Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Alan Jacobs' HP Review

I enoyed reading Alan Jacobs' take on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which follows a similar vein to the Vulgar and Dreadful article Gaines' mentioned below. It gives away plot points, so don't peek if you haven't read book 7.

Jacobs is an English professor at Wheaton College, and I often wish I could take one of his classes, especially this one. I subscribe to Jacobs' tumblelog, and will be glad when it returns in September from European vacation. The bits and pieces he posts always give me pause and often inspire blog posts (some of which I never get around to finishing, but at least it gets me thinking!).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Recent Reads

Over the last week or so I've been gobbling down novels like they were M&M's. Here are some mini-reviews of my latest spate of fiction.

  • Flabbergasted

  • (Found at Goodwill ages ago for $.50)
    Wacky, fun, clean and happy beach book. I'm sorry I never read it sooner. Andrew Peterson narrates the audio version, and I bet it's hilarious. That said, though there are some GREAT lines in this book, the ending left me a little flat. I won't spoil it, but up until the end it had managed not to sound preachy or contrived-- in fact it seemed the best form of satire, mocking the Sunday singles scene from within-- and though I wasn't necesarily disappointed with the outcome, it struck me as off. I really wanted it to end differently, a la Tim Keller's brand of being Christian in the city (if you've read it, and know who he is, that MIGHT make sense). I suppose, though, I'll have to read the sequels, because Ray Blackston really knows how to make his readers chuckle.

  • Midwives

  • (Also found at Goodwill)
    Moving, powerful novel. While reading it, I had the strangest sense of deja vu, like I'd read it before even though I knew I hadn't, because it came out after I'd graduated high school, and you'd think I'd remember it if I'd read it in the last 10 years. I think this was due to the writer's talent and style. Bojhalian was able to put the reader in the mind of a 14-yr old girl and a thirty-something midwife, and I found that astounding. He really did his research. Thrilling suspense, and a gripping read until the very last page. I loved it!

  • Children of Men

  • (Purchased from Amazon)
    I hate to say I watched the film first, so when I finally read this, I had to completely put it out of my mind. It was hard, because I thought it made a good movie, but they had so mangled the book that I kept getting characters confused and seeing the actors in my mind's eye. The movie bears very little resemblance to this masterpiece by PD James. If you haven't seen the film, read the book first. The concept itself is intriguing and could be taken a number of different ways: what would happen if the entire world suddenly became barren? However, it remains a very character-driven and introspective novel. I would describe this as a narrative depiction of total depravity--we all have the capacity for ultimate evil. Not that this is a hopeless story, but it is certainly fascinating and thought-provoking look at human nature. A must-read.

  • The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson

  • (Found at Goodwill)
    What inspired me to pick this up? It was sitting on our shelf at eye level after I finished the previous book, but I also like to think that watching an episode of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. in which they mentioned this Mark Twain mystery had something to do with it. How I became an English teacher having never read this classic I can only contribute to a distate for early American literature that lasted through college. (I blame high school.) I did manage to squeeze in a course on 19th Century African-American Lit in graduate school, and I think reading this during that summer would've been helpful. I definitely appreciated it more now than I would've earlier in my life. I found the caricatures somewhat amusing and slightly appalling at times, though nonetheless I was entertained. I would recommend it for those familiar with this period in American literature, because otherwise you're going to get lost in the dialect and proficient use of the n-word. It does make a decent detective story and displays Mark Twain's humorous wit.

