BITS OF MY NOVEMBER

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Books

I appreciated the “scientific magic” of the Warbreaker world, although it wasn’t as captivating as the scientific magic of the Mistborn world. In some ways this felt like an earlier work; the characters seem less complete in themselves. Still, it is hard for even Brandon Sanderson to live up to my expectations for Brandon Sanderson! This is worth reading. The version I read was for Wattpad and there were some distracting formatting issues.

Decisive by Chip Heath & Dan Heath has so much good and applicable advice about making choices. It includes a process that we can trust to guide us to make the best possible decisions, which gives us confidence to move ahead and can make us able to take risks. Best of all: no more agonizing over decisions!

Robert Wilson’s The Chronoliths was interesting enough for a beach-vacation read, but wouldn’t stand up to greater demands.  I did like that the focus was more on the people than the monuments themselves. 

I kept waiting for Jane Lindskold’s The Buried Pyramid  to reveal its reason for existing, but that never really showed itself. The writing was satisfactory but there was precious little story in the almost 500 pages.

I am ready to look for more books by Janet Kagan. Hellspark was an enjoyable science fiction adventure, whose characters were delightfully differing and up to the challenges presented. The languages were complex yet not presented that way.

 

Moving Pictures

Rails & Ties was quite formulaic. Miles Heizer did better work in this than I see from him in Parenthood.

For some reason, I was expecting Amazing Grace to be about the hymn, but that only made small appearances. This account of Wilberforce’s work to end slavery in Britain was interesting, and full of great actors.

I finally watched Babies, after owning the DVD for a long time. Seeing glimpses into the lives of the four babies in Mongolia, Japan, Namibia, & Califonia was intriguing, and left me with more questions than I expected, chiefly about the customs in Namibia and Mongolia.

I liked Gravity, especially that the main character was female and imperfect. 

I thought that Ender’s Game was a very good adaptation of a book that is not easy to portray onscreen.

 

Quotes

Robert Charles Wilson

…I remembered how fervently my mother had despised the cold. She had taken it personally, especially in her last years. A personal affront. She was an enemy of ice, plagued by snow. She told me once that snow was the fecal matter of angels: it didn’t stink, being angelic in origin, but it was an insult nevertheless, so pure it burned like fire on mortal skin.

 

BITS OF MY OCTOBER

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Quotes

 

Thane Rosenbaum:

I can’t imagine how anyone could “live well” knowing that someone got away with causing great injury and not having paid the price for that.  It requires something that is almost inhuman to put something behind you, knowing full well that you have been devalued and that somebody has treated you with such harshness and has not been paid back commensurate with that act.

 

Books

 

Dara Culhane Speck wrote An Error In Judgement.  This account of the events following a needless death in Alert Bay is an admirable attempt to deal with the mindbogglingly complex issues of medical care, autonomy, colonialism, racism, and so much more.

 

I struggled with liking Rachel Aaron’s The Spirit Thief.  Sometimes the writing was delightful and the story moved along, and other times it felt sluggish and obtuse. I don’t plan to read the sequels.

 

Switch is a great book about how to make changes in nearly any circumstance. The Heath brothers address the emotional side, the rational side, and the situation, with many ideas for each combination. A broad range of examples are given. Recommended!

 

Ishmael Beah’s account of growing up in Sierra Leone is heartbreaking. His tales of hiding, war, killing, drugs, despair, and recovery are clear yet difficult to accept. A Long Way Gone is worth reading.

 

Moria Katson’s Light and Shadow is great YA adventure, with strong female characters and some twists that I didn’t see coming. Recommended.

 

There are many male-authored books with a female protagonist which work, but The Water Rat of Wanchai didn’t work for me. I never believed in Ava as a person; she was very one-dimensional.

 

BITS OF MY SEPTEMBER

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Books

I didn’t like Hugh Howey’s Shift (Silo #2) as much as Wool, although it was great to see the events from alternate views. Donald’s storyline was the most draggy to me, although it presents a way to view events and choices very differently than while reading Wool.

