Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Bible as Improv: Review


Make sure to add to your reading list The Bible as Improv: Seeing and Living the Script in New Ways by Ron Martoia (March, 2010, Zondervan). Here is an honest, creative, and challenging presentation of good, bad, and inconsistent ways of living in conversation with the Bible. Like Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet, Martoia reflects with consternation on his Christian journey, riddled with selective and sloppy biblical application. His own journey started to take a new direction, however, when he viewed the Bible less as a repository of information, but as a life-shaping resource, a lens or worldview that helps us make sense of everything.

From this transformed perspective, Martoia describes how new metaphors are necessary to help us grasp how the Bible shapes our imaginations and lives. After a brief interaction with David Tracy’s metaphor of the Bible as classic, he dives into a promising interaction with jazz and dramatic improvisation. This is The Bible as Improv at its best, as these metaphors open new possibilities for the role of community, collaboration, and creativity in biblical interpretation and application. In short, Martoia asserts that Christian communities need to be immersed in the Bible as a script, forming creative and communal ways of improvising on this script today. On a practical level, The Bible as Improv presents several methods, including read-throughs and communal dialogue, for allowing the Bible to function as the foundational script for Christian improvisation.

Although improvisation is one of the most promising metaphors for understanding biblical interpretation and Christian living, The Bible as Improv is not without faults. For one, the title itself is a bit misleading, for Martoia present the Bible as script, and Christian living as improv (except for a brief mention that the Bible itself is a record of improvisations). Second, it is hard to reconcile a biblical script with complete improvisational freedom, as Martoia wants to emphasize. If the Bible is a script, is not improvisational freedom constrained in some degree by this script? Is script really the best metaphor, since it implies that we have set lines for living our Christian lives? What are the standards for judging a community’s understanding of the script and their lived improvisations? In this regard, The Bible as Improv would have been strengthened by more interaction with other explorations of this metaphor, such Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics by Samuel Well or The Drama of Doctrine by Kevin Vahoozer, recognizing that others have wrestled with these issues as well. Third, even though I appreciated Martoia’s creative exploration of improvisational metaphors, the books would have been clarified by greater attention to the actual improvisational process, whether in jazz or drama, and how it relates to biblical interpretation and application. For example, how do actors interact with a script in order to improvise on stage? What are the constraints and freedoms inherent in this process? Fourth, I found myself longing for practical examples. The Bible as Improv raises lots of good and unresolved questions (a great place to begin!), but readers will be left to wonder: how do Christian communities actually improvise with faithfulness to the script and communal agreement in areas like women in ministry or giving possessions to the poor?

So in sum, The Bible as Improv is an exciting and creative read, and it convinced me even more than improvisation is one of the most promising metaphors for re-envisioning biblical interpretation and application. But as the book engages your imagination, as I think it will, you will begin to recognize its weaknesses. The Bible as Improv is an interesting foray into Christian living as improvisation, but it will make you eager for more!


Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith

Lockdown: Escape from Furnace
by Alexander Gordon Smith
ISBN – 13: 9-780374-324919
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥

Beneath Heaven is Hell. Beneath Hell is Furnace.

Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Alex Sawyer is the “new fish.” Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, he knows he has two choices: resign himself to death in the darkness at the bottom of the world or find a way to break out of this escape-proof nightmare.


Firstly, thank you so much to Kristi from The Story Siren for sending me her copy of this book through her wonderful Books for Grabs site. I’d been itching to read it ever since seeing Dannie’s review over on Opinionated? Me?. Secondly, Lockdown is officially in the running for my favourite book of 2009.

In the probably not so distant future, Alex is a teen from a rough neighbourhood; he and his best friend Toby are thieves, stealing from other kids at school and breaking and entering into houses. It’s during one such B&E that everything goes wrong for Alex and he finds himself sentenced to life without parole to Furnace Penitientiary, a prison built after the Summer of Slaughter to house offenders under the 18.

Alexander Gordon Smith’s writing pulled me in from the very beginning. Told in first person, I was immediately sucked into Alex’s head-space. Everything was immediate, raw, gritty and harsh. Life in Furnace is brutal and starkly terrifying – there is no death penalty, but no one cares if the inmates kill each other off. The best passage I came across that describes the initial despair they all feel regarding their situation actually gave me chills, from the scene it describes and the language used to invoke it:

It was here, holding the bars of my cell like they were my only friends, that I first heard the symphony of Furnace. It started with the sobs, which rose up out of the darkness all around me like the gentle strings in an orchestra. They began as hushed moans choked back by the countless musicians that crafted them, merging together from every level to create a fountain of sound that ran down to the deserted yard below.

Even though the book is told in first person, I was still able to get a feel for the other main characters in the story; their personalities and quirks shone through. Donovon, who’d been in Furance from the very beginning, is tough, but has an almost mother-hen quality about him. He’s resigned to his fate, but underneath he still has hope that someday he’ll leave this escape-proof supermax prison. Zee arrives in Furnace the same day as Alex, due to much the circumstances (argh, I’m trying not to spoil any part of this book, it would just be cruel to do so), and is the funny-guy of the little group. He’s optimistic that his stay in Furnace isn’t permanent and likes to joke around. The villians (the guards and warden) remained the mystery they were meant to be and left me wondering just what the hell is going on in this prison.

Lockdown never lacked for action and I was quite happy with the pace of the book – quick, but not so fast I felt the plot was rushed. There were moments in the story that were so full of tension, terror or disbelief that, like Alex, I just wanted the next part to begin (in a good way), because surely Furnace couldn’t get any worse. Being the first book in a series, there are obviously still many things left unanswered by the conclusion of the story (including a great, big, massive cliffhanger!) – we recieve enough details to know that something really freaky is going on at Furnace prison, but hardly any major explanations. The only thing I wish would have been answered (or even mentioned) was why there are no girls in Furance. Do girls just not commit crimes punishable by life in prison, or are they just not sent to Furnace? Other than the wonder at the lack of females in the book, everything else was just perfect for the first of a series.

Especially the ending. Which had me heartbroken and a little teary-eyed, and yet happy and hopeful at the same time. God, what an ending. And I usually dislike extreme cliffhangers! I’m not going to be able to wait until next fall for the second book, Solitary. I loved Lockdown, I highly recommend it!


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Radical History News Round-up

Readers of this blog may have noticed the changed strap-line. I’ve pilfered this quote from Natalie Bennett’s very kind review of my book. I particularly like the potential flexibility of this description. One commenter on the site is unconvinced, suggesting that I am ‘too much the ivory-tower academic’ who ’somewhat fears’ the ‘radical masses’. Quite right. I spend my days barricaded inside my Roehampton office, comforting myself by reading yellowing back-issues of the LRB and TLS while, outside my window, the baying mob screams for justice.

Another nice review appeared over at Washminster.

In other radical history news, Harvey J. Kaye has posted an interesting article unpacking Sarah Palin’s appropriation of Thomas Paine. (Yes, that’s *Sarah Palin*.)


