Battlestar Galactica and Paranormal Romance

So, this was me last week:

I’m home alone, OK? And since I’ve been through all eight seasons of the new Doctor Who multiple times, it was really time to branch out. Battlestar Galactica is kind of fun, because it was originally created by a Mormon, who included stuff like the home planet being named “Kobol,” a Council of Twelve, and the inclusion of the phrase “with every fiber of my being” in the presidential oath.

As with Doctor Who, I’m watching the 2004 reboot, rather than the original 70’s show. There’s plenty of interesting political drama, as well as gut-wrenching moral dilemmas and, of course, lots of sci fi themes and action. Also, I think it’s hilarious that they made up their very own expletive (did a little research, but was unable to find out whether the usage of “frak” was simply atmospheric, or intended to get around television profanity restrictions at the time). And the series is pretty placatory to my inner feminist, passing the Bechdel test in nearly every single episode.

In short, living alone hasn’t been too terrible this time. And despite the temptation to spend every waking moment (and a significant percentage of moments that ought to be sleeping moments) watching Battlestar Galactica, I have made a concerted effort to get out and do stuff, rather than just staying home. Even my introversion has its limits. For example, I went out and shopped for my own clothes for the first time in years (I normally try to get by on whatever Tony brings home for me; he has great taste, so it usually works pretty well). I got some screaming deals on several really cute outfits. Yes, they’re all in shades of black, grey, and navy, but that’s me. I’m terrible at The Bathroom Mirror Selfie, so I won’t post any photos. Maybe when Tony gets home to be cameraman I’ll do a fashion blog, but maybe not. No promises.

Sunday my friend Ali came over for the afternoon and we cooked dinner together, per his recipes. He’s a pretty amazing cook. We had chicken with brown and green cardamom, ginger, and garlic, raita, a lovely minty yoghurt sauce, and cardamom rice with caramelized onions. The food was divine, and it was great to catch up with him.

Monday I went to my very first Meetup group ever (“Area O” – The Orlando Area Sci-Fi Meetup). It’s a fairly geeky group that gets together and talks about science fiction every month. We sat around eating Panera soup and talking about The Hobbit, Doctor Who, Marvel movies, and even Downton Abbey. Plus a bunch of other sci fi and fantasy I hadn’t even heard of. It was pretty cool. They were an intelligent, well-read group, and I enjoyed myself, although I did duck out a little early, at 8:15. I didn’t tell them it was so I could get in an episode of Battlestar Galactica before bed, but I could have. They would totally have understood.

Yesterday I went out to lunch with Carole, one of my favorite people from our former Mormon ward. And then yesterday evening I went to the first instance of a new yoga class I’m taking this year. It was awesome. I can’t believe I haven’t been to a yoga class in almost ten years. I do yoga at home (or on the beach), sometimes regularly, sometimes sporadically. But when I do it on my own, I usually skip the poses I don’t care for, and I rarely (O.K., never) spend an entire hour on it. It’s nice to have an instructor, not to mention a room full of other people who are also trying to balance on one leg while twisting themselves into the shape of a pretzel. And I slept very well last night.

I’ve also done some (very) light reading lately. YA Dystopian/Paranomal/Romance novels are just the thing for pure literary escape. Indulgences for the week include:

These Broken Stars (Starbound, #1)These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This reminded me vaguely of Sylvia Louise Engdahl and some of Ursula LeGuin’s other-planetary adventure novels, but it really lacked depth. In the end, it was just another story about a boy and girl stuck in a remote and dangerous location, who predictably fall in love. I kept waiting for there to be some kind of twist, but their relationship continued to be both stereotypical and annoying. Oh, well.

Also, there were multiple plot elements that stretched credulity, among which the fact that I don’t think this author has really thought about how big a planet is. Because the fact that her characters could reliably determine within such a short time that an entire planet was uninhabited is weird. Even the hints at alien life were cliche and uninspiring.

Oh well, what do I expect from run-of-the-mill YA sci fi? More than this, apparently.

Fallen (Fallen, #1)Fallen by Lauren Kate

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m afraid I have nothing more to add to the litany of reviews marking this as an even more cloying version of YA paranormal romance than Twilight.

I’m also embarrassed to say that I listened to this entire book, along with two of the three sequels. I can’t explain it. I just get in these sappy romantic moods, and nothing will do but reading about some teenage couple’s impossible but eternal true love.

The Age of MiraclesThe Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book reminded me rather a lot of The Adoration of Jenna Fox, not because the plots or characters necessarily had anything in common, but because of the pacing of the book, and the slow uncovering of devastating truths. Also, I think the reader on the audiobook may have been the same for both books, and she’s quite good–perfect for this sort of story.

Like a great many dystopian YA novels these days, this one deals with a disaster scenario that threatens the survival of humankind. But unlike most such novels, it describes the disaster with a calm, measured rationality very different from the sensationalized tone more usual for such descriptions. Somehow, the sanguine approach, rich in small details of how their lives are slowly but irrevocably affected by the disaster, rings truer and hits closer to home.

I was especially impressed with how she explored the subtle but important long-reaching effects of such a tragedy on her characters’ psychological health and relationships with one another. Rather than focusing on the short-term trauma of a devastating natural disaster, Walker was more interested in exploring the long-term effects of the aftermath of such a disaster.

If you need a fast-paced plot and a lot of excitement, this book is not for you. But it’s a pretty impressive debut novel, and an illuminating twist on the usual dystopian trope.