Although the main storyline of Magic Hour was interesting, I found the romance sidestory to be forced and unnecessary. I am not inclined to pick up another book by Kristin Hannah.

I deeply appreciate Brené Brown’s careful research and her transparency. I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame tells “the truth about perfectionism, inadequacy and power,” and covers many crucial topics such as shame resilience, empathy, critical awareness, courage, compassion, blame, shame, fear, and disconnection.

It does take a lot of courage to be vulnerable, and usually we don’t believe that the risk is worthwhile, or we just avoid thinking about it altogether. Personally, I’d be grateful if everyone would read Brené’s Daring Greatly and we could speak together with a common language about issues related to shame.
Favorite quotes:
   “(paradox:) Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me.”
   “I am enough; I’ve had enough; Showing up, taking risks, and letting myself be seen is enough”
   “What’s worth doing even if I fail?”
   “the goal is… normalizing discomfort …we need to cultivate the courage to be uncomfortable and to teach the people around us how to accept discomfort as part of growth.”

I read Andy Gavin’s Untimed on my kindle app, and enjoyed this YA time travel story, especially the unique twists which I won’t reveal here as spoilers. The price was right for an easy read.

Jerusalem Gap: There is some quiet humor in T. R. Pearson’s lovely short novel about how a man is affected by a particular dog.

Although I am not Buddhist, I appreciated many of Pema Chödrön’s teachings in this Taking the Leap (Freeing ourselves from old habits and fears), notably the counsel on how to change the way we experience difficult moments by pausing, leaning in, and staying present.

Moving Pictures

Warm Bodies was a great distraction on a night that I needed to lighten my mood.

The Paper was directed by Ron Howard back in 1994. It shows its age a bit, but still held my interest . It was great to see so many recognizable actors together in one film: Michael Keaton, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei, Jason Alexander, Lynne Thigpen, Geoffrey Owens, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards, Roma Maffia, Jill Hennessy

I wasn’t expecting Elysium to be quite as gory as it was – there was an extra “villian” in the movie who was quite violent.

We re-watched Forrest Gump and were pleased with how well it has stood up over time. It is still entertaining and touching.

I finished the 3rd season of Falling Skies, and it is still alright but not as gripping as the first season.

Quotes

Justin Davis: 

Reputation and character are two different things.  Reputation is what others believe to be true about you. Character is who you really are. When you’re driven by reputation, then you begin to equate what you project to others as your character.  We guard our reputation and forego our character.  We can’t let others know we’re struggling.  We can’t share our marriage problems with anyone.  No one can find out about our addiction. We can’t go to counseling; what if someone finds out how broken we are?  We’re more concerned about what others think about us, than who we really are.  When you care about people finding out you are broken more than you care to be whole…you’re in for a long, painful, repetitive journey.

Pema Chödrön

No matter what happened to us in the past, right now we can take responsibility for working compassionately with our habits, our thoughts and emotions. We can take the emphasis off who hurt us and put it on disentangling ourselves.

Our predicament is just a moment in time; we have a choice to strengthen old habitual responses or to be free.

We’re all addicted to hope – hope that the doubt and mystery will go away. This addiction has a painful effect on society: a society based on lots of people addicted to getting ground under their feet is not a very compassionate place.  Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.

BITS OF MY AUGUST

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Books

Falling Together has really great writing, with fallible characters that seemed real and likeable.  I will immediately look for more books by Marisa de los Santos, and I will miss Pen and Will.

 

I don’t prefer mysteries, and as a murder investigation, Bad Monkey is a variant on that theme. I also don’t need so many details about the sexual activities of the characters.  Beyond that, it just wasn’t very interesting, and contrary to the hype about Carl Hiaasen, it wasn’t at all funny.

 

Moving Pictures

I watched the second season of Longmire. Even though it is so “western,” I do like it.

 

We finished season one of Leverage and it is a good clean brains-off wind-down option. I enjoy Parker.

