoned halfway through no less than four books in the last three weeks. That is just sad. But I happen to be a reader who won’t stick with a book if I’m hating it halfway through. I stuck with The Last Summer because I really wanted to review it, and to review a book, you kind of have to finish it.

Here are the books I began but couldn’t finish. Please don’t count these as official reviews since I only read half of the books. And please keep in mind that these books are not “terrible” and I am not looking to give a negative review. I think lots of readers would really enjoy these books. I’ll just tell you why I didn’t enjoy it and try not to give much of the plot of each book away.

Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground RailroadI was excited about reading Redfield Farm. It was number one on my Summer reading list and has great reviews on Goodreads. However, after a few chapters, I was pretty disappointed in the narrative style. It was a little flat. I didn’t get a good feel for the setting. And then the plot twists that occurred just seemed so utterly out of keeping with the characters, I couldn’t keep reading without thinking “ridiculous!” every few pages. It’s true that people do unexpected things and make mistakes in real life. Still, the Quakers were engaging in some pretty uncharacteristic activities in this book. If I had enjoyed the characters, I may have kept reading, but I didn’t. I wish I had, because the premise of the book with the Underground Railroad and the Quaker community working together sounded very intriguing. I think that if you enjoy books by Janet Oke or Beverly Lewis, you may like Redfield Farm. However, be forewarned: this isn’t a Christian book, so it’s not as clean as Oke or Lewis.

Home RepairI picked up Home Repair from the library shelf on a whim. I read the description and thought it sounded kind of like a quirky, memoir type novel that is both humorous and insightful. Here’s the description:

Eve’s beloved Ivan died thirteen years ago in an automobile accident. Her charming, boyish Chuck has taken a different exit out of her life: hopping into his car in the middle of a garage sale with no forewarning and departing their formerly happy upstate New York home for points unknown. Now Eve’s a boat adrift, subsisting on a heartbreak diet of rue, disappointment, and woe-left alone to care for Ivan’s brilliant teenaged son, Marcus, and Chuck’s precocious, pragmatic nine-year-old daughter, Noni, while contending with Charlotte, Eve’s acerbic mother, who’s come north to “help” but hinders instead.

But life ultimately must go on, with its highs and lows, its traumas and holidays, and well-meaning, if eccentric, friends. A house and a heart in disrepair are painful burdens for a passionate woman who’s still in her prime. And while learning to cope with the large and small tragedies that each passing day brings, Eve might end up discovering that she’s gained much more than she’s lost.

I was in the mood for a present day, this-is-real-life type book. However, I got through most of it and then just let it go. I was trying to be interested, but the non-plot wasn’t quite neatly packaged enough. Maybe the real life situation was too far removed from anything I’ve experienced for me to feel the book was relevant to life. I think this book is probably a really good book, just not my type of book. I’d say that if you liked The Friday Night Knitting Club by Karen Jacobs, you will probably like this book. Another book of this type that I did enjoy was The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel. The characters in this book were always interesting to me and I am closer to their stage of life (graduate school, young mom days) than I am to the life stages of the main characters in Home Repair or The Friday Night Knitting Club.

The Perfume CollectorI saw The Perfume Collector advertised on Goodreads and borrowed the e-book from my library as soon as it was available. It was…well, rather sensual. I abandoned it pretty soon after starting it. Don’t read it if you dislike erotica. The characters themselves didn’t tempt me to keep reading, either. Grace was not very appealing–the smart, small, dark haired young wife of a professor who finds herself childless and feeling like a trophy wife, at best. That kind of character has been done so many times! The format of this book is one of those historical novels that shifts from a character in the past to a character in the present (the present in this book being the 1950s). I have read a few of those books that I really like (The Secret Keeper, for one), but I think that kind of plot can be clumsy if the author isn’t careful. In this book, it felt kind of clumsy. I wasn’t drawn in from chapter to chapter. I’ve read a few other reviews from people who did like this book to people who hated it, so you may have to just decide for yourself.