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Next week Tony is coming back by himself. My in-laws have graciously offered to watch our children while we spend two weeks packing up our house. So it will be basically like a second honeymoon. Except that I am working full time and we will be packing up an entire four-bedroom house. But still, I’m sure we will still find some nice quality time to spend together.

Period Presents

“He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.” ― Rudyard Kipling

I try to stay away from those braggy “my husband is so awesome” types of posts, because I know they’re insufferably annoying. Typically, I only indulge when Tony is off in California for weeks on end without me, because I feel like if I have to suffer through living without him, the least the rest of you can do is indulge me in my mushy ramblings about how dreamy he is.

But we’re going to California at the end of this week, and I’ll be coming back a couple of weeks before he does, so I guess I’m already in gushy romantic mode again. And I have to tell you about this one snuggly thing he does. Hopefully, this will not be TMI. I promise it has nothing to do with sex, if that’s what you’re worried about, but this post does have to do somewhat with my period.

Now, I’m not one of those women who has periods so bad she has to take industrial-strength painkillers and curl up in the fetal position in bed for a week every month (my sincerest condolences if that is you). In fact, as long as we’re doing TMI, I have pretty light periods, that usually last 3-4 days from start to finish, with a day or so of moderate cramping and maybe a bit of a headache at the beginning. I don’t think I complain unduly about my period, but maybe I do.

In any case, several months ago, out of the blue, Tony came up with an idea to make my period a time of celebration. He proposed that each month during my period he would give me a full-body massage, make me liver (to keep my iron levels up), and give me a “period present.” Of course I agreed to the proposition. What was not to love about it? Who minds a little bit (or a lot) of extra pampering, especially at that time of the month? And plus, it fit in well with my determination for my daughter to grow up feeling positive about her body and her period.

I confess that I was secretly skeptical that his plan would last more than a month or two. After all, it’s a lot of work to do all that stuff, and it’s not even something I asked him to do. But he’s been doing it all every month, without fail, ever since that first month. He makes a mean liver and onions, even if the kids do complain about having to eat it. He’s an amazing masseuse. In fact, he got a massage table a few months ago, which makes it even more heavenly. And he somehow manages to come up with a new, thoughtful gift every month.

The gifts range from the romantic and traditional (jewelry) to the more pointed and personal (a twelve-pack of tweezers, since I have a habit I can’t seem to break of losing them/leaving them all over the house). But this month he went above and beyond thoughtful gift-giving, and presented me with this:


In case you’re perplexed, yes, that is a copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Be still, my heart. I was one of those kids who habitually read things like dictionaries and encyclopedias in linear fashion just for fun. But my favorite recreational reference book as a kid was Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. The quotes in this book introduced me to a number of authors, whose books I subsequently read, always with a little thrill of pleasure when I happened upon the original quote. But Bartlett’s Quotations also gave me intimate and tantalizing glimpses into history, since many of the quotations in the book were things people actually said at dinner parties or during Parliament debates or on the eve of battle. There’s often a sketch of the context in the footnotes, to set the scene for the reader. I used to go through the book, page by page, and write my favorite quotes on 3×5 cards, which I kept in a file box, organized by subject. Nerdy, I know. But so much fun.

If you’re my Facebook friend (aka denizen of my global village), you’ve probably noticed that I’ve recently taken my addiction to quotations public, and post a regular quote-of-the-day (and if you’re not my Facebook friend, I would love to be yours, if you’ll have me). I think of those quotes as a constantly evolving poetic expression of my philosophy of life, expressed in more beautiful words than I could come up with, by people far wiser than myself. As Oscar Wilde said, “Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.” You might think it would be hard to come up with new quotes every day (although I’ll confess here that I typically use life skills I’ve learned at my marketing job to schedule a month’s worth of quotes all at once). It is hard. But so satisfying.

Lately I’ve been much enamored of the Quote section in Goodreads, which can be searched by topic, author, or keyword. The only problem with Goodreads is that anyone can add quotes. So I usually have to wade through dozens of quotes by people like Cassandra Clare and John Green before I even get to Montaigne or Whitman. To say nothing about the fact that not everyone is, shall we say, meticulous about avoiding misquotations. I’m pretty good at telling by feel if a quote is legit (and being especially wary of things supposedly said by Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain), but I also make liberal use of Google and wikiquotes’ misquotations page.


So I’m quite thrilled to have my very own copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations to provide me with flawlessly attributed quotes from the time of the Ancient Greeks all the way up to . . . I’m not sure when. I think the introduction mentioned something about the moon landing, but I haven’t made it to the end of the book yet. It’s already filling up with tiny post-it notes marking my favorite passages.

So to end this post on an appropriately gushy note, thanks, Honey Bunny, for a gift that is thoughtful on so many levels. And thanks for being my lover, partner, and favorite person ever.

“There is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a separate person, however dear and beloved, but an expansion, an interpretation, of one’s self, the very meaning of one’s soul.” ― Edith Wharton

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Book Reviews: Proud Tower, Delivered, Infernal Devices, And Then There Were None

Besides my slow but productive progress through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, I’ve made some time for a few other books lately. Among which:

The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 by Barbara W. Tuchman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been thinking a lot about World War I during this centennial year, and I am fascinated by anything to do with the Long 19th Century, so when I was browsing for commute audiobooks on Overdrive and saw this, I knew I had to read it. It’s an engagingly written history of the Western world before WWI that tries to paint that world as it was and seemed at the time to those who lived in it, and not as it looked (or looks) through the rosy glasses of war-wearied remembrance.

