Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Global Mom by Melissa Dalton-Bradford, a Review

Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One FamilyGlobal Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family by Melissa Bradford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book at a talk given by Melissa Dalton-Bradford at a stake center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While initially drawn by the cover page and title, “Global Mom” and the author’s bio (writer, scholar, fluent in German, French, Norwegian…)—my own aspirations for living a life abroad intrigued—I found the reading to be (as her talk suggested) a narrative on a much deeper experience than living an exotic adventure and a commentary on life coping with the colossal amounts of sadness that comes with gut-wrenching grief and loss.

In terms of writing, Bradford has a way of weaving objects into metaphors effortlessly. She uses imagery and humor to make fascinating comparisons to help her audience connect to her experiences and keen observations while sharing her story and insights on life and home. Her adventure is interesting to read, but her commentary and interwoven reflections make it much more than a travel memoir, though there are present themes of culture shock, integration, upheaval, misunderstanding, and all of the lovely hardships that come with cross-cultural living.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Best American Essays 2012The Best American Essays 2012 by Robert Atwan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a really great anthology. I read it for content but also for models for essay writing. My overarching takeaway from this collection is that the essay form can break the general creative writing rule of “show don’t tell” and the single, almost short-story like template some beginners fall into. Not all essays follow that structure. The essay was “traditionally written on topics,” and what made them (and continues to make them) distinct? Reflection (Intro: pg IX)
My Favorite Essays I Recommend from this anthology:

1. The Crazy State of Psychiatry (really made me think and question assumptions about antidepressants)
2. A Beauty (worth playing with form, an interesting in-depth look of a complex character)
3. How Doctors Die (unique, real-time tale about dangers of modern medicine keeping us alive but miserable)
4. Vanishing Act (specific interesting example to explain broad commentary on lost talent, etc. Well done)
5. Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here? (great musing on secondary education)
6. Farther Away (great insight on grief and a sneak peek into the personal life of David Foster Wallace)
7. Dr. Don (does interesting things with dialogue doing most of the heavy-lifting, worth experimenting with)
8. Getting Schooled (as an urban public school teacher, AMEN. I too worry about my kids not wanting or liking reading and what that means. Cool perspective, mostly told in flashback and comparing past and present)
9. My Father/My Husband (brilliant, best one in the series. So beautiful and sad and real)
10. Other Women (enjoyed the different perspective on feminism)
11. Outlaw (awesome, lots at stake, happening in real-time, using self as a way to explore immigration issue)

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Monday, November 11, 2013

The Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks, A Review

The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American FaithThe Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith by Joanna Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

                Having just finished the first draft of my own spiritual memoir as a slightly unconventional Mormon, several of my friends recommended I read Joanna Brooks’s, The Book of Mormon Girl. I read the whole thing in less than 24 hours.
                Even though Brooks grew up in a different generation of Mormonism than myself (I was not raised on Marie Osmond), I was surprised by how much we had in common and some of the cultural residues we are both still cherishing , or, fighting, such as object lessons to talk circles around chastity, the issue of polygamy, gay marriage policies, etc. I think the Church has come a long ways in some of the topics she addresses, but there is still a ways to go.   I can relate to her wishing she “had an orthodox Mormon story” to tell, but knowing those “were not the kinds of stories life has given” her. Both of us, I feel, are in a place where we are trying to be confident and open and true to ourselves, even if it might seem different or against the grain of traditional Mormon thought. This bravery comes in hopes that it might benefit someone else who feels alone.

                I’m so grateful I got to read this book, and I recommend it for anyone, but particularly Mormon women who have struggled with some of these issues of feminine identity, or Mormons in general who have struggled with some of the hot contemporary issues. I think Brooks was trying to reach more of a non-Mormon audience, but I think her messages, as well as the ones I hit on my own forthcoming memoir, are helpful for those struggling within our faith tradition. It is so good to not feel alone.