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

From Worldwide Freelance Writer

FEATURE ARTICLE Five Ways To Shine As A Professional Writer By Dana Blozis With the growth of social media and marketing techniques like online article marketing, it seems that everyone is a writer of one sort or another. In fact, I've read a handful of articles that assure the reading public that anyone can write. While this may be technically true, those of us who write for a living know that it isn't as easy as it sounds. There is much more to the craft than meets the eye. With this new realm of competition at our doorstep, I've created a list of ways that can set you apart from those who are merely dabbling in writing or writing simply for marketing's sake. 1) Develop a website. If you don't already have one, confirm your legitimacy as a writer or journalist by creating your own website. It can be as simple as one page which tells who you are, what types of writing you specialize in and how people can contact you. At the other end of the spectrum, it can be a multi-page site that contains bio information, a professional profile or résumé and clips of your work. Regardless of your site's level of complexity, your site will confirm that you are a professional writer with a portfolio and published clips. 2) Create a professional profile. Unless you graduated from j-school and have been a professional writer since your career began, I've found that a traditional resume doesn't cut it. Instead, I developed a two-page professional profile. It looks similar to my résumé, but it only briefly summarizes my irrelevant career prior to becoming a freelancer over four years ago. It contains sections like relevant skills (writing, editing, marketing); a sample of my client list; my relevant education; and a list of publications and websites for whom I've written. I have this document posted on my website so, when replying to a freelance posting or ad, I can refer the editor or prospective client to my profile without sending an attachment (hint: unless they know you, they won't open an attachment anyway.). 3) Prepare an online portfolio. Whether you include this information on your website or use one provided by an organization like Media Bistro, you'll need an online portfolio of your published work. It can be organized any number of ways, depending on what types of clips you have. On my site, portfolio samples are broken down by type (articles, marketing materials, and web copy). You could also break them down by publication or media type (broadcast, print, web, newspaper, magazine, etc.) Clips can take virtually any format: you can post them directly to a web page, add a *.pdf or *.doc/*.docx attachment, link to a URL, etc. As long as your portfolio is well organized and the clips are relatively current, site visitors (a.k.a. prospective clients) will be able to find what they're looking for. 4) Proof and edit your own work. Have you ever received an e-mail or letter from a colleague or prospective client riddled with mistakes? Did it make you cringe? This is a common pet peeve of professional writers and editors, including me. I always tell (read: nag) business professionals from all industries but particularly writers and editors to make sure they proof and edit their own work prior to submission to an editor or client. Of course, the materials are likely to be proofread and copyedited by someone else, too, but if you want repeat business or additional assignments, your work must be top notch and error-free. Because so many "article marketers" are focused on selling their products and services and NOT on punctuation and spelling, your writing will be superior. 5) Hone your craft. Whether you are a self-taught or college-educated writer, continue to expand your talent by investing in quality resources (a good dictionary and thesaurus; Chicago Manual of Style; Writer's Market; The Copyeditor's Handbook, etc.); taking continuing education classes; and trying out different genres (business writing, creative writing, fiction, horror, romance, etc.). You'll not only fine-tune your skills, but you'll have a better sense of where your voice best fits in the writing world. If you follow these five tips, you will stand out as a professional writer--not as a fly-by-night blogger, forum poster or article marketer--and you will gain confidence in your ability to market yourself and your writing and editing services. Happy writing! Copyright (c) 2007 Dana Blozis ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dana Blozis of Virtually Yourz is a freelance writer, editor and marketing professional based in the Seattle area. In addition to writing for publication, she writes for small businesses and nonprofits. For more information, visit Virtually Yourz. ID:as091125


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

[REVIEW] Crimson & Steam - Liz Maverick

Liz Maverick
Crimson & Steam (Crimson City, Book 8)
Dorchester Love Spell (US: 29th December 2009)
Buy (US) Buy (UK) Buy (CA) Buy (Worldwide)

It’s bad enough human journalist Jill Cooper has to witness her vampire lover Marius Dumont marry someone else in the name of political harmony, but worse is the virus that kills one of Crimson City’s vampires…and is having a radical affect on Marius, too. To obtain the cure, Jill must willingly infect another vampire, or win the race against time by studying the papers of a young inventor in 1850s London.

At first Jill is so desperate that she’s bloody annoying. Admittedly, she’s having a rough time but she acts like life without love is not worth living. That’s right, all the single ladies – put your hands up! But keep reading, because the rest of the book more than makes up for Jill’s melodrama.

Though set in an alternate (or even futuristic) Los Angeles, with all the royalty, corsets and whatnot it seems rather Victorian, so it’s not a shock to switch to 1850s England. In fact, the steampunk sub-plot is the most fascinating part of Crimson & Steam. There are clear parallels between Jill’s and Charlotte’s troubled relationships, but Charlie still has her dignity.

The Crystal Palace hosts the Great Exhibition that rose engineer Charlotte visits weekly. A tempest prognosticator seems innocent enough, but not even its creator could predict its dire consequences. I still have questions about the device and how it works, and Crimson City’s geography with its strata is bloody confusing, even though we’re told who goes where. More memorable, however, are the crafty mechs.

The government conspiracies, and political divisions between the vampires/humans/werewolves, may seem tired, but the science and steampunk are winners. Totally glom-worthy, Crimson & Steam gives one much to think about, and hope for future instalments. Add to this the mind-bending concepts of her futuristic novels, and Liz Maverick stands above other authors treading the well-worn paranormal path. Can’t wait for her next innovative novel!


The Swiss Family Robinson

Today Grace and I finished reading The Swiss Family Robinson.  Having watched and loved the Disney movie so many times as a child, I looked forward to reading this story of adventure with my daughter. 

We discovered that, though Disney produced a wonderful family movie, it should be titled: The Family That is Not the Swiss Family Robinson.

We were happy to find, though, that the book is far more wonderful than the movie even though there are no pirates to thrill the reader.  The story is not without its thrills; there is a boa constrictor scene that will fulfill the wants of any adrenaline enthusiast.  There are also some scenes of animal violence that would need some helpful explanation and guidance from Mommy or Daddy to help a child understand the context of these particular scenes.

The most memorable part of this story for me, though, is the attention given to family prayer, worship, and devotion.  In several places throughout the book the characters stop to express gratitude and need for protection from God.  The father provides spiritual leadership to his family throughout the book by gathering the family for prayer and worship.  The family’s daily life is undergirded with a consistent lifestyle of Christian family discipleship. 

One of my favorite passages occurs as the family is remembering the anniversary of their escape from their ship wreck:

“Afterward we sat together for a long time, enjoying the calm beauty of the morning and talking of all that had taken place on the memorable days of the storm a year ago.  For I desired that the awful events of that time should live in the remembrance of my children with a deepening sense of gratitude for our deliverance.  Therefore I read aloud passages from my journal, as well as many beautiful verses from the Psalms, expressive of joyful praise and thanksgiving, so that  even the youngest among us was impressed and solemnized at the recollections of escape from a terrible death, and also led to bless and praise the name of the Lord our Deliverer.” (Chapter 22, “Thanksgiving Day”)

Sadly, you just don’t get that kind of writing in contemporary children’s literature.

The Swiss Family Robinson is a story well worth reading with your own family, and portrays an example of family worship that is well worth replicating.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Review of David Eddings’ "The Diamond Throne"

David Eddings had a great flair in writing his fantasy series. While I always enjoyed reading his novels, I didn’t find them that original. The Belgariad and Mallorean series were essentially the same stories retold with the same characters. Though the Elenium series was a brand new series in a brand new world, the series seemed a lot like The Belgariad and Mallorean series.

 The Diamond Throne was the first book in Eddings’ new series the Elenium. It is the story of the Pandion knight Sparhawk who returns from exile to the city to find his queen, Ehlana, poisoned and trapped in a diamond casing to keep her alive until a cure can be found. Sparhawk is a older, honorable warrior who has not seen his queen for years. He sets off on the journey to find the that cure. He is joined by a band of warriors from other orders of knights and a mysterious child who is not what she appears to be.