The book consists of several loosely interconnected essays on different themes, and with shifting geographical foci. I had no idea, for example, how widespread and organized (after its fashion) the international movement toward anarchism was. I can’t decide whether I liked the chapter on British politics or the chapter on German culture more. They were both good, although the German chapter might win just for the brilliantly descriptive and insightful observation that “Strauss was a string plucked by the Zeitgeist.” And yes, I spent time listening to Strauss and other music of the time in between chapters.

The chapter on American imperialism as defined by the Spanish-American war and the conquest of the Philippines was also illuminating for me. Tony and I spent a summer in the Philippines and used to often wonder why after 300 years of Spanish rule and only a few decades of American rule the Filipinos still looked on America with suspicion while seeming to have much softer feelings toward their erstwhile Spanish rulers. I no longer wonder. There’s also a good chapter on the Dreyfuss affair and its long-reaching effects on French politics and culture.

I think the thing that surprised me the most was how familiar so many of the issues and controversies sounded. Although there was a certain optimism that might be difficult to find again any time soon. I was almost amused to find that Alfred Nobel had originally only intended for the prize bearing his name to be given out for the next thirty years, since he expected that world peace would have been worked out by then.

Also, if the Doctor turned up in the Tardis and offered to take me anywhere in time and space, I might just choose pre-WWI Europe.

DeliveredDelivered by J L Van Leuven

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted to review this one around the holidays, because it deals with the birth of Jesus, and would be such a perfect gift for a midwife, mother-to-be, or anyone else who cares about birth and views it as an event with something of holiness about it.

Told from the point of view of the midwife who attended Mary on the night of Jesus’ birth, it recounts her story, her calling as a midwife, and the ways her life prepared her for that all-important first Christmas night. In some ways, it reminded me of the Red Tent, although Delivered is very devotional in tone and much less “earthy,” and would be appropriate for audiences that might not enjoy the Red Tent because of the sex and unorthodox views of Old Testament prophets.

I loved the descriptions of natural midwifery techniques using herbs and traditional birthing accessories like birthing stools or scarves. The scenes that involved births were very well articulated, and took me back in time to my own lovely homebirths.

Full disclosure: I copy edited this book. The author, Jessica Van Leuven, was a joy to work with, and works in labor and delivery as an RN. She knows her stuff when it comes to birth, and it shows.

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, #1)Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m kind of a sucker for anything having to do with 19th century Britain, and I’ve read all of Clare’s Mortal Instruments books, so I was going to get around to reading this prequel series eventually. My favorite thing about it was meeting everyone’s ancestors. Clare has a flair for colorful characters, and it was interesting to see what all those Shadowhunter families were up to a hundred years ago.

That said, the characters are a little weird, and the plot is not that–convincing? That’s probably a meaningless criticism for YA fantasy, so maybe “not compelling” is what I should say instead. Plus, one of the characters was a shape-shifter, and I was constantly imagining ways she could solve the various problems by just changing shape, which she did very rarely. What’s the use of having such a great talent if you’re not constantly using it? So there’s that.

Still, Cassandra Clare is always a fun read.

Clockwork Prince (The Infernal Devices, #2)Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Boring love triangle alert. Alas, the female protagonist cannot choose between the nice guy and the bad boy. What else is new in YA fiction? Really, my favorite person in this series is Magnus Bane, and he appears disappointing infrequently.

But for some reason I find Cassandra Clare’s books so relaxing on my work commute that I can’t stop listing to them.

Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices, #3)Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The crisis at the beginning of this book was kind of disturbing and gross to me. Spoiler: man gets bizarre venereal disease that turns him into giant ravenous worm. Like, literally–a huge, voracious invertebrate creature. I mean, it was kind of an interesting twist on everyone promiscuous in the 19th century getting syphilis, but still.

Come to think of it, these books also feature a fantasy take on consumption, that old Victorian standby of doomed romances, and a magical kind of opium, as well as some 19th century technology gone bad. The whole thing is very steampunk, and not badly done. Also, Oscar Wilde makes a cameo appearance as a fastidiously dressed werewolf. So the premise is great fun, but the characters and plot, not so much.

And Then There Were NoneAnd Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not a big mystery reader. Come to think of it, I believe I dislike mysteries because they generally make me feel stupid. I am never a step ahead. I’m always surprised at the end, and I always feel dumb for not figuring it out. Also, I find the idea of murder disturbing, and hate books that rehash gory details over and over from different angles. However, after recently seeing not one but two Doctor Who episodes based on Agatha Christie (The Unicorn and the Wasp and Mummy on the Orient Express), I decided it was high time to give her a chance.

And giving myself permission to just let the story progress without feeling pressure to solve the mystery before it unfolded itself in front of me was quite helpful. It allowed me to enjoy Christie’s superb character development and subtle exploration of moral issues. The way she gets inside her characters’ heads and explores their darker tendencies, their fears, their justifications, and their sometimes strange points of view is frankly brilliant. She has a peculiar knack for apt descriptions, both of physical details and personal character.

The premise of this particular book is interesting, as it explores different degrees of guilt and the nature of justice, as well as human nature when put in stressful and suspenseful situations. I enjoyed it enough that I think I’ll try reading some more Agatha Christie.