 

Falling Skies had the best opening scene to set backstory that I’ve seen in a long time. Clever and effective.
The series, however, would have been more believable if there were specific speech patterns when the various extraterrestrials spoke through humans; it is hard to believe that they would sound so natural with the English language.  As I work my way through the seasons, the show is getting less compelling.

 

 

In my ears

Jimmie Noone
Danny Michel & The Garifuna Collective


BITS OF MY JULY

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Books

I really liked Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. The varied and relatable characters, the up and down emotions, the strained relationships – it all worked in this novel. Recommended.

 

While I don’t embrace everything Wolf claims, I still think that Vagina: A New Biography is worth reading. The science may be dodgy in places, and the mysticism is too strong for me in other places, but overall it presents some information that was new to me, and certainly is a good starting point for discussion or for direction for further learning.

 

When Mockingbirds Sing (by Billy Coffey) is another plot-driven “Christian” novel whose characters have to be a certain way to tell a certain message. Don’t bother.

 

The writing in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is good, and gripping enough that I couldn’t just walk away from the book even when I realized that would be the best idea. Instead, I had to stay with these quite twisted characters, who were not likeable (excepting Go). The story ended without any resolution or justice or redemption.

 

I didn’t enjoy A Year of Biblical Womanhood as much as Rachel’s previous book, perhaps because I found the information kind of old-hat, and perhaps because the presentation felt more like a blog and less like a book. There are a number of important conclusions from Rachel’s year, such as “…engaging with the Bible can never mean that we simply extract meaning from it, but also that we read meaning into it” and “…there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not what does it say? but what am I looking for?” (If your interest lies in this area, I would suggest Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet instead of or in addition to this book.)

 

Apparently I was expecting more from Rebooting My Brain: how a freak aneurysm reframed my life by Maria Ross. I’m sure her experience was incredible, but the book wasn’t very interesting.

 

The Sisters Brothers has great cover art and a memorable title, but my enthusiasm could not extend to the story itself.  There is just no reason to read this book.

 

I identified more with the last half of Enuma Okoro’s Reluctant Pilgrim than its beginning.  I should’ve done further research on the author before I purchased the book.

 

Moving Pictures

We re-watched and enjoyed Catch Me If You Can, one of the few Leonardo DiCaprio movies that I will watch; he is not a favorite of mine.

 

We also watched all the episodes of Firefly again, and then Serenity, although I always have to steel myself to watch the movie because I know who dies in it.  It certainly isn’t a perfect creation, but there is so much humor and basic goodness included that I am always glad to see it and sorry that it had so short a run.

 

We rented The Identity Thief but couldn’t even get halfway through watching it due to vulgarity and complete lack of humor.

 

Those hilarious minions were back in good form in Despicable Me 2, which all three of us enjoyed. It was entertaining and we laughed.

 

Man of Steel was quite a lot more violent than I expected.

 

I’m certainly not the target audience for Wreck It Ralph, but it was clever and somewhat amusing. My favorite character was the zombie, who unfortunately was only present for the Bad-Anon meetings. Best casting: Jane Lynch

 

The Proposal is a perfectly fine brains-off entertainment-only romantic comedy.

 

Links

Dustin Hoffman, on how society brainwashes us on how to see women

 

What it’s like to have an autistic brother

 

We all should have screen rules! Most of these are great.

If you don’t like the person you are, change yourself for real; don’t invent a new you online.

 

Focus on the growing heap, not the one coin


In my ears

Danny Michel
Sweet Alibi
Gavin DeGraw
Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Quotes

Mother Teresa:

As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves, we have no time for others.

 

Phil Cousineau:

Listening closely is nearly a lost art, but a retrievable one.  Listen as though your life depends on it. It does.

 

 Billy Coffey:

It’s hard to talk about a wound right after it is received. Right after, all you can do is feel it.

 

Enuma Okoro:

…reminded me how much I ached for community and how much it didn’t seem like I had much, if any.  Although I had wonderful individual friends, I lacked a community of people who knew and cared for one another and were intent on bearing one another’s burdens and calling forth growth….