Eddings is very good at combining action and humor into an interesting world. His writing style makes the book an enjoyable and fast read. These aren’t heavy or deep fantasies. They are fun reads that take you on a great adventure.


Saturday, November 21, 2009


Some actually-not-so-recently-reads and thoughts on them:

Elizabeth Scott – Love You Hate You Miss You
Author’s website / Find it at Amazon
Amy leaves rehab 75 days after the accident that killed her best friend, Julia. Her grief, issues with alcohol, boys, her parents (who are so wrapped up in each other that she’s not a priority) are handled well; part of it’s told in letters to the charismatic and charming Julia, who is perhaps not the greatest person in the world. There’s romance, too, as there tends to be, but I really-really-really like how it’s handled here, and that Amy has issues with intimacy.

Jasper Fforde – The Eyre Affair
Author’s website / Find it at Amazon
This was a book I’d been meaning to read for years and years and years, and eventually got around to it. The premise is that books are terribly important, that there’s an evil corporation, that the Crimean War is still going on, and that there’s a villain trying to interfere with literary classics like Martin Chuzzlewit and Jane Eyre. I liked the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter, books-within-books are always fun, but I’m not sure if I want to read any of the follow-ups to this – it was a fun read but the world or the tone, maybe, is not particularly my thing.

Jay Asher – Thirteen Reasons Why
Author’s website / Find it at Amazon
Clay gets a package in the mail: seven tapes, thirteen recorded sides, thirteen reasons why his classmate and crush, Hannah, killed herself two weeks previously. He listens to the tapes, follows a path around his town, and listens to these reasons, all the while waiting for his role in the matter, how he could be on the list of people who have to listen to these tapes. It’s worth reading – the incidents and seemingly minor reasons at the start all add up to something more – but I felt that the personal responsibility of those still living was emphasised over Hannah’s own personal responsibility, that while they were being chastised for having affected her life, there was far less of a sense of her own power over herself, or the sense that she might have influenced others. And yes, bullying and ignoring and crap do take away people’s power, but still… I’m not even sure if this point is about the book as much as it is about reviews I’ve read, where people talk about how it makes them realise how much they influence one another, how you can have an effect on someone else’s life when you’re not even aware of it… but it seems to be entirely from the people-who-had-a-bad-effect-on-Hannah side rather than the Hannah’s-effect-on-others side. Both Clay and Hannah are interesting and flawed characters: Clay a little too nice, Hannah a little too angsty. It keeps you reading, though, and I guess all-in-all I probably would recommend it.

Last Night in Twisted River: A Novel by John Irving Book Review

Ever since I saw the film “The World According to Garp” at age eleven I have wondered to myself what exactly did John Irving survive in his past?  I have waited patiently for nearly thirty years to find out.  I haven’t ever read a single thing about John Irving’s personal life; because figuring out exactly what happened to him to make him the type of writer he is has been a huge puzzle for me that I must figure out on my own.  Being a survivor of a horrific childhood myself, I knew Mr. Irving must have suffered even more than I had, as his stories are so twisted and dark.

With “Last Night in Twisted River: A Novel” I think I have finally figured out the puzzle of Mr. Irving.  While “A Prayer for Owen Meany” will always remain my favorite book of his, Twisted River is a close second. For whatever reason, I’ve convinced myself that this book is the true story of his life, or the true life story of someone very close to him, perhaps his own grandfather.  If it isn’t, then call me a fool, but please realize that whether this novel is a memoir or not, “Last Night in Twisted River” remains a brilliant story of father and son and grandson, and the fifty year long friendship they have with a mysterious logger.  Danny Angel, the protagonist of Twisted River is a writer in this novel and his own writing career mirrors the career of John Irving, and we read about Danny attending the Iowa Writers Workshop during the same time frame as Mr. Irving actually did.  Danny was even taught by John’s own most famous teacher Kurt Vonnegut.  I have always wondered why Mr. Irving writes about the subjects he has always written about, such as widows, Canada, wrestling, motherless and fatherless children, left hands, bears, and even abortion and all of these subjects get a curious mention in his latest book. 

Twisted River is the kind of Charles Dickensesque type of story Mr. Irving has written before, and this time around he manages to capture the small New Hampshire logging town of Twisted River beautifully, beginning with the drowning of a young boy named Angel and the failure of the mysterious Mr. Ketcham to catch him before he was lost under the logs forever.  Dominic and his son Daniel (Danny Angel) are friends with the logger Mr. Ketcham, and certain terrible events cause them to go on the run together over and over again throughout their lives leaving loved ones and good Italian restaurants behind.  What I find most fascinating about this book is that Daniel grows up to be a famous writer and has a long successful career before he settles down to write Twisted River, the very novel we as readers have been reading the entire time.     

Last Night in Twisted River: A Novel is defiantly the best book I’ve read in 2009.  I stayed up until 5:15 am to finish it.  I’ve spent more than evening staying up all night reading this book, as well as many other of Mr. Irving’s books.  I once worked an eight hour shift, drove a twelve hour road trip, visited and drank with a friend all night long, then sat down and finished The Hotel New Hampshire in one sitting after all of this and finished in time for my friend to catch me still awake after having one of the longest thirty days in my life.  John Irving is just that good of a writer.  All I can tell you is that Twisted River is fabulous and you need to go buy this book immediately to find out for yourself just how good it truly is. I promise you will be lost in a world like none other.  If you have already purchased it for yourself, then go buy it for a friend, because books make the best Christmas gifts.  A story like this stays with someone forever, while that sweater may only last two or three seasons.

John Irving’s Work

  • Setting Free the Bears – 1968
  • The Water-Method Man – 1972
  • The 158-Pound Marriage – 1974
  • The World According to Garp – 1978
  • The Hotel New Hampshire – 1981
  • The Cider House Rules – 1985
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany – 1989
  • Trying to Save Piggy Sneed - 1993
  • A Son of the Circus – 1994
  • The Imaginary Girlfriend - 1996  
  • A Widow for One Year – 1998
  • My Movie Business - 1999
  • The Cider House Rules: A Screenplay – 1999 (Academy-Award winning screenplay)
  • The Fourth Hand – 2001
  • A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound – 2004
  • Until I Find You – 2005
  • Last Night in Twisted River – 2009


John Irving’s website can be found here.   

You can purchase Twisted River here. 

And see John talk about his latest book below.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Pen and Muse awards Knight Dreams 5 STARS!

Oh Happy, Happy Day! I’m doing the dance of joy!

This reviewer brightened my week, my month, my year, my life. Each sweet word brought tears to my eyes and fire to my soul!  

A bit of what Denisse Alicea, from The Pen and Muse, had to say:

“What I liked: What didn’t I like about Knight Dreams? C.C. Wiley surely knows how to write historical romance. I found myself not wanting to leave Terrwyn’s world. The dialogue, scenery, and the plot are just amazing. I really loved how her character was written, she’s skilled yet she is cursed with a gift to see the future. Terrwyn’s such an honorable character and I loved the way she was just so hell-bent on getting her brother home no matter what the cost… This is a must read for those who love historical romances.” 5 STARS~ AMAZING!

Then to make it all that much sweeter, Denisse Alicea has an interview with Samhain’s Director of Public Relations, Lucia Carr. Be sure to click on the following link to read the book review for KNIGHT DREAMS and the whole interview.