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The Lives We Never Live


I was watching the BBC miniseries Daniel Deronda the other day. Based on the George Eliot novel of the same name (which I’ll have to hunt down and read now), it follows the career of the titular character, who ends up having to choose between two love interests. It’s a beautifully done series, and it’s on Netflix, so if like me, you have a weakness for 19th century period dramas, it’s one of the better ones out there.

Hugh Bonneville is creepily magnificent as the aristocrat who enjoys his domination over others. Romola Garai is brilliant in the role of Gwendolyn Harleth, the young woman who must choose between love and her family’s financial security. She was arguably the most interesting character, and I rather think Eliot could have left out the part about Deronda’s other love interest, and named the book after Harleth. We all love the stories that follow Lizzie Bennet’s injunction, “Do anything rather than marry without affection.” However, the reality for most young women in financial straits in 19th century was that dreamy Mr. Darcy, the perfect gentleman AND in possession of £10,000 per year, did not often come along. Gwendolyn Harleth (whose name, by the way, I think is at least as mellifluous as Mabel Lane Fox) is a sympathetic and compelling character, and it’s hard to really fault her too much for her choices, even as one is horrified by both the choices and their consequences.

But what I wanted to talk about was Daniel Deronda. Hugh Dancy, of course, is handsome and brooding as the good-hearted but troubled Deronda. We meet him as he first catches a glimpse of the lovely Gwendolyn Harleth, losing at billiards, and secretly buys back a necklace she pawns. Later, he rescues the beautiful Jewish singer Mirah Lapidoth from drowning herself in a river, and the stage is set for a love triangle. Only this love triangle is about more than just love. It’s about Daniel Deronda’s quest to discover (and decide) who he really is. Eventually, the choice of whether to pursue Gwendolyn or Mirah becomes more about how Daniel sees himself, and what he wants to do with his life than his feelings for either woman.

In a weird way, Daniel’s dilemma over whom to marry (and by extension, who to be) reminded me of this series of photographs by Czech photographer Dita Pepe, in which she imagined what she would be like married to different men. It was striking to me how different she looked in the different photographs, and what different assumptions I made about her as a person.

Whom to choose as a life partner is certainly an important decision. But in these cases, it serves as a sort of metaphor for the roads we might have taken in our lives, and the people we might have been. I know that I have far more things I’d like to be than lives available to try them. I’d like to be an international human rights lawyer, an artist, a writer, a university professor in comparative literature, history, Middle Eastern Studies, European Studies, 19th century British literature, philosophy, and/or a dozen other subjects, a field biologist, an environmental activist, an editor at a publishing house or a magazine, and an investigative journalist. Those are all things I can picture myself being good at. But there are other things I’d like to try being, even though it’s not easy for me to picture myself being good at them–like a ballet dancer, or a theoretical physicist, or an astronaut.

This is probably also one of the motivating factors in my desire to travel and live in as many different places as possible. Because every new place is kind of a different life, and allows me to explore different facets of who I am.

Drawing on the Wrong Side of the Brain

Earlier this week, this fun set of drawing pencils arrived at my house.

It was waiting for me when I got home from work, and after the kids were in bed and Tony had left for his weekly Euro-gaming night, I opened it up and looked at everything in it. It seemed like an awful lot of different pencils, all marked with cryptic number and letter combinations.  I tried out a few, noting how the softer lead of some of them slid onto the paper so effortlessly. The charcoal looked fun too, but I’ve always hated how chalk or pastels feel in my hands, and had no desire to get black all over myself, although that eventually happened anyway, since I just had to try smudging the pencil lines with my fingers to see how the different hardnesses of graphite reacted.

But the most fascinating item in the package was the kneaded eraser. I’ve never actually owned a kneaded eraser, and didn’t know what to do with it. I googled “how to use a kneaded eraser,” and then realizing that I hadn’t been specific enough about my absolute beginner status, “do I have to knead my eraser before I use it?” The answer was yes, so I reluctantly unwrapped the perfect grey rectangle and smooshed it around with my fingers. A couple of youtube videos later, I had discovered that not only could it be used to erase things, but you could also pinch it into various shapes and use it to “draw” on top of your pencil drawing. One artist also recommended kneading it with your left hand while drawing with your right, to reduce stress. This was sounding promising.

I spent some time drawing spheres and boxes with shadows using random pencils out of my new collection. Eventually, after I’d filled up a notebook page with my tiny, tentative drawings, I put it all away and went to bed.

A couple of days later, all my library holds came in. It was quite a stack. As is my wont when I’m excited about a new book, I took them all to the bath. I devoured a couple at random, including Drawing for Painters and Drawing Fairyland. Then I picked up the book everyone recommends, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I took a deep breath, opened it, and plunged in.

First there were several pages about the hemispheres of the brain, and how drawing can help people think more creatively in other areas. After a few pages, I began to skim. After all, thinking creatively has never been a problem for me–I’m very much of a right brainer. It’s the drawing that bites. However, I was completely arrested by a quote from a letter by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo, who had suggested that he become a painter:

. . . at the time when you spoke of my becoming a painter, I thought it very impractical and would not hear of it. What made me stop doubting was reading a clear book on perspective, Cassange’s Guide to the ABC of Drawing, and a week later I drew the interior of a kitchen with stove, chair, table and window–in their places and on their legs–whereas before it had seemed to me that getting depth and the right perspective into a drawing was witchcraft or pure chance.”

“Witchcraft or pure chance.” It was as if the great Van Gogh had read my mind.

