Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Extraordinary Ordinary

A group of us watched the entire, extended version Lord of the Rings trilogy last Sunday. It is an adventure whose foundation is the fight for good over evil, for love, friendship, and what is right. I was left feeling a great need for adventure and meaning in my life. The everyday doesn't seem to cut it...

I've been typing up my creative writing journal/diary from 2006 trying to figure out what material I have for future stories and I have discovered all sorts of ideas, memories, songs I was listening to, and books I was reading. I wrote down several quotes from a book I was reading in the summer of 2006 called Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. Not so much the story but the language and concepts of the book have kept me running over it in my mind. I think of one sentence in particular,
“The wind that billowed her sheets announced to her the resurrection of the ordinary."
Is that not a beautiful line? We kill the ordinary on a daily basis. The drudgery of folding laundry and cleaning off muddy boots. There must be something more to the quotidian tasks we perform than to simply have the satisfaction of clean dishes to eat off of and a tub that doesn't turn black with mold. How do we make it more than ho-hum or how to we realize that it already is more than ordinary? We're told that all things should be done for the glory of God--even the mundane. Should the mundane not also be part of our noble calling somehow and shouldn't it be joyful even? We can't leave it off completely and hit the streets 'fighting the good fight'--perhaps it is part of the good fight to be fought. Thoughts in progress...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Best Reads of '09

Remember how I love lists? Here my inventory of the books I finished in 2009. From worst to best. I actually reached my goal of 25 books with one to boot, which I've cast by the wayside this year considering I've only got 2 done so far.

Here I've separated out the books into my own little categories and rankings...scroll to the bottom for fiction.

True Pages:
I've been trying to read more nonfiction since college. I love that truth really is stranger than fiction and sometimes more interesting because of reality. Sometimes people just think they're interesting though...

7. The Keeper of Lime Rock [Lenore Skomal]: A story about a hearty New England woman manning..er womaning a lighthouse. Sounds interesting and full of adventure, ya? No. A hundred and twenty pages of boring.

6. Ghosting: A Double Life [Jennie Erdal]: A woman who ghostwrites novels for an outlandish socialite. How in the world this book was so mundane, I'm not sure. Sadly this was too self-indulgent and cautious. Snooze.

5. The Foundation [Joel L. Fleishman]: I read this for work. Did you know that the reason we have 911 is because of a foundation? Now you do. Not the good time read of the year, but helpful for my job in the nonprofit world and it didn't claim to be the next big interesting read in nonfiction so I can't fault it.

4. Last Places [Lawrence Millman]: A man charts his way through the outer reaches of the northern passage where people are strange and scarce. Kind of interesting, what with the pterodactyl-like birds and propensity for peculiarity amongst people who live so far in the boonies that they have a completely different reality from those of us in populated parts of the world--wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped though.

3. Bury the Chains [Adam Hothschild]: A great read about the British abolitionist movement back in the day when America wasn't even thinking of Civil Wars. The book was long but really well researched and well written. A history that we need to remember for the present.

2. The Coldest Winter [Paula Fox]: Young Adult and regular adult novelist Paula Fox remembers her time as a stringer in Europe just after (I think) WWII. A very short but beautiful read. The starkness of the language is perfect.

1. The Year of Biblical Living [A.J. Jacobs]: HILARIOUS! Jacobs spends a year obeying the Bible (mostly the Old Testament) to the letter. As he learns more about the Bible and current Jewish practices, he adds onto his regimen. This was a great read and amidst the humor Jacobs has some breakthroughs about his faith and why some of those crazy laws are in the Bible. Highly recommended.

Funniest Book of the Year
The Complete Polysyllabic Spree [Nick Hornby]: A compilations of columns about books and other random topics written for The Believer magazine. I laughed out loud quite often and had a list of new books to read by the time I was finished.

Faith-based Books (for lack of a better title)
5. The Weight of Glory [C.S. Lewis]: A collection of essays. Not my favorite Lewis. I also spread them out too far apart, so don't take my opinion on this one.

4. Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith [Anne Lamott]: The ever controversial Christian writer...more Bush bashing like the last one I read of hers. Talk about beating a dead horse. But there were some great insights on faith, I thought, especially since she lays it all so bare and honest.

3. Till We Have Faces [C.S. Lewis]: Not my favorite Lewis either. Interesting. "A myth retold." I need someone smarter than myself to explain it.

2. Literature Through the Eyes of Faith [Gallagher & Lundin]: Interesting and a bit dated (my copy was from the 80's) but great reading for Christians who like books, especially fiction and are not satisfied with only reading books from the Christian fiction section (yikes).

1. Breath for the Bones [Luci Shaw]: This was a great book for artists who are also Christians and want to explore how to meld the two without getting preachy, losing the art, and being relevant only to other Christians. Seems like it could be trite, but it wasn't in the least. Much wisdom here.

Best Cover
How to Breathe Underwater [Julie Orringer]: Also a good read. Short stories.

Worst Fiction Read of the Year
Off Magazine Street [Ronald Everett Capps]: Like really bad. Bleh. The movie based on the book, A Love Song for Bobby Long, is one of my favorites. The screenplay writer must be a magician because this book was hideous. I mean bad. I can't even begin to tell you how bad.

Best Fiction Reads of the Year
The End of the Affair [Graham Greene]: Everyone read this! It was really good. Unexpectedly, subtly good. My favorite read for sure this year.

