Sunday, April 19, 2015

Begin the Week with Words

Crazy. It. Has. Been. Crazy. I have not read for days. I am getting more behind on reviews I requested. I am not even thinking about the books I want to read. But, stuff is getting done! My research papers are almost all graded (in record time) and April is half over. I have two all day field trips to look forward to this week - book festival at the local college. I'll put up a post full of good stuff when all is said and done.

Otherwise, I've been hanging with with friends like crazy. Spent an evening with some wonderful ladies experiencing my first Hibachi dinner. Had so much fun, I'm taking my family for my husband's birthday this week. Our movie loving friend came to watch old Survivor seasons with us - we've been having so much fun comparing the old with the new. Spent a night celebrating a birthday for another friend, whose wife knows how to throw a party! And ended the week cuddling two little ones we babysat for one special couple and then played games of Fluxx until 1am with another group.

You will seldom hear me ever say that spending days in a row away from reading was an okay thing. This is the first time I can recall it actually, so take note: Spending the past week away from reading was okay. It was a week that started out overwhelming, but became a pack of memories and blessings by the end. (My Goodreads goal, however, is hating on me.)

So, for Sunday Sentence, two quotes I've been holding onto. First one is truth and second just funny. Have a great week everyone!

"Buildings made of the new-style bricks had much less subtlety and character than buildings of earlier eras, but they were much cheaper, and there has hardly ever been a time in the conduct of human affairs when cheapness didn't triumph." At Home, by Bill Bryson

"Three years in and yes ma’am represents the sum total of her communication with Coach Martin, who wields her reticence so pointedly that even a mime could walk away from her feeling that he’d said too much." The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, by Keija Parssinen

Monday, April 13, 2015

At Home: A Short History of Private Life

I can't describe the appeal of Bill Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life. At 523 pages (excluding his acknowledgements and index), it definitely spoke to the big book lover in me. In addition, the glossy red cover, large font title, and subtitle promises of fun facts to be had were just too much for me. Okay, so maybe that wasn't so hard to describe. I had to read it sooner than later.

And from the very beginning I was glad I chose sooner. At Home is set up to explore the details of civilization through the exploration of an old parsonage Bryson owns in Britain. The chapters are named for rooms in the house and while each chapter relates to the room it's named for, there are many other paths the information follows as well. Almost a third of the way in, after establishing the book's premise, Bryson defines the theme of this short history: "If you had to summarize it in a sentence, you could say that the history of private life is a history of getting comfortable slowly. Until the eighteenth century, the idea of having comfort at home was so unfamiliar that no word existed for the condition. Comfortable meant merely 'capable of being consoled.' Comfort was something you gave to the wounded or distressed" (160).

No such thing as the word comfort as we know it today? I knew there would be loads of fun trivia like this, but I never imagined how closely some of them would hit home (ha ha ha...that's a pun, but is it irony too?). The beginning chapters discussed the role of servants in homes of the nineteenth century. And who would be the man with the most detailed accounts of servants in his home? Thomas Carlyle. If the name doesn't ring a bell, take a look at the quote under my picture header for this blog. 

I originally found this quote on a poster I bought for my classroom and thought it absolutely fitting for a book blog. And here I find Thomas Carlyle, not really an altogether nice man or terrific writer as he wanted to be, but notable and in this wonderful book of trivia.

The next fun fact I happened upon involved Thomas Edison. He is my son's current historical crush, so to speak. Unlike me, my ten-year-old is enthralled with nonfiction, specifically historical figures, more so than fiction. He dressed up like Thomas Edison the week of Dr. Suess's birthday for character day...Edison being the chapter book biography he'd read the week before. However, what I learned of Edison would be a bit soul crushing to my son. Thomas Edison did not invent the lightbulb, per say, but basically receives credit because he did something much bigger in creating the system through which light bulbs lit houses and businesses. He was also smart enough to patent everything he did. This is all good, except for the fact that Edison was something of a jerk too. He stole and cheated his way through anything he had to, as long as it meant he made progress and reached his goals. Great role model.

Next close-to-home topic was that of Elisha Gray, Alexander Graham Bell, and the telephone. Both men submitted patents (of sorts) on the same day for like devices. There's much more to this story, but upon mentioning this book and its topics to my mom she randomly mentioned Elisha Gray, saying he is a cofounder of today's electrical company Graybar (founded in 1869) from which my mom worked her entire career and retired. Very cool discovery!

