Saturday, March 24, 2012

Book Notes

The other day, I was discussing with my friend Kim about how I've noticed that when I read a lot, crafting tends to get pushed to the back burner, and if I'm in the middle of a creative spurt and sewing and crocheting, then it may be weeks before I pick up a book. Right now I'm definitely in "book mode." I'm plowing through one book after another while my crafting supplies sit in the corner gathering dust.

I thought I'd take a few moments to discuss some of the books that have been on my mind lately, and what better way to do that than with a bulleted list?

*I can't write about books without discussing my thoughts on the movie for We Need to Talk About Kevin. The movie was good, not great. The acting was wonderful but ultim
ately it seemed like something was missing. I felt so many emotions while reading the book that I just didn't feel while watching the film version. I'm definitely glad I watched it, but even more glad that I read the book it was based on. My advice: Definitely read the book, rent the movie later. (Again, my review of the book is here.)

*The Walking Dead
Jay's been watching the HBO show based on these books since the beginning. It's taken me a bit longer to get into it, but this last season had me hooked. At first, I was like, Zombies? Really? It didn't appeal to me at all and I just thought it was some violent gore-fest, but the story line is much more character driven than I realized. In fact, in the introduction to the first book, the author writes this:

"Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are, they make us question our station in society.... and our society's station in the world."

He adds:

"With The Walking Dead, I want to explore how people deal with extreme situations and how events change them."

So yeah, love the show and am loving the books. I've managed to buy the first three books fairly cheaply but may try to see if the library has the remainders. (As a side note: It amazes me how desensitized to violence I've become. I can calmly sit and watch a member of the undead slurp down bloody gut dinner and not flinch. But the sight of my daughter smacking on a marshmallow Peep makes me gag uncontrollably. Weird.)

*The Hunger Games
I was planning on reviewing this one here but I figured that unless you've been living under a rock, you know what it's about. The next two in the series are definitely on my TO BE READ VERY SOON list. It's an enthralling Young Adult book that doesn't feel like a YA book. (Note: I'm taking my own advice and renting the movie later.)

*Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
While we're on the topic of YA books, let's discuss Miss Peregrine. I almost bought this one at Powell's but ended up ordering it for myself after seeing it in one of the Scholastic Book Order fliers that my kids brought home. The story centers around Jacob, a teenage boy who is on a mission to find out more about the childhood of his recently deceased Grandfather. He travels to a remote island near Wales and finds some very peculiar children.

The book is filled with slightly bizarre old photos (much like the cover photo) and it seems as if the photos inspired the story. Unlike The Hunger Games, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a YA book that seems like a YA book. It's suspenseful and creepy but not too suspenseful and creepy. That being said, I enjoyed it nonetheless.

*Thirteen Reasons Why
This book was loaned to me by a co-worker. I read it in two short days and then passed it on to the boy who, after reading a few chapters, declared it "a really, really good book."

A quick synopsis:

Clay Jensen arrives home from school to find a package filled with cassette tapes on his front porch. As he begins to listen to them, he realizes they are from his classmate Hannah who recently committed suicide. Hannah says there are 13 reasons why she committed suicide and that Clay is one of them.

I expected this book to be filled with whiny teenagers complaining about their teenage problems, but it ended up being much more powerful. It's a quick read, but definitely worth your time.

Okay, technically I haven't read this one yet because it doesn't come out until the 27th, but I'm definitely geeked about it.

We're long time fans of Rachel around these parts. Before the girl was born way back when Monty was in elementary school (kindergarten? first grade?) Jay and I would drop him off at school and then drive around listening to the show Rachel had with Lizz Winstead and Chuck D. on Air America radio (Ha! Remember Air America? So sad.....)before he had to be to work.

Rachel is a total history and politics nerd and she's passionate and excited about both and even though I'm not half as smart as she is, I can't wait to read this book. Plus, I bought tickets for Jay and I to see her next month when she comes to Portland. So now my only dilemma is whether to buy the book and read it before the event, or wait and buy it at the event and possibly have Rachel sign it? (Such a very first world problem, I know.)

What have you been reading lately?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Photos and A Few Thoughts

Just a few photos from a recent hike near Angel's Rest.

These photos were taken about a month ago and it was an odd day. Both of the kids were extra grumbly about being forced to hike on a cold/rainy/snowy day. But as I look through all the pictures, everyone seems smiley and cheerful. Maybe I'm fooling myself, but I'm going to cling to the notion that the children secretly love our family hikes, despite all the grousing.


