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Archive for the ‘Literature reviews’ Category

Our family has a favorite scripture from the Book of Mormon. It is the very first scripture that each of my children have memorized because it is so short and easy. “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). We’ve recited this scripture as a family hundreds of times over the past few years. But only recently have I begun to really ponder this scripture and its meaning in my own life.

At the end of 2010, I began to take stock of my life. 2008 and 2009 were years of  change and stress. We moved back to the U.S., the children changed schools, we had landlord troubles,we moved to a different house,  I had some serious health issues and we had a baby. Looking back on those two years, I realize I was just getting by, taking each day as it came. 2010 was a year of recuperation. Simply living with my family, enjoying my new baby and feeling blessed summed up my year. As I approached this year, I realized that I wanted to live this year deliberately, with purpose and focus. I wanted to build up my personal spiritual reserves, strengthen my foundation, build up walls of defense and generally do all I could to be able to weather future storms with dignity, peace, strength and above all, happiness.

You see, I believe that even in the midst of our most desperate trials we can experience happiness. I’ve experienced it. In December I suffered a miscarriage. I was surprised at feeling grief and happiness almost simultaneously. Please don’t mistake me, I wasn’t happy about my miscarriage. Far from it, my soul ached and still aches for the loss of that baby. But my heart was lifted with profound moments of happiness and contentment as my husband and children encircled me with love and compassion. I had lost, but I wasn’t lost.

This year is my year of working to build up my reserves so that when I face loss, storms and troubles, I will be deeply grounded and strong. As I contemplated this project, vague and unfocused, I came across a book, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I immediately put the book on hold and, as soon as I received it, devoured it. Gretchen Rubin spent a year pursuing the idea and goal of happiness. She didn’t like the idea of going away on some exotic adventure to find happiness or herself. She wanted to understand and find happiness within herself, her family, her career and her life. I was inspired by her book. Using some of her ideas, my own project began to take shape.

Gretchen Rubin made monthly goals based around some idea or facet of happiness. They were concrete, measurable goals. She evaluated herself daily. She didn’t abandon January’s goals in February, but added to her goals–basically making habits out of her goals and then maintaining them. This was a revolutionary idea for me. Rather than tackling happiness in one big, giant way, I am working on it, bit by bit. I look at areas in my life, improving things, fine-tuning habits and developing new ones. I also liked the idea of accountability and daily checking of goals.

At the moment, this blog has become my travelogue of my pursuit of happiness. I may not be visiting foreign countries and experiencing new cultures. But I am exploring new territories of my personality and character. I realize that all this self-introspection isn’t terribly exciting, but it is important–at least for me. I hope you can bear with me on this journey.

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It took me forever to read this, not because the story wasn’t compelling, but finding the time to sit and read was difficult.

When I read this book, I was reminded anew why I consider Anne Perry to be a genius. Her stories are well-crafted with impeccable details. But even those great attributes aren’t what make her great. Her true gift as a writer is her ability to see and understand human nature and to describe so clearly that you can’t help but recognize it immediately.

With lines like these you can’t go wrong:

“Beth looked at her with a compassion that made her beautiful.”

“I do not care a great deal for charm. But it always seems chameleon to me, and I cannot be sure what color the animal underneath might be really.”

“You have a great deal of courage, Hester, and a hunger for life which is a far richer blessing than you think now–but, my dear, you are sometimes very naive. There are many kinds of misery, and many kinds of fortitude, and you should not allow your awareness of one to build to the value of another. you have an intense desire, a passion, to make people’s lives better. Be aware that you can truly help people only by aiding them to become what they are, not what you are.”

“Too many women waste their lives grieving because they do not have something other people tell them they should want. Whether you are happy or not depends to some degree upon outsward circumstances, but mostly it depends how you choose to look at thing syourself, whether you measure what you have or what you have not.”

This is the first book in the William Monk and Hester Latterly series. William is a police officer in the mid 1800’s. Hester Latterly has just returned to England from the Crimean war where she served as a nurse with Florence Nightengale. Monk wakes up in a hospital bed with complete amnesia. Throughout the course of the book, he must confront himself–who he was in the past and who he wishes to become. All the while, trying to untangle a mystery of murder and corruption and tragedy that entangles Hester’s family and the Grey family.

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I am extremely fond of poetry. I love the depth and concise ways of sharing a moment that poetry has. Nothing else compares. It’s funny because brevity is not my strong suit, but the brevity of poetry appeals to me greatly.

When I read a poem, I have this flash of deep enjoyment that I don’t get from anything else. I don’t read poetry often enough. I have pretty large collection of poetry but it is often neglected.

Yesterday I decided to take a collection of Robert Frost’s poems with me as I waited for the bus to drop my children off from school. I read a short poem about a tuft of flowers. The author’s experiences of grass and a tuft of flowers and lone butterfly were transformed into something more meaningful than just brief flash of images and comprehension. It was delightful. Five minutes of my time reading through the poem a couple of times and I felt transformed.

Do you enjoy poetry? Do you have a favorite poet? If you don’t like poetry, what do you dislike about it?