The Dry Grass of AugustFinally, the last “meh” read I’ve had this month was The Dry Grass of August. I picked this book up after deciding not to read The Homecoming of Samuel Lake and it became a case of “out of the fire, into the frying pan.” The book’s plot follows 13-year-old Jubie and her trip with her mother and siblings to Florida in the 1950s. It was similar in some ways to To Kill A Mockingbird but the thing about books written around the African American plight in the 1950s is that they will never come close to being as ground breaking because they weren’t written in that time period (obviously).  I’d also compare this book to The Secret Life of Bees but without the rich scenery and spirituality. It was actually a pretty good book, with a few too many crude details for my taste (I’m a prude, I know, I know). I probably would have liked this book better about five years ago. This summer, I’m just not in the mood for Southern lit.

I just received Islanders by Helen Hull in the mail last week and I am itching to begin it. Also, I still plan to read The Princess and the Goblin before the Summer is over.

How’s your Summer reading going so far?

Reading, Reviews

Downton Look-Alikes

I am both a critic and fan of the TV show Downton Abbey. I get a bit weary of the heightened drama by the end of each season, but I love the character development (especially of Lady Mary in Season 2), the compelling historical events, the beautiful setting, and the great acting. It’s the one TV show I watched last Fall. I can only imagine what it’s like for people who don’t watch it and go into a bookstore these days. DVDs of the show are on display, books about the “real” Downton Abbey are on the required reading table for high school students, and signs saying “If you like Downton Abbey” point to books with lavish settings and old stone mansions on their covers. I have to admit, I got drawn in by that last table. I wrote down two titles to check on at the library based on their “Downton-ish” appearance. Though neither came close to being as captivating as Downton Abbey, they did have the feel and the enthralling history of that time surrounding the first World War.

I’ll start with the one I didn’t actually enjoy. The Last Summer is set in Deyning Park, an English country estate. The title refers to the opening of the book, when the first World War has yet to begin and all the young people surrounding the main character, Clarissa, are frivolous and free. Clarissa is the youngest of the family of the Earl of Deyning. She is beautiful and thoughtful and a bit forward thinking. Yes, she will remind you strongly of Lady Sybil if you read the book. What’s more, she falls in love with the housekeeper’s son, whose name is…Tom. I can’t handle it. I feel like screaming “plagiarism!” Which may be unfair–for all I know, the author, Judith Kinghorn, may have started this book years before Downton Abbey aired. Maybe. After the first few chapters, the plot similarities stop, for the most part. The book continues as purely a love story. The Deyning family moves to London for the duration of the War, and the changes in the world after World War I affect them all. Tom and Clarissa’s love life is far from easy, so if you enjoy heart wearying love stories set in historical places, you will probably like this book. The similarities between Clarissa and Lady Sybil quickly disappear. I don’t think the book was all bad, but I had trouble finding any depth to the main love relationship beyond physical attraction. The lack of constancy in loving relationships throughout the book is also a negative to me. But the contrast of how the wealthy, “old money” families lived before the war and after the war was interesting. I’d give it 2.5 out of 5 stars, based more on the plot and characters than the actual writing.

The other book I read that tasted strongly of Downton is The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons. The novel’s setting begins in the Vienna of 1938. Elise Landau is the daughter of wealthy and artistic parents. Her mother, an opera singer and her father, a novelist, sense the changing political climate and send their young daughter to England, promising to follow soon. Elise is one of many wealthy Jewish immigrants who leave their native country and landscape of jewels and champagne for the English landscape of serving tea on the lawn between croquet games. Elise has a lot to learn, but the reader will find her likable in her determination to do what she has to without losing herself. If I had never watched Downton Abbey, I probably would have liked this book better. I couldn’t separate the Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey and the Butler in this story in my mind. They were one and the same to me. Otherwise, the characters were very different. The house was run in the same manner, the divisions between upstairs and downstairs were a big part of the plot, but the book is more comparable to Jane Eyre or Rebecca than to the show Downton Abbey. I liked this book for its setting and for the main character, Elise. It’s not a classic in the making, but it’s a good light read.

If you’re suffering from Downton Abbey withdrawals, these books could get you through until Season 4 begins. I think that going back to literature that was actually written in the early 1900s is an even better fix. Try Howard’s EndThe House of Mirth (not English but similar society drama), or Love in a Cold Climate.

     

If you haven’t read Rebecca by Daphne DuMurier, it is a classic that will never be outdated. It has influenced literature greatly and the style of books coming out now such as The House at Tyneford and The Violets of March are quite similar.

Happy English summer reading!