I decided that I could give the book and its exercises a chance, despite my misgivings. The first thing the author, Betty Edwards, instructs her students to do is to draw a series of three “pre-instruction” drawings. The idea is that you’ll have a before and after to look at, and realize how far you’ve come. I had a lot of feelings about doing this, but I ploughed ahead and completed all three within the space of an hour or so, which was how long Edwards had predicted they would take. So without further ado, here are my “before” drawings, in the spirit of authenticity, and with ardent hopes that the “afters” will look like they’ve been drawn by a different person entirely.

#1 A person, from memory. Is there a harder thing to draw? Obviously I have extremely vague ideas about things like noses and arms, as well as drawing a person who’s not looking straight ahead. Oh, well.




#2 Self-portrait. This one was, if possible, even worse. I drew the line at actually staring at myself in the mirror as I drew, and just did it from a photo. The photo on my About Me page, if you must know, but it would be embarrassing for you to go and look at it and compare.

Self Portrait

#3 A drawing of your own hand. OK, every part of drawing people is hard, but drawing hands might be the hardest of all. And my poor left hand is looking pretty scary here:


So there you have it: my first baby steps on the road to learning to draw. I am hoping that this book lives up to the hype, and that, like Van Gogh, I will discover that drawing is something I can do. OK, maybe not so much like Van Gogh, who is kind of in a class by himself.

Speaking of Van Gogh, for inspiration and some serious feels, I’ll leave you with this video montage from one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, Vincent and The Doctor.

My Top 20 Books

My Top 20 Books


You know that Facebook thing that’s been going around where people tag you and you have to list your top ten books? Well, I was waiting and waiting to get tagged. I finally did a couple of days ago (thank you, Jared) but by then the number had ballooned to 20 books. Which I guess is OK, because I had a hard time as it was narrowing it down to just 20. And I didn’t think I could just post a list without explaining what each and every book meant to me. So it got too long for a Facebook status, and ended up on my blog. Here, in no particular order, are my top 20 books:


The Left Hand of Darkness

Part of me thinks this should be a list of authors rather than books. Ursula LeGuin writes so many brilliantly insightful books it’s hard to choose just one. I’ve loved this book ever since I was a teenager. Besides her insights into what patriotism is, what gender means, and why uncertainty is a necessity for life, there’s one particularly beautiful scene that expresses better than anything else I’ve ever read how lonely it can sometimes feel to be an expat in a foreign country.


The Once and Future King

I have read a great many King Arthur stories, and this is by far my favorite. It is wise, charming, and heartbreaking by turns. I wish every political leader could grow up like T.H. White’s Arthur, or at least read this book.


The Birth of Tragedy

I took a class on Nietzsche back when I was a philosophy major, partly for the delicious irony of studying a philosopher who famously claimed that “God is dead” at a university that nicknames itself “The Lord’s university.” This is the book that introduced me to the Dionysian/Apollonian dichotomy, and taught me that art should be a “transfiguring mirror.”


The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

This is actually a children’s picture book by the incomparable Chris Van Allsburg. It was also the center of a secret literary society I formed as a homeschooled kid to write stories about the mysterious paintings in the book.


The Original Homeschooling Series (Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling #1-6)

As well as growing up homeschooled, I have read dozens of books about homeschooling, and this series of six is still my go-to manual and source of inspiration. 19th-century British educator Charlotte Mason talks about treating children as persons, giving them an education that is both wide and deep, and helping them to connect with everything they learn on a personal level.


The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

Patricia McKillip has always been one of my favorite authors. This book is a beautiful parable about betrayal, revenge, and love. Also, if you have ever wondered where my email address and miscellaneous internet handle came from (Lyralen), it’s my intentional misspelling of the mythical white bird in this book.


Measure for Measure

During my freshman year at university, both my history of philosophy class and my literature class analyzed this play. It was fascinating to read it from the viewpoints of two such different disciplines, and it’s been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays ever since. I love the themes of hypocrisy and forgiveness, and I think this play has weathered the years exceptionally well even for Shakespeare.


The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)

What can I say about Lord of the Rings? I’ve probably read it more times than I’ve read any other book, and worn through several paperback editions. As a kid, I paid my seven-year-old sister a quarter every night to stay awake while I read the series aloud to her. When I got married, this was one of only two books that turned out as duplicates in our combined library–except that Tony’s copy was the leatherback edition from the locked case in the bookstore, and mine was yet another dog-eared paperback.


Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)

I really debated over including this one. My orthodox Mormon friends hate it, and my feminist friends hate it, for entirely different reasons. But it had a huge positive impact on my perception of my sexuality (not to mention my sex life with my husband). Which is already TMI, so I’ll leave it there.


Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

There’s not a lot of nonfiction on my list, but this is a great book. I’ve traveled around the world enough to see the massive disparities in technology and living conditions in different countries. This book tackles the big question of WHY those disparities exist, and which historical and geographical accidents gave certain civilizations the tools to conquer and subjugate others (spoiler: it was climate and geography, not genetic superiority).


Cloud Atlas

I think of this as a sort of novelization of Guns, Germs & Steel. I’m equally enamored of the movie, even though it’s more of a fantasy on a theme than a faithful reproduction. As a meditation on power, human goodness, and our inseparable connection to one another, this story moved me profoundly.


Phineas Redux

It’s hard for me to explain my adoration of Trollope’s novels, even to myself. This is book four in his ponderously lengthy “Palliser Chronicles,” which center around 19th-century British politics. It’s fascinating for the period detail, expansive vocabulary, and colorful characterizations of even minor characters.


Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)

I am currently in the process of reading this aloud to my children, all the while realizing just how much Anne influenced me when I was growing up.


The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine

Most Christian religions have (at least!) a few problems when it comes to traditional treatment of women. My spiritual journey is a little different from Sue Monk Kidd’s, but her book was valuable for me as I was articulating to myself my experience as a woman in my church.


Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury at his very best. I can’t resist a book about books, and this is the iconic book about books. I’ve never forgotten the opening scene where the woman burns in her house full of books. “We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” 


Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

This was sort of the beginning of me coming to terms with the good, the bad, and the weird of Mormon history. Joseph Smith was an extraordinary person, and it was great to get to know him, especially in the rich historical context Bushman provides.


Les Misérables

I sobbed my heart out when I read this book as a teenager. I hadn’t much use for the somewhat sappy love duo of Cosette and Marius, but I was in love with Enjolras. This probably led directly to my soft spot for revolutionaries everywhere.


The Sun Also Rises

This was my first introduction to Hemingway. I had no real concept as a teenager of the harsh post-WWI background the novel embodies, but wow, could I ever relate to the angst.


A Tale of Two Cities

When I was at university, my best friend and I printed out the first paragraph to this book, memorized it, then tore it up into little pieces and ate it. Because that’s what we did for kicks back then.


The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights

I’ve always been fascinated by these Middle Eastern fairy tales. And the underlying premise of a woman who must use her wits and her stories to stop a mad tyrant from killing her and the rest of the young women in the kingdom is an enduring testament to the power of the stories we tell ourselves and others.


So. If you’ve read this, go ahead and consider yourself tagged. What are your top 20 (or top 10, or top 5) books?

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Game of Thrones, Falling in Honey, Bigger on the Inside, and Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Lives and Times

Game of Thrones, Falling in Honey, Bigger on the Inside, and Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Lives and Times

Doctor Who

It’s been a while since I published a book review. As is probably obvious, I spend most of my discretionary time these days watching Doctor Who. It’s still not clear whether my infatuation will eventually burn itself out, or develop into a lifelong love affair. Of course I am hoping for the latter–doesn’t everyone who’s in love want it to last forever? In the meantime, I just signed my daughter up for an online homeschooling class entitled Traveling Through History With Doctor Who, because who doesn’t need another excuse to watch a Doctor Who episode every week and then write papers and do projects relating it to history, science, literature and ethics?

I’ve been reading too, though, at least a bit. Doctor Who related books, and even a few others. Check out my latest reads:


A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve kept this on my currently-reading shelf for quite a while, but finally realized that I was never going to finish it. For one thing, it’s so long! I like long books, but only if I like them, so I must not like this one very much if it feels like I’m slogging through and not getting anywhere.

Most people I know either love or hate this series, but I find myself merely lukewarm. When I am in a particularly nihilistic mood, I kind of love wallowing in the T.V. series in all its opulent glory, even if I have to cover my eyes for the really gory parts. But I’m not all that impressed with Martin’s prose.

The only character I really like all the time is Bran Stark. If the book were all about him, I’d probably like it much better. Which makes me think I should probably just go back and read Lord of the Rings yet again, if what I’m interested in is the diminutive, melancholic character on the quixotic quest to save the world.

I have a several friends who adore this series. At least now I can say I tried.


Falling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My HeartFalling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart by Jennifer Barclay

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is far from the best expat memoir I’ve ever read. It probably only deserves maybe 2.5 stars. But I’m moving to a Greek island, so I did enjoy it quite a bit and I’ve rounded up my rating.

Things I liked – reading all the little details, like descriptions of food (I am addicted to descriptions of food), the traditional dancing at festivals, and the idiosyncratic directions to her new house.

Things I could have done without – so many pages devoted to her love life. It seemed like she should have written a separate memoir for that, although I’m sure the two things (Greece and complicated relationships) were inextricably connected in her mind.

So, yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as good armchair traveling, unless you like it mixed in with an unrelated soap opera.


Doctor Who and Philosophy: Bigger on the Inside (Popular Culture and Philosophy)Doctor Who and Philosophy: Bigger on the Inside by Courtland Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the book I am going to send back to the library with a post-it note containing my name and email address. Because if you read and loved this book, we should be friends (and because I’ve been informed that in Whovian circles this is considered a legitimate way to make friends).

Every time I watch a Doctor Who episode, I end up with a head full of ideas that I’m just dying to discuss with someone, and my husband can only take so much Doctor Who-related babble. So this book was like water for my parched soul–essay after essay written by people who not only take Doctor Who seriously, but were also interested in exploring its ethical and existential themes. Heaven.

The book is divided into several sections, including Ethics, Personal Identity, Aesthetics, etc. I minored in philosophy, although I haven’t read a whole lot of philosophical texts since I graduated. So most of the philosophical arguments in the book were familiar to me, but I think they would still be accessible without a background in philosophy.

Since each essay is written by a different person, the quality and style is somewhat uneven. But there are enough gems to give the book five stars. A couple of different authors developed the idea that the Doctor’s ethical system is a variation of the “Ethics of Caring” developed by feminist thinkers in the 1950’s, and I found those essays enlightening, since I’m particularly interested in (and enamoured by) the Doctor as an unconventional hero with an idiosyncratic moral outlook.

Whether you want to get your Whovian friend interested in philosophy or your philosophical friend interested in Doctor Who, this is the perfect book.