                Here are some other great quotes and ideas I found and I want to come back to:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunThe Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was given to me by my supervisor when I confessed to having “Sunday Blues” spells in anticipation for another week of work. I work in a high stress environment, but she recommended this book as a way to think about smell and feasible ways that I could increase my happiness. Overall, I think Rubin’s project to implement monthly projects to improve her happiness over the course of a year was a good idea, albeit, slightly forced at times. I love the idea of a companion blog and think this is a good example of how authors can effectively use both mediums to enhance each other. I have not yet decided how I want to design my own sort of happiness project, but I plan on researching her blog and finding her materials to see how I can improve my happiness with small changes that make a big difference.

I went through and collected some of the salient ideas and important quotes that I found particularly helpful:

• “I had come to understand one critical fact about my happiness project: I couldn’t change anyone else” (40).
• “What you do every day matters more than what you do in once in a while” (41).
• “Research shows that how a couple fights matters more than how much they fight” (47).
• “Happiness is a critical factor for work, and work is a critical factor for happiness” (67).
• “Happier people…make more effective leaders” (70).
• “Fake it till you feel it” was an effective way to change my mood in the moment…but it isn’t a good governing principle for major life decisions” (72).
• “Leaving law to become a writer was the most important step I ever took to “Be Gretchen.” I’d decided to do what I wanted to do, and I ignored options that, no matter how enticing they might be for other people, weren’t right for me” (73).

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review of Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on FaithTraveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Anne Lamott—I love her honesty and images and brilliance and irreverence and hilariousness and motherness and writerness so much. I am currently writing my own spiritual memoir, and I picked this book up as one of the models I am using to structure my work with. I loved Bird by Bird and I thought I might enjoy this one as well. I was right. I love it when I can close the last cover a book and say aloud to myself, “well, that was a five star.”

Reading this from a “so how did she do that” point of view changed the way I looked at the book. I learned a whole bunch of stuff that is probably not relevant to you, but as an overview, she broke her book up into sections and went in a loose chronological order. She set up the characters and the setting of her childhood before launching into anything else. Towards the end of the book, the sections read more like individual, independent essays about her circuitous spiritual journey.

Again, I gleaned much from the book as I am structuring my memoir, but here are some great quotes I gathered in my reading that particularly resonated with me:

• “Looking back on the God my friend believed in, he seemed a little erratic…God as borderline personality” (7).
• “None of the adults in our circle believed. Believing meant that you were stupid. Ignorant people believed, uncouth people believed” (9).
• “I just know that I always believed and that I did not tell a soul…I wanted to be loved, and so I stood around silently” (10).
• “I just felt that if I could do a little better, Mom and Dad would get along again, my big brother would come home more often, and neither my mom nor my brother Steve would be fat…I was thirty-five when I discovered that a B-plus was a really good grade” (19-20).
• “I was really thirsty for something that I will dare to call the truth” (27).
• “My idea of everything going smoothly on an airplane is (a) that I not die in a slow-motion fiery crash or get stabbed to death by terrorists and (b) that none of the other passengers try to talk to me” (60).

A Review of The God Who Weeps

The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of LifeThe God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life by Terryl L. Givens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In general, I liked this book, but it felt a little like I was sauntering along and randomly picking up shiny quotes along the way without really a sense of direction. It reads similar to how a C. S. Lewis book such as Mere Christianity would read, providing rational for faith in the God of Mormonism, particularly in subjects like the preexistence, belief, divine vulnerability, and the power of choice. The authors seemed to be speaking to people who were struggling with belief and complex faith. As a practicing Mormon who has wrestled with doubt, I tended to strongly agree with most of the ideas proposed.

Below is a list of quotations that I found most powerful in the book:

• “All transactions whatever…have relation to the future, we have to take a leap in the dark…to act upon very imperfect evidence…I believe it to be the same with religious belief… Some people seem born with a capacity to readily believe…such a gift we have not found to be common” (3).
• “The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true and which we have reasonable but not certain groups for believing to be true. There must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and therefore the more deliberate” (4).

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of WrathThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, this was the saddest book I have ever read. It is beautifully written (thus a 4/5 review), but at the end of the day, I’m not sure I would read it again if I was given the chance. I am grateful that I was able to learn more about this period of time in a personal and meaningful way, but reading it made me feel as if I was being drug behind the car as it drove from place to place. Once I process this book more, I think I would have something interesting to say about the resilience of women and about the human ability to adapt and survive under even the most abhorrent conditions.

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