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Everyday Life, Parenting

I’m Upbeat

For better or worse, I tend to put a lot of thought into words. Even though two words can mean the exact same thing, I’ll weigh the options. Here’s an example: take the words “grumpy” and “irritable.” If I say, “I’m grumpy today,” I have said that I am in an unpleasant mood but it will pass and don’t take me too seriously. But if I say, “I’m irritable,” I convey that I am an easily angered person on a regular basis or I have some kind of condition, like a chemical imbalance or PMS. Words can technically mean the same thing but feel very different. And I get really stuck on them. If you give me a blank piece of paper and a pen and tell me to sit still for twenty minutes, you won’t find me doodling. When I was in elementary and middle school, my friends were professionals at doodles and bubble letters….and I was good at making word collages.

“Give me a topic, any topic, and I can make you a word collage!” Okay, I never said that. But I sure did think it.

Because I’m one of those people that thinks a bit too hard on words, I come across some words that rub me the wrong way. For example, I used to have major trouble with the word “upbeat.” When I heard it, I always thought of someone who ignores deeper issues, who acts like everything is okay no matter what, and who wears a kind of fake smile.  I thought of someone who frowns a bit when someone in a group stirs up a discussion and says, “We try to keep things upbeat here.”

Until recently, I’ve been pretty unkind in my thoughts towards “upbeat.”

Then something changed. It happened in January, that hallowed month of new beginnings. I was rethinking the way my days went, and one of the things I started realizing was that words I had always liked, such as “melancholy” and “pensive” and “soulful” were not really fitting me anymore. The thing is, you can’t really wake up each morning and expect to mother two happy children if you think of yourself as “soulful.” You have to think more along the lines of “optimistic” and “cheerful” if you expect cheerful children. I knew I was going to have to start identifying with different words. I may naturally be a more quietly active, contemplative person, but it was time to think of myself as more. It was time to start realizing I had become, and needed to keep becoming, a person who was more than those words I formerly used to define myself.

Like it or not, everyone knows that moms set the tone. I’ve known this since I was a little girl. Remember how everything felt off kilter when your mom needed a sick day or you could tell she was preoccupied with some inner worry? I remember that very well. I saw it in my own daughter’s eyes last week when her eyes filled with tears after I told her I didn’t feel like dancing with her right then because I had a stomach ache. It’s a minor illness to me, but it’s worrisome and tragic to her. And mothers seek to avert all tragedies, real or merely perceived.

January was when I started getting out of bed, facing the rainy winter day, and giving myself a mental pep talk. I would remind myself that every day is a gift, even January days, that my children would remember the feel of the days more than the things we did. I would try to remind myself of my bigger goals, like how I want them to be able to make believe and play with whatever was at hand. And I wanted to keep the TV off as much as possible. In these pep talks, I found myself speaking new words into my identity. “You are fun,” I’d say to myself. “You are full of grace and joy.” “You are giving and forgiving and open minded. You are not afraid of messes.” “You are magnanimous.” (Ha).

But none of these new, lofty words stuck like the dreaded “upbeat.” I started finding myself saying it all the time, kind of like a mantra. Upbeat. You are upbeat. I would remind myself of that when we ran out of milk and diapers again and had to go to the store,  as I bundled up the kids and herded them into the car: “just stay upbeat!” At first, I wanted to slap my forehead every time my inner consciousness told me to be upbeat. Then, I realized the word wasn’t going away. It had stuck as one of the key new words in my new mental word collage of who I am.

The great thing about word collages is that you can always add another word. I can add new ideas and character qualities without erasing who I am deep down inside. I’ll probably always be a person who is capable of living inside of herself for long stretches of time and not speaking a word for hours on end. I’ll always love a quiet walk on a lonely country road or an uninterrupted hour to read. But I like to think I’m expanding at the same time. I can enjoy running in a sprinkler outside. I can hide in a blanket fort with kids and tell stories. I can make the Lego men talk about the awesome trucks my son builds for them. I can make my kids giggle and shout with laughter during a pillow fight. I am becoming more playful, more energetic. More upbeat. It’s not always easy, but I hope to keep making progress on my mental word collage as I open myself up to claiming not only the identity I was born with but also the identity I was created to adopt. I’m sure there are plenty of other character qualities I need to adopt into my identity, but for now, I’m happy to be upbeat.

Like this post? You may also like Your Kids Have a Crush on You and Saturyet.

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