Doctor Who: The Doctor's Lives and TimesDoctor Who: The Doctor’s Lives and Times by James Goss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Someone in acquisitions at my library is apparently as taken by Doctor Who as I am, since I’ve probably checked out a dozen or more books similar this one, which is a sort of documentary-type book about the series.

This one, though, is by far my favorite. While many of the others are simply character encyclopedias, this book has lots of interviews and reminiscing by cast members about what it was like to be part of Doctor Who, and it’s laid out in an appealing scrapbook style.

I admit to skimming some of the earlier chapters, since I’ve only seen a fraction of the classic episodes, and I’m trying to avoid too many spoilers. But if you wanted a nice overview of the series, including characters, plot(s), and behind-the-scenes, you couldn’t go wrong with this book.

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Silence in the Library

As per our usual Saturday routine, I took the children to the library this morning. Upon walking in the door, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a book sale going on in the Book Nest, our library’s resident book store. It was one of those $3 per bag sales that I absolutely love, because I don’t have to weigh the relative merits of each book–I simply have to concentrate on stuffing as many books as possible into my allotted grocery bag. I’ve become quite an expert at this. Here’s my haul for today:


I always hit the classics shelf first. The librarian working in the store was surprised and delighted to find that I was buying the large, ancient tome of Plutarch that she thought nobody read anymore. It’s true that I do have another edition of Plutarch, also the Dryden translation, but it doesn’t contain nearly as many lives. And now we can read it as a family. I also netted a more modern Penguin Classics edition of Plutarch containing just six lives: Sulla, Crass, Cicero, Pompey and Caesar, complete with copious notes.

I got nice hardback copies of Milton (Complete Poetry and Selected Prose)Pride and Prejudice, and Far From the Madding Crowd, along with a paperback of Guy de Maupassant’s Bel Ami, which I haven’t read (although I did see the rather silly film adaptation with Edward-the-Vampire in the title role). Also Beowulf, since the kids have been listening to a kid version on Librivox.

The drama shelf gave me Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, as well as Hamlet, The Tempest, and Much Ado About Nothing in the “No Fear Shakespeare” editions that my homeschool friends are always raving about. I already have at least one Complete Works of Shakespeare as well as each play in adorable pocket-sized hardbacks, but one can never have too much Shakespeare.

Poetry was a bit sparse today, but I did net The New Oxford Book of English Light Verse.

I’m of course on the lookout for anything to do with Greece these days, and was pleased to find a Collins Pocket Greek Dictionary, although Tony rightly pointed out that one’s pockets would have to be unusually large to accommodate it. Will Durant’s 1939 The Life of Greece (part of his Story of Civilization series) looked promising, as did Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, since I’ve read and loved her previous book, The Greek Way. I don’t typically buy random books I’ve never heard of at book sales, but The War at Troy by Lindsay Clarke sounded interesting, and also Greek, so I popped it into my now nearly overflowing bag.

My library usually does not have very much good children’s fiction at book sales, but today I was pleased to find a darling edition of The Wind in the Willows. I already own two copies of this book, but it’s such a lovely book, and the illustrations in this particular copy were so sweet that I couldn’t resist. I also found Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, along with its three sequels, all matching.

A heavy-duty Childcraft Children’s Dictionary rounded out the kids books, unless you count 100 Heartbeats, which I got for Axa because the author, Jeff Corwin, is her hero, and possibly also her first crush. In a similar vein, we also picked up Among the Great Apes, for more nature-related reading.

By this time my bag really was splitting at the seams, but I managed to cram in a final book: Literary Houses, a sort of idiosyncratic old fashioned coffee table book about ten iconic houses in famous literary works, and their real life inspirations, among which Manderly from Rebecca, Satis House from Great Expectations, and Northanger Abbey from Northanger Abbey.

I’m seized by a sort of madness when I go to these book sales. For years, I’ve been collecting books because I knew someday we would move far away from the library, to somewhere where the only books my children would have in their native tongue would be the ones I had collected.

That original impetus for my book collecting is still in force–we are indeed moving to a Greek island next year. But the drive to collect books has become something more for me now. I can feel the relevance of good, old fashioned books slipping away. It’s not that I oppose the digitization of books; I love my Kindle and can’t get enough of sites like Gutenburg and Librivox. These days I’m as likely to read a book on my Kindle or listen to it on my phone as read the printed page. Not that I’ve given up the printed page either; I’ve just learned to be omnivorous. I love having a book by my bed, but I love being able to access my whole Kindle library on my smartphone too.

I’m all for every book ever written being available online to anyone in the world who wants to read it. But at the same time, I can’t help being affected by the prognostications that printed books and libraries are becoming obsolete, and pretty soon everything will be digitized. I’m not a luddite. I want them all digitized. But I want them as books too, real books that I can touch–the bodies that hold their souls.

And so I continue on in my melancholic mania, buying so many books that my shelves are overflowing with printed bounty. It’s my own little way of holding back the dark. When I’m old (and wearing purple, of course, with a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me) I won’t be a cat lady, I’ll be a book lady. And then again, maybe the doom-sayers are wrong, and there are enough people who just like books, real books, that they’ll never go out of fashion or completely out of print. Maybe the Doctor is right when he says in Silence in the Libary,

“People never really stop loving books. Fifty-first century. By now you’ve got holovids, direct-to-brain downloads, fiction mist. But you need the smell. The smell of books.”

Here’s hoping. But I’m keeping my own book collection, just in case.