Please excuse me while I go into my happy dance.

God Bless!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Death of the Gods

Ancient gods surround me these days. Surely part of it is due to having recently finished Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (I know I’m a few years late on this, but novel-reading time is at a premium even when teaching only part-time). Gaiman’s not the first to have taken on the theme of “what if ancient deities still survived?”. As a child I read Lester del Rey’s Day of the Giants with its science-fictionalized version of Ragnarok, and even earlier H. P. Lovecraft had resurrected Dagon and Cthulhu. Gaiman’s treatment, however, is contemporary and is a barometer of how the old gods are faring these days.

Dark and witty, Gaiman’s treatment is a fun-house ride through the fanciful concept that old-time gods and folk-heroes emigrated to American with their believers. The resulting adventure brings a multi-cultural mix of supernatural powers that end up mostly focusing on the Norse mythological cast. Same was true of del Rey — the Norse mythology reflects a stark world of raw power, betrayal, death and resurrection, that resonates with northern European experience. Anansi and Chernobog also take starring roles in American Gods, although the only ancient Near Eastern deities with any prominence in the story are the Egyptian Thoth and Anubis in supporting roles.

Casting an eye over the American landscape, this assessment is perhaps true to life. Ancient Near Eastern deities seem so distant and unfamiliar. Gods long dead. Despite recent movements to revive the worship of Mesopotamian or Canaanite deities, their powers seem to have dissipated at the middle of the first millennium B.C.E. as Yahweh gained a prominence he has never relinquished, and the Greeks and Romans paved over the graves of Ninhursag and Yarikh with European versions of the more prominent West Asian gods. Universities reflect this lack of knowledge with slowly dying departments of Ancient Near Eastern studies. Like Gaiman suggests, America seems to have gone after the more modern gods suited to our present-day lifestyle.

[REVIEW] Death, the Vamp and His Brother - Lexxie Couper

Lexxie Couper
Death, the Vamp and His Brother
Samhain (US: 1st June 2010)
Buy (US) Buy (UK) Buy (CA)

The Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse is at Bondi Beach to claim a life, but lifeguard Patrick Watkins doesn’t make it easy for her. Death, aka Fred, hasn’t met anyone like him before, and there’s a valid reason for that: Patrick is one of a kind, and his vampire brother Ven has an important role to play, too. Pestilence, the First Horseman, plans to bring about the Apocalypse, and Fred can’t fight this battle alone.

The Disease is suitably evil, but his bone throne is unique. Amy Mathieson is an addict too far gone to save herself, but can she save others? Ven and Patrick struggle to adjust to their new situations, but Fred still has a delightful sense of humour.

The resourceful Lexxie Couper has come through with paranormal beasties new to me: namely a nikor and a q’thulu. The clever author has also managed to exploit my unintelligence, making me wonder if the Prophecies within this novel can also be found in religious texts regarding the Apocalypse. I haven’t been this enthused to learn about the Revelations since Madonna’s “Justify My Love (The Beast Within Remix)”!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

2012, Wallace Fountains, Good Reads, and Coffee

Me, in sepia, 10 November 2009

Hello all! I was being silly and snapped a bunch of self-portraits with the camera the other night. Then I decided to mess with them in Picasa. I changed them to sepia as in the full color versions I looked tired and a little washed-out (ironic statement, I know, lol).

12 November here, and 12 days into the NaNoWriMo November Challenge for me to write 50K words for this blog.  I did not write yesterday as it was Armistice Day, we had the Boy and Girl Children staying with us, PJ also does blogging and writing of his own (one of his sites is here), and computer time was going to be limited, I knew. I did not even attempt to check email.

Add to this that today I am feeling very disorganized in my brain, I am pressured for time (PJ is off early again today and we are going out this afternoon), the laundry is starting to pile up, and I had a little tiny bit of caffeine this morning.  Not a lot, but enough to make me jumpy and a little edgy, and just enough to make the feeling of pressure begin to suffocate me and pull me under. I am wondering if my word count for the blog, the laundry, the schedule of things I am doing today, and the bit of anxiety I feel will tsunami over me. Yes, using the noun as a verb there.

Maybe it was also the movie we saw yesterday that makes me think of tsunamis.

Before I write about the movie, though (see?! Totally scattered…), I wanted to sneak in a big thank you for the wonderful comments on Tuesday’s blog. I appreciated what people wrote there, and while I did not reply to the comments one by one there, I wanted you to know I read and loved what you had to say.  I am avoiding recommenting, though, as I have already spent over two hours catching up with online peeps in other places, and if I don’t get a little of this blog started, I will never make a decent word count for today, and while, yes, I know that I am already to the halfway point, I need to stay on top of things as the weekend will soon be here. I don’t blog on weekends, either, I may be going out on Saturday with Tess (omg, I have to write her back, too), and ARGH. Can you FEEL the tension I am right now? Nnngnnnngnnngnnngnng.

LOL. I think you get the idea.


So the Boy Child and Girl Child arrived on Tuesday evening. I discovered when I shopped this past weekend at the local Leader Price store (the Poor People Store about which I have blogged a few times. Maaaan, I should tag my posts with “Leader Price,” huh. Too stressed to link any right now, but yesterday’s post mentions it) that I can now get lasagna noodles — the kind that you can bake and do not have to boil first. They seemed a little odd, not like real lasagna noodles. This might be because they are the “instant” baking kind.  I tried to cook them with Leader Price brand jarred Bolognaise and some ricotta (even though the box said to use Béchamel). One Leader Price small jar of sauce and one small container of ricotta is not enough to have really moist noodles, though. I added a little water around the edges of the lasagna and covered the lasagna while baking, but it really needs to be saucier. I will either get two jars of sauce and two containers of ricotta next time I make this, or I will break down and buy or make a Béchamel sauce (can I buy a Béchamel sauce in a jar in France??? I have no idea…). It looks like Béchamel is the same thing I make when cooking macaroni and cheese from scratch, so I might try it. PJ and the kids said that the lasagna tasted good as it was, but I wondered. It looked pretty dry to me. I also hate that I cannot taste test dishes I make such as this because of the flour and dairy content. Grrrr. Don’t even get me started on how irritated I am with my life concerning food right now. Instead, let us fast-forward to Wednesday morning when PJ, the Girl Child, and I went to see 2012.

We got up on Wednesday morning, got showers and dressed, left at 9:45 am, and took Métro Line 2 from Colonel Fabien to Père Lachaise. We then turned on Place Auguste Métevier from Blvd de Ménilmontant. Place Auguste Métevier turns into Avenue Gambetta, which we followed up to the area where the Métro stop is (Gambetta), found the theater, which is nearby on 6 rue Belgrand, and waited in line at the MK2 Gambetta (in the 20th arrondissement).

A couple of things about the walk. On the way down rue de Meau, which is maybe a quarter of a mile to M° Colonel Fabien, I saw posters for 2012 no less that FOUR times.  Seriously kids, there are posters for this all over the city. I saw more, too, as we walked to the theater.