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Recently, I have read several novels by LDS authors. This is certainly uncharacteristic of me as I usually steer clear of LDS lit, with the exception of Anne Perry and Shannon Hale. My main complaints of LDS lit are the almost sappy, syrupy way real-life problems are portrayed and solved and very poor writing. I should admit that I haven’t read recent attempts in the genre and my feelings come from encounters with Jack Weyland and Gerald Lund. I don’t mean to criticize those who read and enjoyed these novels. There certainly is a place for them.

But over the course of several weeks I’ve read the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer (all four of them, but couldn’t finish the fourth, I got bored), Treason by Orson Scott Card (one of his earliest novels), and No Graves As Yet by Anne Perry. These three authors are LDS and for the most part, do not write for an exclusively LDS audience. I think LDS authors most likely struggle with the desire to appeal to the LDS population while writing a novel that appeals in a broad way to a wider audience. These authors always face criticism for how they how they walk the fine line.

In my opinion, I think that Anne Perry writes in such a way that doesn’t alienate either audience. She has a few things going for her that make her less controversial (and I haven’t really heard a lot of criticism of her work that directly offends the general LDS population). 1. Perry writes about characters in a certain time and place, i.e Victorian England and later, England during WWI. Her authenticity would be called under question if said characters didn’t struggle with certain moral issues. 2. She writes mysteries, which, by their very nature deal with the seedier side of human nature. Characters lie, steal, fornicate, commit adultery, drink, take drugs, prostitute themselves, forge, murder, etc. But all of these things happenwithin the moral framework that assumes that all these crimes are morally wrong. 3. Generally, the detectives in the stories have a tremendous compassion for the victims of crime and even the perpetrators. They make compassionate and just judgments based on a strong ethical and moral code. Although William Monk is a more complex character than Pitt or even Joseph Reavley as he has to develop that ethical and moral code while solving mysteries. But the common thread throughout all of Anne Perry’s novels is that sin and crime hurts society in general and individuals in particular. Anne Perry never glorifies crime and sin. She always shows the devastating effects of immoral actions. So an LDS reader could consider the books as morality tales. I would recommend the books to most readers with a caveat. Anne Perry doesn’t sugarcoat the seedy parts of life which include murder, theft, violence, rape and prostitution. However, while Ms. Perry doesn’t shy away from such topics, her descriptions are not graphic nor are they gratuitous.

Orson Scott Card is a different bird. I’ve read some of his fiction and admired it intensely. Other books don’t appeal to me at all. I consider him to be a wildly creative and inconsistent writer. Card doesn’t flinch from the difficult aspects of writing as an LDS author. In Treason, Card bangs along, clumsily toying with sexuality without being graphic. I couldn’t make up my mind if it was gratuitous or if it was really necessary to the plot. Not all of Card’s characters are admirable. He never paints the perfect person, dull without weaknesses and inconsistencies. His characters make major mistakes and often have to grapple with the consequences of those mistakes. Sometimes he handles it deftly and other times he fail miserably. I would not recommend Card to everyone. Not everyone has a taste for science fiction and fantasy. I can see LDS readers disliking some of the subjects.

Personally, I have the most conflicted feelings about Stephenie Meyer. Her books are not exclusively intended for an LDS audience. But her novels were embraced heartily by LDS teenagers and women alike. Part of the appeal of Stephenie Meyer is that she is LDS and many of these readers felt they could read without worrying about sex, language or violence. I’ve heard different critiques of the novels. One friend was very offended by the semi-sexual situations and language of the characters. Others loved the books. Some even described them as addictive. I personally felt like all of her characters crossed sexual lines that are not appropriate for the LDS audience. However, her books are decidedly tame to the “gentile” reader, used to more titillating sexual details. In fact, the strongest argument I’ve heard by non-LDS readers about the books is that the relationship between Edward and Bella is subtly abusive and creates false paradigms of healthy relationships.

Shannon Hale is just a favorite. I haven’t read anything that is questionable, although I haven’t read all of her books. I love her style, magical topics, and deft ways of storytelling.

So can an LDS writer write a book that appeals to both audiences: LDS and non-LDS? I think so, but it seems like a really difficult line to walk. Many LDS readers refuse to read anything that they think will have morally compromising situations. While I can understand and respect that, I feel that one purpose of literature is to instruct. People must struggle in life. Good books that are worthwhile reading show real characters struggling with weaknesses and not always overcoming them.

Favorite LDS authors:

Shannon Hale, Anne Perry, Brandon Sanderson, Angela Hallstrom

Who are your favorite LDS authors?

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Book Club

I hosted Book Group today. Book Group consists of friends, mostly church friends, who meet informally once  a month to read and discuss books. We’ve read a wide variety of books. We have people with all kinds of taste, so I’ve been exposed to books I wouldn’t necessarily pick up myself.

If I was to leave the Book Group, having only been exposed to Wallace Stegner, I would count myself as supremely lucky. But there have been so many great authors and my reading repetoire has really expanded.