Runners Up
  • Death and the Penguin [Andrey Kurkov]: Russia (or was it the Ukraine...), murder, intrigue, and a penguin. Strange and strangely believable...sort of. Very unusual and interesting read.
  • Bel Canto [Ann Patchett]: What should have been unbelievable, a group of high class folks bonding with their guerilla captors, wasn't and that made this book, along with Patchett's beautiful writing, great.
  • The Time Traveler's Wife [Audrey Niffenegger]: Pretty good and I'm not usually one for bestsellers. Isn't time travel nuts?
  • The Moviegoer [Walker Percy]: A southern classic. Very interesting and written just like movies of the same time period. Would be a great one to discuss with someone...anyone...
Not Bad But Not As Good As I Hoped.
  • Home [Marilynne Robinson]:Ok. It was good, but it didn't grip me as much as her other two novels. Very well done though.
  • The Woman in White [Wilkie Collins]: Gothic literature. It's interesting, but not as riveting as a more modern mystery might be. Quite long but ok.
Didn't Really Like These
  • The Kite Runner [Khaled Hosseini]: Yes, I'm the only person on the planet who didn't love this book.
  • The Good Terrorist [Doris Lessing]: Very annoying main character. I wanted to slap her.
Eh...not good but not enough to even be bad
Taft [Ann Patchett]: Nothing like Bel Canto.

A Reread
Persuasion [Jane Austen]: Not as exciting as the movie, I have to say. I hardly ever reread books so someone out there should be proud of me.

And an unusual read for me...Murder mystery
A Murder of Quality [John Le Carre]: I should read more of these. They're kind of fun and how can I develop my stealthiness without reading this kind of stuff?

Ok...Phwew...Good to get that off my shoulders.

Christmas in Review

It's Christmas...in February. Since the last review seemed to be a hit, I decided to update you all the way to the end of December this time using the same format. It's not quite as exciting since it covers a shorter period of time...and I didn't document all of Christmas since I was cooking up a storm. Christmas itself was a bit of a tornado what with the arrival of my friends from the States just hours before the arrival of Baby S. And then we were hosting Christmas at my place with a little group for Christmas morning and then a host of single folks for Christmas dinner. It was lots o' fun, but I'll admit a bit hectic. Hence the derth of photos from Christmas day.

First...the Christmas tree. There it is and there it stayed until somewhere towards the third week of January. It's a tradition amongst us to have a slumber party, aka a slumbie (slumby?)

Then we begin eating...after preparing. Here's LoBaby with one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. A cheddar, apple, sauteed onion pie. Good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I'm not kidding, you must have this at some point in your life. Don't tell your cardiologist.
Here was my breakfast contribution...picture didn't come out so well, but ze sticky buns ver not bad!
We watched a reading of the Cajun Night Before Christmas while waiting for goodies to get good. It's a classic of the south. I have a well-worn signed copy of the book that I got as a child, which sadly I keep forgetting to bring over.

Then we opened gifts. We didn't take that many pictures, but I got some great stuff--much of it things that were mine already, which my friend Amanda had brought over from the States and wrapped. My roomate Pidge's mom sent over gifts for us too, which was so sweet!!! Especially this little number, it's a rain proof bonnet, which I should have worn today come to think of it.
And now we cut to dinner. No pictures from the kitchen because you couldn't have wedged a camera in there with all the people and dishes and ovens in it. Thanks again to everyone who helped make extra dishes and washed dishes! Would have started throwing dirty plates out the window without you! So I don't know what these people here were doing. I call this picture 'The Bookends'--i've got two others with each of them respectively doing this Precious Moments pose.
Me and my Pidgling. Plus, it seems, an advertisement for twocities gallery--everyone go there and buy lots of art.
When I came out of the kitchen, my friends had prepared a wave for me. I love the wave! It's like being a part of something bigger than yourself. Right guys? I'm still cool right?
I joined in...why wouldn't I? I swear there were other guys at this party, they're just invisible when photographed.
Then Christmas was over...boo hiss. What am I supposed to do with the 330 Christmas songs which I played almost nonstop during Christmas? So my two friends from the U.S. and I took a little trip to Suzhou, 'the Venice of China' which is very close to here. It was a great day out. We took the train. Do they have these hammers on all trains? Don't you want to use one to crack a window? Would that not be the most satisfying feeling? Crack...all your troubles go away...if the train isn't moving and you can run faster than the guards.
We went to a garden. In lieu of showing you pictures of the garden--it was pretty, but you know what Chinese gardens look like already--I took a picture of myself in a mirror. Now I'm a real photographer because this is one of those artsy things that photographer people do.
This is the best jump shot picture I've ever taken in my whole life. It looks like they're watching themselves jump. Where is that little rabbit with the pocket watch?
So I have a money shot and then this almost money shot. I decided to share this one, in case you were inclined to steal the other.
Then I took a bunch of pictures of this dried up hydrangea. I just love it. I don't know why.
We got some bubble tea at this quaint little shop on the side of the street called DuDu.
That's my friend from America. Isn't she funny?
We then went off in search of "real China." Which is easier to find in Suzhou than SH. I often hesitate taking pictures of people here because they are often suspicious...I was far enough away from these old people that they couldn't stop me. Ha! Take that!
I don't usually photograph dogs...who has room on their computer for all those files? This one though was funny. Look at him. Hilarious. He lives in a little basket just the entrance to these two pagodas we found randomly.
Who knew that pagodas could just pop up out of nowhere? I know nothing about these pagodas except that there were two of them side by side and it only cost about $1.20 to get in to see them.
Then we jumped some more.

My friend loves taking pictures with old Chinese men. Go figure. Everybody has their vice I suppose.
There are always flowers budding here...even in winter. Just like home...although none of our flowers bloom at the base of pagodas.
A temple wall. Great color.

We searched high and low for a Chinese bridge & at last, just before we headed back to SH, we found one.