The other thing is that I saw a park, a jardin really, on the way down rue Gambetta that runs parallel to the Père Lachaise cemetery: le Jardin de Samuel de Champlain. The Google Map is here. It is a small garden that is narrow, but runs the length of the cemetery and seems to be very peaceful. Noira on TripAdvisor dot com has compiled a list of places she visited in Paris. Number 10 is the Jardin. She writes, “Sculpture, frieze, wall…or is that truly souls trapped in stone? Beautiful and kind of occult.” Hmmm! I wonder about what she is writing. Also, a Flickr user paspog has a series of photos of the Jardin starting with this photo in this set (“Paris by Day”). This one shows what I think might be the frieze Noira writes about. Now I am curious to go back to the park and see what is up with the wall sculptures.

The MK2 Gambetta – Google Map View here.

Lots of movies showing, including The Box, Surrogates (which is entitled “Clones” in French) and a poster for the Jim Carrey movie A Christmas Carol, which opens in France on November 25. I can’t read the poster there, but it says something with “Scrooge.”

A busy movie holiday in Paris.

The movie we were going to see.

People waiting and smoking.

Oh, it is hard to be a former smoker in a smoker-friendly Paris some days! I really do miss smoking. Psychologically, that is. Physically, I do not miss it. I do not miss my hair and clothing smelling of cigarettes. I do not miss stuffy sinuses and the beginnings of a smoker’s hack. But the act of smoking itself? How good nicotine makes one feel? Yup. Miss that every day. It’s almost two months, though, and while I have had some brushes with the temptation to smoke, I have not done so.

ANOTHER movie poster for 2012!

A Wallace Fountain with a guy passing behind.

I wanted to snap another photo of this without the guy in the background, but traffic did not cooperate. Too many cars were passing in front of it, and then it was our turn to enter the theater to get our tickets.

To find out more about Wallace Fountains, read these articles here:

  • Wallace Fountains, Wikipedia
  • Wallace Fountains, Paris Talk at blogspot dot com
  • Wallace Fountains, Flickr Photo Pool
  • Bonjour Paris dot com writer Joseph Lestrange on the Fountains (this is one of my favorite reads about the fountains).

I just ran into a great article about Paris Customs, too. This is one to read if you are planning a visit to Paris. Lots of good tips on etiquette in Paris are in the article.

Here’s the fun part of this blog. Seems that 2012 has come out two days sooner in Paris than in the States and so PJ wanted photos for his blog to prove he had seen it before anyone else/to provide sneak peeks, so he sneaked taking these with my camera in the theater.

LOL. They are crappy, but there you go. Now you are some of the first to see the movie, too.


I SO wanted to like this movie! **MINOR SPOILERS** below, but not huge ones. This movie is SO predictable it is not like anything can really be spoiled, anyways.


  • Has John Cusack. I worship the film ground upon which he walks. Usually.
  • Has Amanda Peet. Cute, been in a lot of good pictures, usually a fun actress to see with a great “hot factor.”
  • Has Woody Harrelson. Besides Cheers, he has been in some kickass movies! He plays a hippie-type Doomsday dude in this film. Normally, I would think this is great.
  • Has a lot of other good actors, too, such as Thandie Newton, Danny Glover, George Segal…
  • Has a lot of amazing CGI action with a great film subject: the end of the world!

This movie SHOULD have made me like it a lot more than I did.

Instead, what I found was that it was full of stereotypes and predictability, it did not really make me feel much for anyone in the situation — the characters were flat, cardboard cutouts on a flat, cardboard story, with flat, cardboard sub-conflicts, and flat, cardboard dialogue. Plus some really f*cked up facts, such as when the John Cusack character and his family are flying from Las Vegas to China, they pass over Hawaii. Does this EVER happen in real life? No! Not unless the destination IS Hawaii.

Have the filmmakers not taken the basics of the Great Circle Route into account? See here and here. Oh there were other flubs in this movie, too, which downright pissed me off as I felt they were really big insults to my intelligence. As PJ and I talked about it, and I said it was really hard to suspend my disbelief because of these flubs, he said he understood it is hard to like a movie when you can see the strings manipulating everything. That’s exactly how I felt.

I was so annoyed by the flatness of the characters and their stories. I was totally bored in the non-action portions of the movie, and wanted to roll my eyes at so much in it that I really could not enjoy the action scenes in the film. Sure, I expect a bit of “Oh, Come ON!” moments in the film when the hero makes it out alive by the skin of his teeth, but there were so many outrageous moments such as this in the movie, I found myself getting irritated.

There have been some pretty good apocalyptic-style movies out in the past few years. Cloverfield, for example. That movie rocked. I even liked War of the Worlds better and that even had Tom Cruise in it, for Pete’s sake. This had John I’m-so-cool Cusack! It could have rocked!

But no. For every special effect spectacular peak there were moments so flat that not even the highs could make me feel invested in the movie.

Bummer. At least I got to try out some more popcorn sucré.

Oh Crap I Only Have 20 Minutes More

I have to get in the shower. PJ and I are meeting to go and see The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus this afternoon and then this evening, we are going to go and see Francis Ford Coppola!! Yes! A famous person! He is introducing his movie Tetro at its French Premier at the Max Linder Panorama Theater.  It is at 24, bd Poissonniere 75009, Paris. There is a cool Flickr photo of the theater here. It looks like an old, classic-style movie house, and should be very interesting to see. The website, in French, is here. PJ says he thinks the movie will be in Spanish with French subtitles, but I don’t mind. I can understand a little Spanish, I can read a little French, and when I can’t understand the language in a movie, I find myself paying more attention to the little visual details and to the cinematography. Plus I get to see someone famous! Very cool. I am looking forward to it.

Also, I wanted to say that I finally got an Italian-style espresso pot, the stovetop kind!

PJ took Girl Child and me to the store called C’est tout vous! – It’s all for you! It’s a discount-type store, a mom and pop shop, of crap made in China. It’s like a dollar store, but things cost more than a dollar. It’s got a lot of cheap housewares and so on. Stuff Girl Child likes to spend her allowance on, too, like nail polish and gum and knick-knacks for her room.

With this coffeepot, I am able to brew up some decaf espresso for myself! I have tried to quit coffee in order to be off of caffeine, and it is WAY hard. Too hard. I started drinking caffeinated coffee again at the start of NaNoWriMo after having been off of it for a couple of weeks. It finally dawned on me that there is such a thing as decaf, and so I thought I would find some. This was also setting up a coffeemaker competition between PJ and me. I  also wanted to brew it espresso-style since I found an espresso roast and grind, decaf, in the store (Monoprix. It’s organic, fair-trade, and water-decaffeinated instead of solvent, too!). PJ got me this pot so I could make my own decaf. I think it is still a pretty acidic drink, and I still may have to quit coffee altogether because of it, but I thought I would give decaf a try. It’s nice to have the option to do make some decaf espresso.

The Boy Child stayed in the apartment all day yesterday until he and Girl Child went home at about 5 pm I guess at 14, almost 15, doing so is more fun that going out with the family. I guess it is some “down-time” for him. After they left, I had a Season One “Ugly Betty” marathon until I was sleeping more through episodes than I was watching them.

Finally, I wanted to mention I am reading a very good book which takes place here in Paris. It is a heart-wrenching story, but I am learning so very much about the city, past and present from it. It is called Sarah’s Key by Tatiana Rosnay, a French, British, and Russian author who lives in Paris. This is her first book written in English and it is beautifully-executed so far. I hope to write more about this book as I finish it. It’s subject matter is one I have only begun to learn about and about which I have some information in my neck of the city, too.

Well, I made it to just about 2,500 words today. I have 50 minutes to get ready and meet PJ at the Quai de Loire theater here in the 19th. So I am off. I leave you with a photograph of the coffee pot, in sepia. LOL.