We read No Graves As Yet by Anne Perry. I’ve been wanting to read this book with the group for over a year. I was a bit worried though that people wouldn’t like or appreciate it as much as I did. I’ve been thinking, analyzing, and pondering themes for so long, that perhaps I might subscribe meanings to the story that don’t really exist.

But everyone liked it. We had such a great discussion about grief, conspiracy, war, families, murder, etc. I probably talked too much, and heaven knows more facts were recited to them than anyone probably wanted to know. But still, it was so interesting.

For readers who are interested: No Graves As Yet by Anne Perry is a novel set in the summer of 1914, just before World War I. The story has a several mysteries, with an over-arching conspiracy. It is the first book of a five-novel series, covering the duration of World War I. It is a beautiful series, despite dealing with such difficult things as death and war.

Anne Perry is not your average mystery author. She writes mysteries in such a different way than any other author I’ve read.

Enjoy. I promise you won’t regret it.

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I picked up an interesting book at the library, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially by Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher.  Waite and Gallagher are two social scientists who have gathered a tremendous amount of data about married and cohabitating couples. They’ve also studied the current research by other scientists. They put together a fascinating book about the enormous benefits that marriage provides both men AND women.

I’m not quite done with the book, but I’ve already learned some interesting facts. Did you know that “Husbands earn at least 10 percent more than single men do and perhaps as high as 40 percent more?” (pg. 99) That was an astonishing fact. I had no idea that being married affects a man’s earning power so dramatically.  This is true not only in the United States, but in other countries as well, such as Sweden.

Another fact that really surprised me is that the wife’s level of education directly affects her husband’s earning potential. “One study found that, after researchers controlled for the husband’s own education, married men whose wives were high-school dropouts earned 11.8 percent less than comparable single men. By contrast, men whose wives had a high-school diploma earned 4.3 percent more than comparable single men, and men whose wives had some college earned 7.1 percent more, while men married college graduates earned 11.5 percent more than comparable single men. Wives’ education remained a powerful predictor of husbands’ earnings, regardless of whether or not they had children and regardless of wheter or not they themselves were employed.”  (pg. 104)

This has been such an interesting book for me to read, for it confirms many ideas and feelings I’ve had about marriage. Brent and I married when we were very young (22 and 21 respectively). During that time, Brent has been a full-time student. Some people thought that being married and being father while attending school full-time (and working) would be a detriment to my husband’s academic career. I’m more inclined to think that we provided many benefits to Brent as he studied. For one, he didn’t participate in the wild parties and drinking that many grad students engage in. (Not that he would have done that anyway. But, knowing Brent, he would have been actively engaged in finding a wife. So that would have added some strain.) And he was more focused on getting his work done in a timely manner. If he wasn’t productive in the morning, he couldn’t just work till the wee hours of the night. I think it helped him focus more. Also, we were the factors that drove him to do his best because so much was and is riding on his success.

What do you think? Did you have any idea that marriage was so good for a man’s wages?

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I read this book for a book club and really appreciated it. The nonfiction story tells about Antonina and Jan Zabinski, the zookeepers of the Warsaw zoo before WWII and then during the war. The book is mainly about Antonina and her perspective. She kept extensive diaries and Diane Ackerman extracts from those diaries to put together an interesting, touching, and very sensitive picture of Warsaw, Poland during WWII.  The zoo was bombed during the war and when the animals escaped, were shot in the streets. The  Zabinski’s were Christians, but were horrified by the atrocities committed against Jews. Jan joined the resistance and was an active fighter. Antonina tried to keep things together at home, playing a cat and mouse game with detection as they literally were in plain sight of the Nazis. Some 300 Jews passed through the zoo, staying there for months, days or even hours as it was a stop on the network of hideouts. Antonina often demonstrated extraordinary understanding of the nature of humans and animals. Her understanding of animal psychology aided her in very terrifying moments. Her journals are very poignant.

The author, Diane Ackerman, is an essayist and has written about nature and humans. I am not going to discuss this book fully as most have probably not read it. But I do want to interject a few comments and impressions.

First, this book gives a very clear picture of life during war without going into the often horrifying and gritty details that often accompany such pictures. For that reason, I found this book much easier to read than Schindler’s List. I think it is important to understand the nature of what happened and we shouldn’t gloss over the horror of the people who were slaughtered. But there are times when it gets to be to much for my mind to process. So I appreciated this book because it walks a fine balance between presenting the brutal reality of war without becoming gratituously violent.

I found the book very enlightening. Ackerman would take an episode from Antonina’s life or diary and then expound upon it using the experiences of others in Warsaw. For instance, she weaves in the importance of animals and in the lives of Antonina, Jan and their son. She then contrasts it to the experience of the Jews living in the ghetto completely isolated from animals and nature. Another section in the book deals with how Antonina copes psychologically with what she experiences and then discusses the work and thoughts of rabbis in the area and what they taught about coping.

Finally, I found the story of an ordinary woman, striving with all her might to perserve her family and friends in such a frightening time very moving.

The descriptions are well-written and very vibrant. The language itself is very moving.

I think that The Zookeeper’s Wife is an admirable addition to the literature of WWII. It is a book I have purchased and will keep on my bookshelves.

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