  • A Passage to India

  • (Purchased at Borders on sale)
    It has been 10 years since I first read this E.M. Forster classic for my high school AP Lit class. It enchanted me then, and continues to do so. This is a haunting story about the "muddle" of British-controlled India, and focuses on the confusing relationships between East and West. The unfolding of events is not nearly as striking as the co-mingling of place and character. From the "boum" of the echoing caves and the spiritual chant of "Esmiss Esmoore," in this story, everything speaks. Though you can sense the heat of the omnipresent sun (fitting when for so long we were under drought conditions which only relented this weekend) and spy the outline of the Marabar caves, it is the noise of the novel that remains. The voices of the characters spring from the page, and the tryptich of Mosque, Cave, and Temple serve as backdrops for masses of people longing for freedom, for unity. Sadly, no one in the novel ever really finds what they were looking for, especially Miss Quested (fitting name), our heroine, who was always longing to see "the real India." Though definitely not portraying a particularly Christian or even historical viewpoint of the situation, I would recommend this book as an honest portrait of British India in the early 20th century and a fascinating read. It makes me want to travel.

    For an interesting perspective, check out the original 1924 review from the Guardian. (Warning: this review gives the plot away, if you care about such spoilers. I don't, really, on a book like this, though I was surprised the main plot points were given away on the back of the Borders Classic version!)

    HP Photo Printer Giveaway

    Something to inspire me to start scrapbooking again...5 Minutes for Mom is giving away a brand new HP Photosmart Printer! So small and yet so awesome!

    Monday, August 27, 2007

    Mars Hill Audio Podcast -- Dialogues on Justice and Judges

    The latest installment of Audition, the podcast of Mars Hill Audio, is a preview of an upcoming series entitled Dialogues on Justice and Judges. The series' first episode, "Jurisprudence and the Roberts Court," is a fascinating look at the shape of the Supreme Court of the United States under Chief Justice John Roberts. Even if politics and civics aren't your cup of tea, this episode contains some very interesting analyses of the transformation of the nation's highest court over the years, as well as many underlying philosophical changes. Ken Myers and the MHA crew always do a great job, and this podcast is no exception.

    Saturday, August 25, 2007

    All in the Family

    A pleasant surprise! This week's Comment article, "Finding Our Way to Great Work," was written by my second cousin, Bart Garrett, who helped plant Christ Church of Berkeley. If you haven't subscribed to Comment yet, you should.

    There's a running joke between Gaines and I that Bart Garrett doesn't actually exist. Gaines has never met him, and belives his blog is a fake. Though we lived in the same metro area for over two years, we never actually got to see him and his family (though we tried!). If our children ever DO meet, though, this handy little chart helped me figure out that they would be true third cousins, which is what I always thought was my relationship to Bart and his sister, until I was properly informed. The more you know...

    Friday, August 24, 2007

    Consignment Sale Mayhem

    How to be a mediocre consignment-sale shopper:

  • Go by yourself, but with the kids in tow. Supermoms don't need help or second opinions!

  • Put your kid(s) in a stroller. A large one. Have some extra children tag along for good measure.

  • Don't bring a shopping bag or laundry basket or anything to carry your stash o' goodies.

  • Come on the second day of the sale when everything has been picked over, but not the last day, because the last day is usually half-off.

  • Leave after only looking for five minutes.

  • I think we only made two of the above mistakes, which is pretty good considering up until today I was a consignment sale virgin. You'd think since I've had this list of all the kids sales in Atlanta for a while that I'd actually have gone before now, but there wasn't really a good time. First, we didn't have kids yet, although I was working with a kids' ministry so I thought I *might* go. Then, I was going to grad school full-time, or teaching. While I was pregnant, I thought about it, but there was always one more thing to do before the baby came, especially since I taught until just before he was born. The spring sales were taking place when he was only weeks old, and I just wasn't up to it. Now, however, I can see how it can become obsessive and overwhelming and a huge frenzy. But not for me, I think. I don't like large crowds.

    Thankfully, today was not one of those days. I had picked out two sales within 5 miles of our apartment, avoiding the ginormous sale taking place about 20 minutes away at a civic center (over 1,000 sellers! yikes!). I'd planned to go early to the first one, but Gaines' mom and I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast instead. We stopped at the first sale about 15 minutes after it officially opened and found some good deals on like-new or brand-new 9-12 month clothes. Not bad for a newbie.