Exciting News!

You know all those times people told me I should write a book about our international adventures? Well, last week I indie published my very first book. Here it is:

Paradise Interrupted: Romantic Adventures Backpacking Across the Philippines, Baby in TowParadise Interrupted: Romantic Adventures Backpacking Across the Philippines, Baby in Tow by Sarah Bringhurst


It’s available on Amazon for Kindle here. Check it out!

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Voices, City of Bones (Ashes, and Lost Souls), Under the Never Sky and Graceling


Despite the fact that I have spent a fairly obscene amount of time watching Doctor Who during the past several weeks, I have managed to get a little reading in too. Stay tuned later for my review of Doctor Who and Philosophy: Bigger on the Inside, which I currently have on hold at the library. But in the meantime,

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I quite loved this book. Yep, it was violent. And quite disturbing. But the characters were so very compelling to me. Especially Lisbeth Salander. She’s a person whom society has completely failed, who is in an incredibly vulnerable position. And yet she refuses to be a victim. She transcends her circumstances and refuses to be defined by what has been done to her. In fact, not only does she tackle everything life throws at her with incredible courage and resourcefulness, but she is also a champion of justice and defender of the helpless.

It made me really think about how I would look at life, authority, and morality if I had experienced what Salander experienced, rather than my own sheltered middle class life.

I thought it was interesting that Larsson envisioned Salander as a sort of grown-up version of Pippi Longstocking. It made me want to go re-read the Pippi books, which are apparently as much a part of the Swedish national consciousness as Pinocchio is of the Italian national consciousness. Do we have a children’s book that permeates American culture to that extent? Little House on the Prairie maybe? The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? I don’t know.

This book is so worth reading, but the violence against women is pretty awful, so be warned.

Voices (Annals of the Western Shore, #2)Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn’t crazy about the first book (Gifts) in this newest series by Ursula le Guin. But this second book is lyrical, beautiful, and understated.

I can never resist a story about the ruins of a secret, legendary library. But le Guin isn’t just pulling the heart-strings of bibliophiles with the plot device of the ruined library. There is much food for thought about politics, philosophy, religion, and individual responsibility in her carefully crafted, deceptively simple plot. And the characters–all of them–are so real and complex they almost breathe.

Le Guin’s books are quite unique in their genre, and a reader unused to her particular ethos and style might miss events so significant they color and shape the entire plot. Her philosophy of alternative power structures and the mystic significance she attaches to the simple, vital task of keeping a household alive shine through in this subtle, powerful novel. I may have to reread Gifts to see if I missed something the first time through.

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a rollicking, fun read. It kind of reminded me of Twilight, except that it took itself ever so much less seriously. I don’t usually read books of this genre (the spine is marked YA Horror), but maybe I should.

Plot-wise and character-wise, there’s not a whole lot going on. Or perhaps there’s too much going on–so much that it’s like a mad ride on a flying motorcycle. The excessive descriptions of silly little things in the Shadow world or whatever it’s called are a little Harry Potter-esque (but nowhere near as annoying; yes, I know I’m the only person on the planet who can’t seem to work up any enthusiasm for Harry Potter).

This is kind of empty-headed fantasy, but so much fun. Or maybe I was just in a good mood when I read it.

City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, #2)City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This will serve as my review for books 2-4 of this series. Because once an author starts ending her books with cliff-hangers in the arrogant supposition that you will perforce continue reading, the books no longer merit individual reviews.

These were fun reads, although not quite as entertaining as the first book. Still, I have to fill up my long commute with something.

City of Lost Souls (The Mortal Instruments, #5)City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book seemed like a departure from the rest of the series on the one hand, and like a rehash of the previous book on the other hand. Once again teenage romance is just out of reach, because somebody is cursed, or having bad dreams, or something. But suddenly, everyone is having kinky vampire sex, and the bad guys are good guys and vice versa. Or not. I think I am just getting bored, which is probably good, because I don’t have to wait with bated breath for the final(?) sequel, which comes out this year.

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1)Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a quick Kindle read; it seemed more like a novella than a novel. On a post-apocalyptic earth, everyone is living in underground pods, where they spend most of their time in the Realms (virtual reality), because how boring would it be to spend your whole life in an underground pod?

Except that it turns out that some people do live out in the real world, where life is nasty, brutal and short, but actually a lot cooler than the Realms because everything is Real. Kind of a transparent message to teenagers about the virtues of living some part of their lives offline, I guess.

Also, a lot of people have amazing powers somehow associated with a kind of permanent lightning that’s in the sky all the time. I am not making this up. And that’s basically the entire story. I felt like this book never really got going; like the whole thing was a prolonged explanation before the plot started. And then the book ended. I’m sure there will be sequels, but I don’t think I’ll read them.

Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)Graceling by Kristin Cashore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those books I know my daughter will love in a few years. In fact, a lot of it she would love right now, but there are elements of the story that I’m not quite comfortable with her reading at the age of nine. Maybe I just don’t remember what I was reading at her age.

I loved the strong female lead and thought the story was very engaging. It reminded me a lot of the Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip fantasy novels I used to read and reread as a kid. But I didn’t get that emotionally involved in the characters’ struggles. Part of it may have been that I listened to the audiobook, which was more of a radio show production with lots of overdramatic music and a whole cast of actors. Maybe it’s weird, but I like my audiobooks just read aloud, not dramatized.

This is probably a series that I won’t continue unless I run out of audiobooks for my commute and get desperate.

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