And if you could indulge me with just one more. I also came across mention of a Henry Bessemer, who found a way to mass produce and market steel in the mid-1800s. His discovery was life changing for architecture and construction. Bryson mentions that at least a dozen cities named themselves after him. I teach in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. There are a few towns that make up our school district, but the one I drive through every day is called Bessemer. It is very small, but has a concrete factory at its center, which lends itself to the type of work with which Henry Bessemer involved himself. I'm not positive the correlation is correct, but I've sent some inquiries to people and think it's a pretty sure thing.

All this to say, I thoroughly enjoyed Bryon's At Home. I truly discovered things about my home and life while reading. Not to mention the fun history of language phrases like why it's called being "in the limelight" and why British sailors are "Limeys." It doesn't get much better than this!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Begin the Week with Words

Every person has a story. And every story is never finished, even when you and everyone else may think it is. On this topic, an overlapping theme I heard many times within the past few weeks was "shame." This week's quotes come from the various places I came upon the topic of "shame." Some were simple statements, some wisdom, and some uplifting, but overall, there were too many to ignore.

"Such a funny thing, shame, that in the scramble to avoid it, you forget who has the right to shame you in the first place." The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, by Keija Parssinen (book)

From "Shame" by Matchbox 20 (song)
"We never thought we'd get so troubled 
We could never think that much 
It should never get this bad 
Shame, shouldn't try you, couldn't step by you 
And open up more 
Shame, shame, shame" 


From "I Am New" by Jason Gray (song)
"Too long I have lived
In the shadows of shame
Believing that there
Was no way I could change
But the one who is making everything new
Doesn't see me the way that I do
He doesn't see me the way that I do


I am not who I was
I am being remade

I am new

I am chosen and holy
And I'm dearly loved
I am new"

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Nonfiction Fun

What little reading time I've had lately has been spent on Bill Bryson's 500+ page book At Home: A Short History of Private Life. I went into it looking forward to the tidbits I knew I would learn and came through knowing whole histories of every day items and the evolution of civilization as we know it. All that to say, I've been reading and seeing some really good nonfiction lately. Three that I really want to read, but don't currently have available, are The Oregon Trail: An American Journey; The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game; and The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute. Strangely enough, all three of those titles interest me on a sentimental level, as items from my childhood. Anyway, all of this good nonfiction has made me want to jump into a TBR stack of nonfiction I've had on my shelves for awhile. 

Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope, by Wendy Holden. Coming out this May, Born Survivors is the story of three young women who carry out pregnancies while imprisoned in German concentration camps. According to the book jacket, this story marks these born survivors' (the babies from those pregnancies) first meeting for their 70th birthdays and the 70th anniversary of the ending of the war.

That's Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us, by Erin Moore. Moore takes 31 words to look at what seems to be little differences in vocabulary between the British and Americans, but upon further research reveals big cultural differences. I have a feeling this one will be an experience like At Home, which I am most excited about.

What Did We Use Before Toilet Paper?: 195 Curious Questions & Intriguing Answers, by Andrew Thompson. Any odd question you can think of, big or small, will likely show up in this book. From why do snooze alarms go off every nine minutes? to What is Cancer?, this little book is a load of information waiting to be absorbed.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach. Need I say more? First of all, it's Mary Roach. I've only begun to read her this year and it's been wonderful. Roach has a knack for taking a seemingly uninteresting topic and making it completely interesting. Stiff takes a look at not only what happens to bodies postmortem, but also what has been done with cadavers over the centuries of our civilization. More cultural, medical, and even religious learning in this one I bet!

Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere, by Lauren Leto. Leto writes her way through numerous famous works/authors and popular bookish topics, guiding readers through the wide world of literature in a funny and inspirational way. There are many interesting subtitles to support this description, such as: "Stereotyping People by Favorite Author," "How to Fake It," and "How to Speak Condescendingly About the Most Revered Authors/Literary Works."

Has anyone else noticed that nonfiction pieces have ridiculously long titles? But the subtitle sure does help reel the reader in! What nonfiction interests are on your plate readers?  

Friday, April 3, 2015

Guest Post on Mom's Small Victories: Relearning Friendship

Hi everyone! Hope all is well as your weekend (and for some, holiday) kicks off. Today I have the pleasure of posting over at Mom's Small Victories. Tanya is an amazing woman whose blog posts not only bookish stuff, but also so many life applicable topics. Her Friday guest posts have been on so many topics, there is something for everyone. Thank you Tanya for having me over this beautiful spring Friday!