Over and out.

What was the last book you loved?

Here’s an interesting notion: A book review contest.

Well, it’s not much of a contest, but:

We’d like to know the last book you loved. Send us a writeup of the last book you truly loved, along with a short bio. We’ll publish our favorites in The Rumpus blog. No length requirements.

And no deadline, either. At least, none that I can see in the appeal to readers from Stephen Elliott.

Contact information available through that last link. Dust off your favorites. I have no guesses on the deadline; Elliott ran one of these last month, too.

Maybe in the long run we can organize some SCWC reviews penned by any of our unconventional conventionists. No promises yet; I’ll have to figure out how to work that. In the meantime, if your review of the last book you loved makes The Rumpus, let us know.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

White Picket Fences

Today we start with the Publishers Notes on this engaging story. Follow us throughout the week as we offer personal reviews on … White Picket Fences.

When her black sheep brother disappears, Amanda Janvier eagerly takes in her sixteen year-old niece Tally. The girl is practically an orphan: motherless, and living with a father who raises Tally wherever he lands– in a Buick, a pizza joint, a horse farm–and regularly takes off on wild schemes. Amanda envisions that she, her husband Neil, and their two teenagers can offer the girl stability and a shot at a “normal” life, even though their own storybook lives are about to crumble.

Seventeen-year-old Chase Janvier hasn’t seen his cousin in years, and other than a vague curiosity about her strange life, he doesn’t expect her arrival will affect him much–or interfere with his growing, disturbing interest in a long-ago house fire that plagues his dreams unbeknownst to anyone else.

Tally and Chase bond as they interview two Holocaust survivors for a sociology project, and become startlingly aware that the whole family is grappling with hidden secrets, with the echoes of the past, and with the realization that ignoring tragic situations won’t make them go away.

Will Tally’s presence blow apart their carefully-constructed world, knocking down the illusion of the white picket fence and reveal a hidden past that could destroy them all–or can she help them find the truth without losing each other?

This book was provided by Random House Multnomah Publishing for review.

This book may be purchased online through  the following Link:

Visit the site for this and many other books by author Susan Meissner


More about the author at her website:


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Eyes Like Stars ~ Lisa Mantchev

Genre: Young Adult

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

352 pages

ISBN: 9780312380960

“The weight of words is far heavier than water,” Ophelia said. “They would drag me to the bottom and hold me captive there.”

As though to prove her wrong, Macbeth backstroked through the vellum waves. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”

Moth considered the proffered appendage. “Nope, you still have jam on you.”

p. 240

I trust that many of you have either read or watched the grand old plays and their myriad spin-offs. Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Man of La Mancha, The Little Mermaid, Westside, well, you get the point.

Readers and Actors are camps that generally flow into one another as both sets are inherently enamored with words. I, for one, had my feet firmly planted in both, early on.

I grew up either on the stage or behind it in one capacity or another, as did my sister, my husband, most of my friends and a sizable chunk of my family. As we grew older most of us dropped the habit for other pursuits but my little sister didn’t. While I still belt out Newsies more than once a week in the middle of Atlanta traffic (usually with my car windows closed), she can still be found running off to rehearsal or read-throughs on any given night.  My running image of her looks about like Beatrice, the title character, on the cover of Eyes Like Stars.

I picked this book up for her, initially. It’s essentially about a girl who grew up in an enchanted theater. An enchanted theater that happens to house every player who has ever been written in script history. Each player is called to his or her scene depending on which play is being produced at the time.

Sounds great, right?

Well, of course, there’s a bit of a catch. The characters are doomed to confinement in said magical place, by order of The Book of scripts. Needless to say, like most seemingly perfect situations, this doesn’t sit well with all and there are forces brewing to bring down the house and I don’t mean by applause.

Mantchev is fantastic in her story weaving. She grabs hold of the root of Hamlet, Ophelia, Macbeth, Peter Pan, the lot, and expertly intertwines the players through each other’s plot lines. The only downside is that it may make you go running for your stack of scripts, leaving you doomed to read through the classics for several weeks. I, myself, have just ordered half of Dear William’s plays from the library as I haven’t read them in some time.

That being the only drawback, I highly recommend this to the theatrical bibliophiles. For anyone who knows the thrill of a raised curtain or the dim of house lights, Eyes Like Stars will bring you to your feet.

Top five blog posts I read today:

Here are excerpts from some blog posts I read today that either encouraged me or flat-out made me think:

1. Michael Patton, Parchment and Pen:

You know what it feels like: you are on fire; you are ready, willing and able; you don’t need any more sermons on Rom 12:1. You are a living sacrifice; you listened to Piper’s “Doing missions when dying is gain”; you are ready to die. You are ready to die for Christ, the Gospel and whatever other mission God puts you on. Here I am Lord; I am ready. Problem: there is no altar. Well, not like you thought. If it exists, it does not exist in the glory of your perceptions. You pray continually for God to show you his direction. There has to be a place for me in his army. Here’s what you do:

2. Jared Totten, Christians in Context:

(I desire to do my own review of this book soon)

Jerry Bridges wrote one of the best books I’ve ever read on Christian sanctification in Pursuit of Holiness. But if Pursuit of Holiness is Sanctification 101, then Respectable Sins is Sanctification 301. While the former book focused on the broader subject of sanctification and dealt with the more common besetting sins, the latter focuses on the more subtle sins that often go unaddressed.

Before dealing with specific areas of sin, the opening chapters of Respectable Sins set the necessary foundation by addressing sin in general and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome it. In this way, the first few chapters read like a concise summary of Pursuit of Holiness. The remainder of the book addresses issues like anxiety, unthankfulness, selfishness, and judgmentalism. Each of these chapters follows a similar formula, defining and exposing the sin before giving the reader practical steps of action against it.

The reader must be careful to read this book without any…(more here)

3. Desiring God

I was encouraged to begin to think about profitable Christmas presents by DG’s Christmas Sale: Something for Everyone.  (and they mean just about everyone!)

4. Kevin DeYoung, DeYoung, Restless & Reformed:

(This post flat-out convicted me…thanks, Kevin)

Prayer is essential for the Christian, as much for what it says about us as for what it can do through God.  The simple act of getting on our knees (or faces or feet or whatever) for 5 or 50 minutes every day is the surest sign of our humility and dependence on our Father in heaven.  There may be many reasons for our prayerlessness—time management, busyness, lack of concentration—but most fundamentally, we ask not because we think we need not. or we think God can give not.   Deep down we feel secure when we have money in the bank, a healthy report from the doctor, and powerful people on our side.  We do not trust in God alone.  Prayerlessness is an expression of our meager confidence in God’s ability to provide and of our strong confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves without God’s help. more here

5. Dr. Bob Kellemen, Changeless Truth for Changing Times:

If you or someone you care about is struggling with anxiety, what’s our goal?

You shout, “To get rid of the anxiety!”

Well, that’s a great desire. It certainly is an acceptable prayer. “Lord, if it be Thy will, remove all feelings and experiences of anxiety.”

The problem is, this side of heaven, not all feelings are “healed,” not all negative emotional experiences are “wiped away.” It’s on the other side of heaven that we have no more tears, sorrow, pain, or suffering.

There’s no guarantee that medication will eliminate anxiety. There’s no promise that talk therapy will remove all feelings of fear. There’s no pledge that biblical counseling or scriptural meditation will eliminate every negative emotion.