*The other morning we awoke to the sounds of helicopters flying overhead. A church just a few blocks from our apartment had been set on fire at about 3 that morning. We later found out that the fire was set by a kid my son's age, a boy who sat next to him in two of his classes. (Fortunately, no one my son considered a friend.) I try hard to not seriously ever judge other people on their parenting skills. Of course I may think I'd do this or that differently, but when it comes right down to it, I mostly think we're all doing the best we can. But then I think about this boy and I wonder what went wrong. How did it get to the point where whoever was in charge of watching over him, just stopped caring that he wasn't home at 3 in the morning? And what was going on in the boy's head? The whole situation has been on my mind a lot this past week and I've been a bit more appreciative of my own son. I hate the way he dresses and the music he listens to is really just awful, but he doesn't burn down buildings. I've been hugging him a little harder lately.

*Yesterday, the first day of Spring, it snowed. The snow continued overnight and this morning the ground was covered with a thick blanket of slush. We've had such a mild winter, it seems odd that now, when the rest of the country is experiencing record warmth, we're getting snow.

*Jay and I are going on a date tomorrow night to see We Need To Talk About Kevin. I am very, very excited.

*Earlier in the week we were at the museum with the girl's school and we were fortunate enough to see the Nathan Sawaya exhibit. He builds the most intricate sculptures, most of them life size, out of Legos. I've never been that excited about Legos but his work is amazing and if the exhibit comes to a museum near you, I highly recommend it.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


The other day at work we received a box from the FedEx man. Noticing it was from a company we get our dress-up/play clothes from, I just assumed it was the usual princess hats and fairy wings. Until my boss came out of her office and excitedly said, "Ooh! It's my box of kooky hats."

I opened it up and underneath the princess hats and fairy wings (that is what sells) were some definitely kooky hats. There was a magicians top hat, a white, bulbous astronaut's helmet, and at the very bottom, one lonely robot head:
Of course I had to snatch it up for my robot-loving girl and of course she wears it everywhere. It got her a lot of attention at Trader Joe's, with numerous people yelling out, "Hey look! A robot in the store!" The girl isn't shy so she was loving it all.

As for me, I'm having visions of an inexpensive robot Halloween costume with tin foil sleeves and cardboard boxes spray painted silver. Or something like that. Good thing I have seven months to plan.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book Review: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

Deborah Feldman was born into the Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism. Her mother left the community when Deborah was a baby and because her mentally challenged father was in no position to care for her, Deborah was raised by her extremely strict and religious grandparents in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.

The list of things that Deborah couldn't do was long and encompassing all areas of her life. She had to dress a certain way and went to a special Hasidic school. There was no television, radio, or singing permitted. She wasn't allowed to read secular books and even books written by certain Jews were considered off limits if the authors weren't seen as pious enough. Deborah would rebel against these rules by sneaking in cheap paperback copies of such classics as Pride and Prejudice or Little Women.

When Deborah was 17, it was time to get married. A matchmaker was hired, arrangements were made, and within a year she's married to Eli, who she hopes will be her ticket out of her repressive situation. But she soon finds herself in an unhappy and extremely sexually dysfunctional marriage. Deborah, having spent her whole life being taught to be ashamed of her body, is finding it difficult to suddenly be sexual. As for Eli, his problems run just as deep:

"In yeshiva [an all male Jewish university], Eli says, the boys would jerk each other off. Because there were only men around and no girls, the sight of a boy could get him aroused. After many years, he explains with a sigh, to switch suddenly is weird."

Despite their problems, Deborah soon becomes pregnant. It's after she has her son that Deborah finally gets the courage to make some changes. She secretly enrolls at Sarah Lawrence College and takes the steps that are necessary to build a better life for her son and herself.

This books was chosen by another gal in my book club but it should come as no surprise that of course I loved it. It slips easily into the small (yet ever growing!) genre of books that I love, memoirs about strong minded individuals trying to escape quirky and controlling religions.

Even though Deborah's religion was very different from the religion that I grew up in, there was so much I found I could relate to while reading this. For instance, when a member of their community murders his son because he caught him masturbating, Deborah's infuriated that the incident isn't going to be reported to the police and that nothing will be done to punish the murderer because, as Eli says, "There has to be two witnesses for a man to be tried for murder. What are you gonna do? You can't bring this dead boy back anyhow."

That "two witnesses" thing jumped out at me immediately because that was the rule with the Jehovah's Witnesses as well. Anytime there was an incident where it was one person's word against anothers, if there weren't two witnesses, nothing could be done. I remember hearing rumors of spousal abuse and child molestation but because there weren't witnesses to the events, the case was dropped. (And of course there were never two witnesses because who's going to call in an audience of two to watch them beat their wife or molest a child?) Of course now, as I look back on these situations with the mind of an adult far removed from the organization, I'm appalled that no one thought to go to the police with these accusations. But I also know that going to outside authorities would have been seriously frowned upon. It was simply unheard of to involve "the world" in congregational matters.

So yes, I loved this book and could totally relate but I think that just about anyone would find this book eye-opening and a little bit juicy. My one complaint would be that because the book was written right after Deborah rejected her community, there isn't much space given to telling how she adapted to life on her own afterwards. Hopefully, she's just saving all of that for her second book.