So please stop by and read about how I've been Relearning Friendship! You'd think by age 35, I'd have figured this out, but there's always room for improvement and you're not always as figured out as you think. It has been quite an experience.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: Parallels Better than Expected

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, by Keija Parssinen
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: March 10, 2015
Category: Fiction
Source: I received a galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

I had a sole reason for requesting The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, by Keija Parssinen when I first heard the title. I'm a huge fan of layered and paralleled stories. Layered stories being stories that are written to tag onto an original, and often popular, story. Paralleled stories being new stories that match pieces of an older story, and therefore, retell it in a different time and place while keeping the original meaning and themes. Taking place in 1999, I knew Parssinen's Mercy Louis story would serve as a parallel story. To what, you ask? Oh that's a dangerous question to ask an English teacher on a roll.

Mercy Louis, although spelled differently, rang immediately of Mercy Lewis from the Salem witch trials (please note the spelling difference between Louis the character and Lewis the actual historical figure). The actual Mercy Lewis appears in this historical event; and therefore, as a character in The Crucible, a most popular drama by Arthur Miller, in which he plays out the proceedings of the 1692-93 Salem witch trials and, in essence, its history repeat of McCarthyism in the 1950s. I had just finished reading The Crucible with three American Lit classes and was about to begin with two Honors English 9 classes. Yes, by the time I picked up this ARC, I had read The Crucible, from beginning to end, FIVE times in the first two months of 2015 and watched the Daniel Day Lewis movie as many times. More than fresh in my mind, I couldn't pass up The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, whose cover art features a single length of taut but fraying rope with numerous hands hanging on. Witch trials indeed, hangings and all, metaphorical or otherwise.

If you'd like a quick summary of The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, Amazon's is sufficient (except for the last line of it. I think it' I'd like to focus here on things that are beyond mere summary but, at the same time, aren't plot spoilers. Also, these parallels are not needed to enjoy the story. (For the sake of discussion and because of Miller's research in the writing of The Crucible, I refer to and use  his play as historically accurate.)

Author Keija Parssinen didn't disappoint as far as parallels are concerned. Right off the bat familiar names came at me. Wealthy Beau Putnam and his daughter Annie parallel the real life Thomas Putnam (and daughter Ruth), whose "seed have peopled the province" (Miller 28). There is even a disturbed Mrs. Putnam who is relatable to mother and wife Ann Putnam of Salem. Another spot on parallel in Parssinen's book is the reverend. Parssinen has Mercy describe the Reverend Parris as a man whose "pride might cause him trouble" (loc 839). The pride of the historical Reverend Parris became a fulcrum on which the Salem witch trials moved into action. Many other names parallel on smaller levels.

Besides character likenesses, religion plays a large role in The Unraveling of Mercy Louis. Like the Puritans of The Crucible, there are two sides to the church represented in Parssinen's book: the ordinary believers and the over the top, aka fanatics. Mercy Louis finds herself stuck between the two sides. She believes in God and the many things she's been taught of him, and yet, intuitively knows that the extreme measures of her grandmother are not necessarily of God. I appreciated this view from Mercy because it shows that people can live a Christian life without claiming perfection or becoming the stereotyped right wing Christian fanatic. 

This is actually what I liked most about Mercy Louis and this book. Mercy Louis struggles with living out her Christianity, even though she does believe in it. She does things she regrets. She's unsure where lines are drawn or why they are drawn where they are. That is so true to life! People are not perfect - we all mess it up, regardless of what we believe. It doesn't mean we can't be forgiven and it doesn't mean we can't try again or start over. And in the end, Mercy Louis is the true example of a Christian in the grace and mercy she extends to everyone around her, including her fanatical grandmother. 

Looking at this topic of truth and fanaticism, it is definitely paralleled in The Crucible (and even other Puritan stories such as The Scarlet Letter). There is a half a town of major hypocrites, but also plenty of truly good people trying to live a decent Christian life in Salem, such as John Proctor, Martha Corey, and Rebecca Nurse. These three die as martyrs, dying for the very faith by which they lived. In the Daniel Day Lewis movie of The Crucible, these three go to the gallows reciting the Lord's Prayer, which contains a line asking for forgiveness and forgiving all those who sin against them. The further parallel between these stories is that of Jesus, who first forgave the very people crucifying him.

I'm not sure if The Unraveling of Mercy Louis was meant to be so realistically Christian or simply parallel a popular piece of literature. All I can think is finally, a secular book that represents Christianity as it can be and should be. Thank you so much Keija Parssinen.