When anxiety is totally eliminated, that’s a special grace of God for which everyone gives thanks. But that’s not the everyday result nor should it be our ultimate goal.

Read more about the goal here…

Tonight there’s a definite chill in the air, high school football game going on across the street, a fire flickering in the fireplace and a warm easy chair for my aching back.  And this is just a bit of what I’ve been reading…I hope you enjoyed it as well.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Flourishing in a sea of information

Life is getting much better in an important respect. That’s the message of Tyler Cowen’s Create Your Own Economy. The gain is in personal enjoyment, and the driver is new information and communication technology.

At the center of this is the internet, which gives us access to much more information, and more quickly and cheaply. What about information overload? Doesn’t the resulting sense of bewilderment and paralysis offset, and for some even outweigh, the benefit?

Cowen says no, because we have new ways to control the flow of information. Internet search engines let us target the particular information we want. RSS feeds allow us to focus on the websites that most interest us.

The same holds for music, books, movies, television shows, sporting events, and other types of entertainment. From iTunes you can purchase individual songs rather than entire albums. With an iPod you can then listen to those songs in a sequence of your choosing at whatever time and place you like. Kindle-type devices allow virtually instant purchasing of books and the ease of reading them whenever and wherever you please. DVRs, online rental services, and on-demand television make it possible to borrow or record movies and TV shows and watch them when it’s convenient.

Technological advances also enhance our control over communication. A telephone conversation occurs at the convenience of the caller, whereas email and texting allow you to receive inputs when it suits you. They also permit you to reflect a bit before you respond. With Facebook, chat rooms, blogs, and Twitter you can move in and out of ongoing conversations at will.

Imposing order on information is psychologically satisfying. The increase in our ability to control the amount, the content, and the timing of information and entertainment we consume may be just as valuable, in terms of our well-being, as the increase in the amount of information to which we have access.

The benefit varies across individuals. Enhanced ability to organize information is particularly valuable to people with a cognitive style that prizes order. For some of us more than for others, exerting control over the flow of information is pleasing. Greater access to information and culture is especially valuable to those with narrow and atypical interests. If you want to know a little about current political debates and what celebrities are up to, you may be able to get your fill by reading a daily newspaper or Time magazine or by watching a half-hour network news program. But if your interests are less mainstream — say, soccer in Argentina or west African music or Asian architecture — the internet makes a huge difference.

Autistics tend to be on the extreme end of both of these continuums; they often find the organization of information highly satisfying, and they tend to have narrow and unusual interests. Advances in information and communication technology are therefore likely to enhance the enjoyment of autistics to an even greater degree than of others. This, according to Cowen, suggests heightened potential for autistics, and people with similar if less extreme cognitive traits, to have a rich life experience.

Create Your Own Economy is well worth reading. Cowen’s case for optimism about the contribution of new technologies to individual well-being is stimulating and fairly compelling. The writing is engaging, and the book is more coherent than a few of the reviews I’ve seen led me to expect (and which I half-expected anyway based on the style of Cowen’s blog).

I wish Cowen had pushed further on two issues.

First, his assessment of the prospects for autistics focuses on consumption. But there’s also the matter of how to make a living.

Cowen rightly notes that autistics tend to have cognitive strengths in matters that interest them: keen perception of details and patterns, an ability to focus clearly, and a capacity to effectively store and organize information. For autistic individuals this cognitive profile may serve as a comparative advantage in a world in which production and analysis of information dominates the production of things. Cowen spends some time discussing the successes and contributions of famous innovators and thinkers and writers who may have been autistic, from Thomas Jefferson to Immanuel Kant to Arthur Conan Doyle.

But what about the earning prospects of less extraordinary autistics? Autistics tend to have a range of impediments to effective social functioning: they may read social queues poorly, lack interest in non-instrumental conversation, get easily distracted, react to imperfection or irregularity with extreme frustration, have strong sensory aversions, engage in odd repetitive motions, and some don’t develop the ability to speak. Cowen is certainly aware of the barriers these impose, and at one points he says “if you take [autistic] abilities and disabilities and stick them into a rapidly evolving market economy, you will get some people who achieve relatively high social status and other people — many others — who end up with much lower status” (p. 21). But he says little more about this.

In the book’s final chapter Cowen writes:

You may know that the division of labor is a key idea in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Smith’s notion of the division of labor referred to increasing specialization in economic production. He gives the example, from a pin factory, of how each worker performs a very specific and repetitive task in the interests of greater productivity for the factory as a whole.

It’s not what Smith intended, but I read this discussion of the pin factory as a parable of autism and the rising returns to autistic cognitive strengths. If you can perform a repetitive task with the proper skills, you can earn a decent income because you are no longer expected to be a jack-of-all-trades or to master a wide variety of skills. It increases the chance that you can have a “dysfunction” and still do well in life and in your career…. Today it’s often enough to be very good at one specific professional task. In other words, the division of labor provides disproportionate benefits to people with specialized cognitive talents and that includes many people along the autism spectrum. (pp. 215-16)

I think there may be something to this, but it strikes me as a pretty thin reed on which to hang an optimistic conclusion. I want to hear more.

Throughout the book Cowen argues for greater appreciation of neurodiversity. Partly this involves recognition that autistic traits are part of a continuum; they differ in degree rather than in kind. It also means we should pay better attention to the cognitive strengths of autistics.

That would be a good thing, but surely more is needed. Early diagnosis and intervention are now widely agreed to be critical. So too are teachers and aides in K-12 schools who foster social development in autistic children without stifling their interests and skills. Less discussed but potentially very helpful is an ongoing shift toward individualization in the administration of government benefit and service provision. Citizens and policy makers in the United States and many western European nations have increasingly wished to encourage employment by able working-age adults. A key lesson from their efforts to do so is that incentives are useful but often insufficient. If you want people to work, it helps to facilitate that with individualized assistance and monitoring. Individualization gives caseworkers better information about what types of help — at-home support, financial assistance, training, job placement, transportation, and so on — are likely to be of greatest benefit. To maximize opportunities for autistics, and to ensure the best possible utilization of their skills and strengths, we need not only the wider appreciation of neurodiversity that Cowen commendably encourages but also a helping hand from the state.

Second, I wish Cowen had addressed the worry that creating your own prosperity will come at the expense of the greater good. Specifically, the internet and other individualized forms of information sharing and communication might hasten the erosion of social capital. Researchers have found links between social capital and economic and political health (though these associations and their magnitudes are by no means a settled issue). If we spend more and more of our time glued to our RSS feeds, iPods, Kindles, and on-demand movies, will we engage less in human interaction, communication, and participation in social groups and activities? Are we heading toward a future of browsing, listening, reading, and viewing alone, bereft of face-to-face connections and civic engagement?

Maybe. But the new technologies might help to offset any such loss. For one thing, they enable us to identify and interact with a better-targeted set of compatriots. We now have fewer widely shared if shallow experiences, such as attending PTA or Elks Club meetings. They may be replaced by more fulfilling ones shared with smaller groups: interacting in a Facebook friend network or an online chat group, emailing or instant messaging with people who you’ll never meet in person but who share your particular passion.

By allowing us to locate other people with similar interests, new information and communication devices also help us to feel connected in a way that, for some, may not have been possible before. Attending church or a committee meeting can be highly interactive for some people. But others may experience them as boring or even alienating. For the latter, reading Facebook or blog or Twitter posts may create a greater sense of connection, of belonging, of membership, of community.