 

Vanessa Martin:

It’s much easier holding on to our crippling stories than it is trying to narrate new ones.  At least I know who to be, how to define myself, and what feelings to expect. If I let go, what will be my story?

 

BITS OF MY JUNE

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Books

Although I was usually interested during the reading of Bel Canto, there is really nothing about it to recommend. In my opinion, it has too much emphasis on opera, an unrealistic depiction of male/female interactions in the situation, and the epilogue should be cut.
(After reading six of her books, State of Wonder and Run are the only Anne Patchett that I endorse.)

 

I read The Age of Hope by David Bergen because it was the book that represented the prairies on Canada Reads.  I wanted to like this southern-MB-based story but it was a difficult task. The characters were dull and contrary, and the story wasn’t that interesting. Hope’s personality and life seem to be as colorless as my own, which isn’t a pleasant thought.

 

For the most part, I liked Doomsday Book. The British-ness of the part of the story set in the “present” was a bit much at times, and that whole storyline wasn’t as captivating as what was happening in the past. Having disease outbreaks in both timelines was an interesting choice and I wouldn’t have expected it to work as well as it did; Willis handled the two time periods very well. The characters were realistic, and mostly likable. The lack of mobile phones in the “present” was a constant irritant to me. I think the book could have been edited to be slightly shorter, removing some redundancies, but don’t let that stop you from giving it a try.

 

While the writing was strong at times, Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face never captured me and I really had to force myself to finish it. The medical parts were ghastly, and it was interesting to consider the difference between being ill and being healthy but deformed; she wondered whether she really belonged in a hospital after the cancer was gone. I can understand her two-dimensional understanding of people as a child, and the tale completely reflected that, causing me to wonder whether she still doesn’t connect with people or she just wrote it fully from that immature point of view.

 

The basics of this memoir are extreme: first pregnancy at 44 while on medications harmful to a fetus, and believing herself to be infertile Cohen’s pregnancy is not identified until the six month mark. Although this all sounds captivating, the writing voice didn’t connect with me. For me, the most interesting parts of What I Thought I Knew were the cultural contradictions around choices relating to abortion and adoption.

 

I did not like all the chapters of The Noonday Demon equally, but the first four and the last one would be recommended for anyone who would like to learn more about depression. The amount of support that Solomon got during some of his breakdowns was striking to me and I am jealous.

 

I liked Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed. Reminding me of Anne Lamott, Glennon seems authentic and open and okay with not being a cookie cutter copy of others. I plodded through the first chapters to get to the good stuff. I cannot start quoting the best parts here, because there are too many. I do want to buy this book so that I can underline in it! It was after I listened to her Ted Talk (see Links section below) that I got my hands on this book.

 

I admire Semple’s writing – to be able to keep up pace and interest in the chosen style is impressive. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is told by Bernadette’s daughter, Bee, but Bee’s actual contributions are rare; most of the content is emails, notes and letters, articles, reports, etc.  The characters are imperfect yet still likeable. Recommended.

 

Although initially caught by Khe‘s premise, I was disappointed by the end. I believe this story had more promise than it delivered, and wished for a better conflict and resolution than was presented. (author: Alexes Razevich; I read the kindle edition)

 

For an “important” book, Lisa Genova’s Still Alice is highly readable. You can feel Alice’s frustration and fear and confusion in a very real way. It wasn’t comfortable, but perhaps it will create more understanding and support for those with Alzheimer’s. Genova is a neuroscientist yet doesn’t talk down to or over the heads of her readers.

 

Movies

Star Trek Into Darkness was enjoyable. My biggest problem is with Quinto, but that’s just because in my mind his visage is hopelessly imprinted with Sylar.  The story didn’t truly feel big enough to warrant a movie (rather than a television episode, for instance), but it did keep my interest. There were a few good and funny lines, but perhaps not as many as in the first film. The lens flares were annoying.

 

Theme of Gothika: “You can’t trust somebody when they think you’re crazy.”
This movie got grusome.

 

Although perhaps not quite as funny as the original, Monsters University was still quite entertaining. I liked seeing the backstory of the characters, and it was just fun to watch Mike & Sully again.