    Our one misstep: we brought the stroller to the first sale because J was looking sleepy. Upon arrival, however, we discovered the place was small, things were a bit cramped, large bags were not allowed, and he woke up in all the excitement anyway. So, I wore him in my Babyhawk and took the stroller back to the car, which was much better for both of us. I spotted two other babywearers there including one I knew from Koala Momma meetings in a Beco and another mom in a pink Babyhawk. I don't know how many people working there asked me if I made "that thing you're carrying him in"! I wish! (I'm a horrible, lazy, novice seamstress who hasn't even bothered to attempt to make or hem or alter anything with the borrowed sewing machine I've had for a month...maybe the undeserved compliments will inspire me?) At the second sale, I saw another mom with her 10-month old in a cute Beco, a baby carrier I've had my eye on for quite a while now. (Dear readers, won't you please buy some CD's on eBay so I can fund my babywearing obsession? *wink*)

    The second consignment sale was in a much larger church gymnasium, which was lucky since J really did fall asleep in his carseat this time. Thankfully, there was plenty of room to maneuver our Combi carseat-carrying "naked" stroller, and most of the crowd had thinned out. You could tell the place had been picked over, but there were still a couple of good finds left. We got an Evenflo Exersaucer in fairly good shape for almost nothing (which was the only thing we were really looking for anyway) and a posh winter coat, but we weren't really going with needs in mind, just to see how things work. And we made it home before lunch! It wasn't nearly as overwhelming or intimidating or time-consuming as I expected. I think I'll go again sometime. In fact, I'm already planning another consignment sale outing for next week. And this time, I'm making a list!

    Thursday, August 23, 2007

    Those Sneaky Kids

    Even though this particular eBay auction has ended, you must read it! Trust me! This has nothing really to do with Pokemon cards, or eBay even. Just go check out the description!


    Apparently, she alsohas a blog.

    HT to Amy's Humble Musings.

    New Andrew Peterson Album(s)

    AP shares some exciting details about his current project.

    Wednesday, August 22, 2007

    Mid-week linkage

    "Bildad and Reformed Theology" -- Good stuff.

    "Study: T-rex could outrun David Beckham" -- I, for one, am glad that question has finally been put to rest.

    "Harry Potter is Dreadful and Vulgar" -- A much better article than you'd think. (h/t to mark)

    Free Chick-fil-A! (While supplies last. Warning: site may be slow to load.)

    And finally, yet another shameless plug: More Team Redd eBay auctions.

    Friday, August 17, 2007

    Pass or Fail?

    Apparently, it's not up to the teachers anymore....

    This article in the NY Times about a teacher who was forced to pass a student exemplifies one of the reasons I think the public school system as it stands is a lost cause. Now, the guy in the article sounds like a bit of a slacker teacher (missing 24 days his first year! missing parent-teacher conferences!) but I still respect him for sticking to his guns and not giving a passing grade to someone who deserves to fail. Believe me, there is a lot of pressure from administration to do so. There are unofficial quotas...if you fail too many students, someone from the state might come investigate your class. And the teacher is the one in the dock, not the students!

    In 2006, a friend of mine (who teaches at another school in the district where I once taught) was also pressured to pass a senior her first year of teaching--the appeals went all the way to the District Superintendent. Thankfully, he realized it would be illegal to pass the kid because he had missed so many days that semester (the principal had somehow overlooked that little piece of information). Reason prevailed, and the kid went to summer school and had to watch his friends graduate. I was so proud of my teacher-friend for not letting anyone walk over her or force her to do something unethical, especially with all the pressure from her superiors to pass him.

    Thursday, August 16, 2007

    Built to Last a Thousand Years

    Not too far from where we live, in Lilburn, Georgia, a Hindu temple is almost complete. Rising from the suburban landscape, carved completely out of stone, it vaguely resembles the Taj Mahal. No metal or steel was used, and it was built to last a millenia. No mega-church box-like structure, this.

    It reminds me of the shimmering Al-Farooq Mosque that we watched rise and overshadow 14th street with its gleaming minaret. Pagan temples with glorious architectural design.