The internet and new communication technologies also make it easier for some people to actively contribute. A person who sits silently in the back of a PTA meeting might experience more engagement and efficacy by writing a blog post, commenting on someone else’s post, editing a Wikipedia entry, reviewing a book, posting photos, or participating in a chat room dialogue.

Perhaps, then, we’re moving toward not less social capital but simply a different form — more fulfilling to some of us and no less useful for sustaining a healthy society.

Original sin

I abhor the word “romp” in book reviews. “Somebody or another takes us on a romp through/to somewhere, yada yada yada.” That creates a difficult position for me in composing an unsolicited review of Original Sin (A Cultural History) by Alan Jacobs.

The ultimate scene in the film Russian Ark consists of nothing more than dancing. An orchestra plays and masses of costumed dancers fill a ballroom in the Winter Palace. For the scene to be riveting (and it is outstanding), the viewer must have foreknowledge that it was shot in a single take. The orchestra, the costumes, the dozens and dozens of dancers executing complicated steps were really as perfect as they appear on film.

Original Sin is, from the first page to the last, like that ballroom scene: a massive undertaking of incredible complexity that comes together such that it seems like an effortless good time.

Those who have put thought to paper know that it’s difficult labor. Jacobs sets out to trace the history of original sin in 274, 6×9″ pages. It could not have been as easy as he makes it look. I imagine that he spent arduous hours in that peculiar torment of rewriting, but his toil is the reader’s treasure.

Whether he’s discussing Robert Owens’ utopian mill and the birth of socialism or Gregor Mendel’s experiments, no idea is left forever on pages turned. He weaves Dionysos, Milton, Hellboy, R.D. Laing, Tom and Jerry, Dutch Calvinism, William James, the birth of American anarchism, Coleridge, the abolitionist movement and the proverbial “much, much more” together in the sort of tapestry that is good history in wide angle. And the footnotes are so delightful that the reader looks forward to asterisks.

Jacobs is a practicing Christian, he tells us as much–if subtly–early in the book. It is not, however, a Christian explanation of the concept; more importantly, it is not an attempt to refute a Christian concept. I’m not sure that a non-Christian could bring the necessary feeling of personal exploration that animates this book. If there was an attempt to convert me, i missed it.

I was having too much fun enjoying Jacobs’ deconstruction of modern conservativism in a short, but utterly devastating, eleven pages. That’s not the only thing that gets deconstructed, but it is not a book about who’s right and who’s wrong.

The last sentence of the afterword (which is about the Blues) reads, “If there is a proper response, a truly wise response, to the narrative of this book, it surely begins with the recognition that if everyone is bad to the bone–if all of us strut and fret our hour upon the stage, filled with the consciousness of injured merit, fairly glowing with self-praise–then our condition is, first and above all else, comical.”


Original Sin: A Cultural History; Alan Jacobs; HarperOne; 2008; ISBN: 9780060783402

Available at all the major web book stores (Powell’s, Borders and Amazon), and i found it at my local public library.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Monday Bookworms: Local Girls

Local Girls, Alice Hoffman

197 pages, @ 1999


After The Caine Mutiny & The Known World, I needed something light.  My friend Amy recommended Alice Hoffman to me a couple of years ago, and while she doesn’t blow me out of the water, she’s a go to author when you’re looking for something light and quick to read.


Local Girls takes place on Long Island and tells the story of one particular family with the central character being Gretel Samuelson, an adolescent teenager (gotta love those!)  Teen pregnancy, college dropouts, bad boys, cancer diagnosis, divorce, drugs, destructive relationships, new beginnings…these are all themes or issues that were covered in this novella.  The overarching theme though seemed to be that of unfulfilled dreams…


Gretel Samuelson is just another 13-14 year old then her world falls apart as her parents get divorced and her mother is diagnosed with cancer, her best friend gets pregnant their junior year of high school and her brother, full of promise with a scholarship to Harvard ends up working the deli counter at the local grocery store and not going to college.  Gretel seems to be the only “together” character in the whole book, but she has her issues too.  Her character is the most evolved character throughout the book.


If I could interview Alice Hoffman, I would ask her if she had a traumatic incident involving a violent or bad man in her life.  Every book I read of hers has these awful, undependable, emotionally unavailable, controlling men in them and these woman who are drawn to them because in the beginning of the book they seem weak and swayed by “love” but then they wake up and become these strong independent woman characters.  I’m curious as to the pattern, is it based on a personal experience she had or is it just a theme that she has voluntarily decided to write?  This book once again followed this theme, which I was not surprised by at all, since this was my 3rd Hoffman book.


Overall, it was a light and quick read, just what I was looking for.  It’s hard for me to say whether or not I would recommend Hoffman’s books.  I guess it depends on what type of reader you are, if you’re looking to breeze through something in 24 hours and just zone out for a bit then you would like her books, I think.


Rating:  2.5 stars


Post in Comments:

Have you read Alice Hoffman and if so, what’s your favorite book?  I think of the 3 I’ve read Practical Magic is my favorite one.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs - by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs


As a book review blogger for Thomas Nelson Publishers I received a copy of this book in exchange for my comments.

But each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself, and a wife must respect her husband.
(Italics mine)      (Ephesians 5:33 – New Century Version)

The book is based upon Ephesians 5:33, which is certainly a good start to a healthy marriage.

This book offers a way to repair broken (or breaking) relationships by referring readers to an application of Ephesians 5:33.  The manner in which he expresses the differences between men and women (pink and blue hearing aids, for example) gives a simple answer to complex issues.  If the husband loves his wife unconditionally and the wife respects the husband unconditionally, relationships are healed.

What did I think?
The book is a compilation of mistakes he has made in his own marriage, situations gleaned from his years as a relationship counselor and letters from attendees of his seminars.  I found it to be more of a memoir than a helpful book about marriage, as well as a promotional vehicle for his seminars and DVD series.  For me, I think that using this scripture as a ‘fix all’ for marital discord is problematic.  It certainly seems that the writer treats it as the ‘magic bullet’ to a harmonious relationship.

The title of the book sets the tone, a woman desires love, but the man needs respect.

The author writes “As a husband, I am always seeking to decode what my wife is feeling” (page 82).  What exactly is he saying?  That his wife hides her feelings on purpose hoping that he can figure them out? That it’s up to the husband to ‘decode’ her thoughts?  My wife of 28 years tells me what she’s thinking, as long as I listen.  Maybe he needs a stronger blue hearing aid or a blue muzzle so that he doesn’t talk over her when she’s talking to him.

Dr. Eggerichs acronyms to identify each persons’ needs (C-O-U-P-L-E and C-H-A-I-R-S) made the book seem ‘high-schoolish’ instead of written for adults – with the needs of the husband more substantial than the feel-good needs (read desires) of the wife.

All in all, I feel like the book missed a golden opportunity to build something useful based on a scriptural principle. If a man does love his wife as Christ loved the church, and the woman respects her husband – the basic foundation of the house is solid.  But if you don’t put in a couple windows, you can’t get sunlight, an occasional breeze or keep out the storms.

As always, the opinion expressed is my own and your comments are welcome!!

Even though I did not care for the book, many, many people do – I will give my copy away to one person who posts a comment to my blog.

So, post away, whether you agree with me or not. If you’ve heard good things about this author and would love the book – comment here – I will make the selection on November 10th – if you want this book, talk to me – be sure to leave an email address and I will contact the winner by email.

Happy Reading,