 

Escape From Planet Earth works as brain-off entertainment, just don’t expect much more from it than that. The music seemed incongruous.

 

I wanted and expected to like Now You See Me, and the first part WAS enjoyable. Regrettably, I found the resolution (or ‘surprise twist ending’) to be a cheap cop-out.  To be clear, I like a good twist ending that makes sense – The Sixth Sense is a great example of that; this movie was not!
I like Mark Ruffalo; too bad he was scruffily bearded.

 

Links

Glennon Doyle Melton’s Tedx Talk

We all have our own superhero capes, don’t we?  Perfectionism and overworking, snarkiness and apathy – they’re all superhero capes. Our capes are what we put over our real selves so that our real, tender selves don’t have to be seen and can’t be hurt. Our superhero capes are what keeps us from having to feel much at all, because every good and bad thing is deflected off of them.

We try to pretend like we’re the people that we think we’re supposed to be. We numb, and we hide, and we pretend, and that pretending does eventually turn into a life of lies, but to be fair we thought we were supposed to be lying. They tell us since we’re little that when someone asks us how we’re doing, the only appropriate answer is, ‘Fine, and you?’

…people are truth-tellers… We will find somewhere to do it.  In private…we tell the truth. We say, ‘Actually, I’m not fine.’

All of us end up living in these little, teeny, controllable, predictable, dark worlds, instead of all together in the big, bright, messy one.

In there (the mental hospital), people wore their scars on the outside so you knew where they stood, and they told the truth so you knew why they stood there.

Now, instead of trying to make myself tougher, I… help create a world where sensitive people don’t need superhero capes, where we can all just come out into the big, bright, messy world and tell the truth and forgive each other for being human and admit together that YES, life is really hard, but also insist that together we can do hard things. Maybe it’s okay to say, ‘Actually, today I’m not fine.’ Maybe it’s okay to remember that we’re human beings.

Life is beautiful, and life is brutal. Life is brutiful.  I used to numb my feelings and hide, and now I feel my feelings and I share. At the end of the day (my feelings) are just guides to tell me what is the next right thing to do.

It’s braver to be Clark Kent than it is to be Superman.

 

Cara’s account of finding a friend

 

Being your own best friend

We need to be able to trouble shoot our own lives without the technical support of our friends. To be able to self soothe and become emotionally independent. I am not saying that we need to turn into closed off  guarded people who don’t share our issues or trust anyone. Simply that we understand  our greatest support system lies within ourselves. The only person who will without a doubt, always be there for you, is you.

 

 Jamie Arpin-Ricci on gender and spirituality

Some say there is a crisis of masculinity in the church.  I agree.  Godly masculinity is being threatened every time “effeminate” or “feminine” are used as criticism. 

 

In my ears

The Bryan Ferry Orchestra
Boardwalk Empire soundtrack (notably Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks and Kathy Brier)
Skeets Tolbert & His Gentlemen Of Swing
The Speakeasies’ Swing Band
Benedictines Of Mary, Queen Of Apostles

 

Quotes

Elsa Walsh:

…work hard on (your marriage).  It’s not only much easier than getting divorced, it’s more rewarding and more fun.

 

Andrew Solomon:

Like physical pain that becomes chronic, [depression] is miserable not so much because it is intolerable in the moment as because it is intolerable to have known it in the moments gone and to look forward only to knowing it in the moments to come.

I tried to make the practical arrangements: losing your mind, like losing your car keys, is a real hassle.

So many people have asked me what to do for depressed friends and relatives, and my answer is actually simple: blunt their isolation. Do it with cups of tea or with long talks or by sitting in a room nearby and staying silent or in whatever way suits the circumstances, but do that. And do it willingly.

 

Laura Anderson:

Before I ever had this illness myself, I had a dear friend who was depressive. I listened to everything he said as if we understood the same language, when what I’ve realized since is that depression speaks, or teaches you, an entirely different one.