    Influenced by books like Sidewalks in the Kingdom and Christ and Culture, I have to wonder: why isn't anything this beautiful being built by Christians anymore? It's a tired refrain: grand European churches turned into nightclubs, or bars, or mosques, while church attendance dwindles. Gothic cathedrals reduced to museums, shells of their former self. While in America, our churches grow ever larger and more unrecognizable, until a stadium and a house of worshp are indistinguishable. I know there are exceptions, I've seen them, both here and abroad. Living, breathing beautiful churches in beautiful buildings built to glorify God. However, very few of these awe-inspiring churches are new constructions.

    One partial exception that I recently learned about is a Lutheran church that turned an ugly, big box sporting goods store into a beautiful sanctuary, complete with towering brick spire and bell tower. I can't find a picture online, but I drive past it 2-3 times a week and never guessed its origins until someone who had lived in the area much longer pointed it out. It may not last 1,000 years, since it still has the frame of a box store, but how's that for redeeming the suburban sprawl?

    Anyone know of new churches that are being creatively and purposefully built to actually look like churches? I heard once about a South American man who was using his own funds to build a cathedral, but I can't remember the details.

    Human Barometer

    A large mass of low pressure is descending upon the southeastern US. I know this not becaue of the meteorologists and their tracking of Erin making landfall in Texas. I know this because I feel it--a slow ache in my legs that has been building since last night. A burning soreness that kept me awake too long. I realize we here in hot dry Georgia probably won't get any rain, and Texans will probably get too much. All the same, the large looming storm makes its presence known. Hundreds of miles away, and I can still feel the impact.

    For those of you who don't realize why I'm displaying these strange symptoms, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia when I was ten years old. It's not as bad as it once was, and now I usually only feel the remnants during times of stress, or after sleepless nights, or, like today, during certain weather conditions. (JL, do you feel it to? Is lupus similar in this regard?)

    For those readers who remain skeptical, I present this anecdote. One Sunday morning in April when I was fourteen, I was in such pain during church and was so uncomfortable that I asked my mother to take me home. Thw low atmospheric pressure that was to come was getting to me. I said that I thought it might snow. In some places, this might be a not unusual occurence, but this was south Alabama, where snow comes perhaps once a decade. And it was April. Sure enough, though, the next morning we awoke to wintry white on our yards and houses, enough to cancel school, I believe, though it all melted by midday. And I woke up feeling much better, not like the previous day when I felt as though a truck had run over me, achy nd flu-like. Like I feel today. I hope some sort of storm system moves through Georgia soon. If only for some relief.

    Wednesday, August 15, 2007

    Such A Fine Line Between Stupid and Clever

    The DMV requested that a California lawyer surrender his "Go To 11" vanity plate after deeming it offensive. The plateholder's response is priceless.

    (H/T to mark)

    Friday, August 10, 2007

    Five Years Ago

    Close of the day
    Fireworks and rain
    Feels like a holiday
    Unburdens my frame
    And this is not what I deserve

    From where we fell
    The voice of rapture tells
    A story of weight and wonder
    To carry us down
    And this is not what we deserve

    He rolls out a blanket
    To hymns of the ages
    Tales of the sages coming alive
    And this is not what I deserve

    Peace like no other
    Kiss of a lover
    The marks of my name torn into your hands
    And this is not what you deserve

    *lyrics by Sandra McCracken

    Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    World Breastfeeding Week

    August 1st-7th is World Breastfeeding Week. In honor of the occasion, I'm posting an original poem and complimentary art.

    Your mouth opens
    wide, waiting, goldfish-like.
    If I am too slow with clasp and hook, you howl—
    Bless the Lord for clothes with easy access!

    Your lower lip flips
    smartly, suckling with soft sighs, content.
    We settle in, leaving each enriched—
    The curve of your ear imprinted on my arm.

    Mother and Child
    Auguste Renoir
    oil on canvas