 

BITS OF MY MAY

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Books

The Alloy of Law doesn’t compare to the Mistborn trilogy – it just isn’t as good. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was ghostwritten, although Sanderson claims it as his own. The protagonist wasn’t the strongest character, not even the second strongest. I was disappointed, but mostly because I had my hopes set high.

I really liked David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle until the last hundred pages. I was delighted with it! I cherished each moment while I was reading it. The ending was a huge disappointment.

Unfamiliar locales and situations plus a variety of complex and flawed personalities make Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder an absorbing book that was a joy to read.

Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant was too dreamy for me; the way that Sabine, Parsifal, and Phan seemed to be so content and without conflict was unrealistic. I liked the Nebraska characters better because their lives seemed more true.

My favorite part of Patchett’s The Patron Saint of Liars was the masterful handling of changing the point of view from Rose to Son to Cecelia. I enjoyed reading it, but was disappointed in the lack of an ending.

I enjoyed reading Patchett’s Run. Great writing, and flawed but likeable characters.

Never Be Lied To Again (by David Lieberman) has nice short chunks of information, making it very readable. There is lots of good information, but I’d need to have a better memory to use it properly. Also, in most instances, the examples were so far from the realm of my life that they were useless. What I found most useful were the reminders of ways to appear genuine – things that don’t come naturally to me such as an open posture and looking people in the eye; I need to remember these things even though for me it isn’t about deception.

Slow and serene, this book requires patience. I happened to read Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter while in bed with a headcold, so I was able to stick with it, and perhaps my slightly fuzzy brain was required.  There are several lovely moments and thoughtful ideas, but I am not as keen about farming as the protagonist is, nor do I prefer the non-chronological manner that Hannah’s story was dispensed.

When You Were Older by Catherine Ryan Hyde is interesting in the turnabout of roles with an older and younger brother, but due to the subject matter it would have been more timely to read it ten years ago.

I liked the history-memory-reading aspects of Michael Siemsen’s The Dig, but the present-day storyline was pretty dull.

 

Movies

Amelie is a quirky French film with subtitles and nudity. It was somewhat amusing, but I don’t actually recommend it.

 

Drive has Ryan Gosling, and that’s pretty much the only good thing about it. Really violent and rather pointless.

 

Blog posts you should read:

Choosing the right habits isn’t exactly as the title describes, but I appreciate the reminder to not be judgmental about the choices that others make, because we don’t really know their circumstances or what they need to keep their head above water.

It’s pretty fashionable to mock people who have a $4 daily coffeeshop habit, but what Ann says is true — for some people, the daily $4 may be staving off a much bigger problem! On the other hand, we have a bad habit of misidentifying luxuries as “needs.” Maybe the question to ask is, exactly how does this thing I say I need fill a hole?
“I really need my daily latte” might mean, “I am addicted to caffeine and a latte is a tasty way to get my fix.” It might mean, “I have established a ritual of stopping at the coffee shop each day, and doing the same thing every day makes me feel peaceful while changing my routine makes me feel upset.” It might mean, as Ann suggested, “I need to encounter other people so I don’t feel so lonely, and the latte gives me an excuse and a motivation to go do it.” It might mean, “I can afford so few luxuries, and the latte is a petty luxury that makes me feel less poor

Hyperbole’s Depression Part 2

…you can’t combat nothing.

What seems to help in the midst of pain

it’s hard to hurt.  and it’s hard to be around other people who are hurting.

i have a theory that we often have an unconscious hope that if we could  say the right words in the exact right way, it would radically help another person. most people aren’t one sentence away from feeling better when they are in pain.  presence seems to matter more than words.

 

In my ears

The Boardwalk Empire soundtrack (favourites are After You Get What You Want and all the songs by Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks)
Skeetz Tolbert and His Gentlemen of Swing
Raymond Scott
Gang of Rhythm by Walk Off the Earth
Drive by Incubus
Churchill’s Change
The Speakeasies’ Swing Band
Clap Your Hands on the Afterbeat
Beauty and a Beat by Scott Bradlee & Postmodern Jukebox

 

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