Book Review

New Calvin and Hobbes!

One of the saddest days was when I heard that Bill Watterson was retiring.

A little bit of my soul died with the end of Calvin and Hobbes.

But guess what?! There’s a new book coming out! Clearly, what with all of my use of exclamation points, I’M EXCITED!

51dasPyKp9L._SL160_It releases in about a month and already, it’s a best-seller on Amazon. Bill can move a product! It’s not a brand new series of comics, but it’s a companion book to an exhibit about Calvin and Hobbes, and Bill Watterson as an artist. It’s got original art, Watterson’s commentary, work from cartoons and cartoonist that were influential to him (Peanuts, Pogo, Pat Oliphant, etc), and an interview between Watterson and the exhibition’s curator.

Yep. Bought mine.

Four Books That Make Me Happy


I have read a lot of books. I devoured The Chronicles of Narnia in fourth grade, made my way through high school requisites such as The Red Badge of Courage and The Great Gatsby, survived the deluge of required texts for my English degree that included The Canterbury Tales and excessive amounts of Shakespeare, and now read the books that I want to or that my current book groups choose. I have a great relationship with books and the books that follow are some of my favorites.

Have you read any of them? Would you put them on a favorites list? Or did you not like any of these?

As I made the list, I just didn’t realize that all of them have female protagonists. This surprised me.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: I’ve read this book twice now and it’s still my favorite. It’s Betty Smith’s classic story of a girl, Francie, growing up in Brooklyn. Her life is analogous to the Tree of Heaven that grows through the cracks in the cement and it’s a beautiful story of life persevering and conquering a broken world. The images still stick with me: Francie tucked inside the branches of the tree, reading her book from the apartment’s windowsill; visiting the library and wanting the librarian to recognize her as the little girl who consumes books; the jar that she and her brother bolted to the floor in their closet to save pennies; experiencing her little piece of New York. Reading it is a rich experience with life.

These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901: I read this for a book group and loved it. I loved it because of the history behind it: the author based the story on her own family memoirs; I loved it because Sarah is a woman of spirit and fire living in the harsh Arizona territories; I loved it because Sarah is a smart kid, then a defiant young woman, and then a loving mother; I loved it because her life was joyous and tragic and all of it poignant. I would be impressed with myself if my own journals recorded life with such beautiful words and were filled with as much adventure, love, fear, and history. It’s the wild, wild west from the point of view of a strong woman.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog: the writing is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, it’s writing like this that hits me with the reality that I could never write a book with such beautiful prose and filled with great philosophy because this is how it should be done. I do not have this level of talent. The book is the story of families living in a Parisian apartment building, families that are both great and good, but not often both at the same time. There is Renee, the concierge of the building. She lives like an actress: playing her role. She understands what is acceptable as the concierge and keeps her passions and hobbies a secret, if they cannot consolidate with this role. Meanwhile, Paloma, is the little girl living in one of the posh apartments and is disillusioned with it all. On her thirteenth birthday, she will end her life. Are you ready for this?

Their Eyes Were Watching God: A classic. A boy that I liked leant me this book to read my senior year in high school. He gave it to me with a disclaimer: it’s slow going at first until you get used to the language. And it was true: it took me some time to adjust to the Ebonics of the natural language of the book’s characters, but then my eyes were opened to their beauty. It’s filled with love and cruelty and finds these strong characters who rise above those around them that are small of heart. Reading it will teach you a little about wit and pathos. Hurston’s novel was far ahead of its time because of its strong female protagonist, who is black.

You Should Google Image Search Baby Hedgehogs

Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside she is covered with quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary – and terribly elegant.

I just finished reading The Elegence of the Hedgehog for my little book group here at work. I was looking forward to this one, largely because one of my BYU professors, Louise Plummer, had listed it as a new favorite. When an English professor with a superb sense of humor says she likes a book, I will probably read it.

The book follows two characters that live in the same, high-end apartment in Paris. One is a middle-aged pillow-soft woman named Renée, the concierge of the apartment; the other is a 12-year old girl, Paloma, whose parents own one of the opulent apartments.

From the get go, Paloma is not an ordinary 12-year old. She’s hiding her intelligence from her family and secretly plotting to set the house on fire and commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. You like her already, right?

Then there’s Renée who is another secret intelligentsia, playing the role of the indolent concierge for the rich and powerful. She calls herself, “short, ugly and plump,” and strives to fill her stereotypical role as a working-class nobody despite a love of Dutch painting, Japanese films and Tolstoy.

That’s right. She loves Tolstoy. She has lines memorized from Anna Karenina, a book I’ve tried to read twice and sadly haven’t managed to conquer it.

Reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog made me feel intellectual as I related to the two characters, athough it also made me feel a bit on the dim side when I had to continually look up vocabulary. But it made me think.

How often do we put out a stereotype of ourselves, play the roles that we are supposed to play, and keep our personalities, philosophies and passions hidden? Or perhaps with the people around us, we only see them for their roles or social monikers—used-car salesman, stay-at-home mom, investment banker, cashier…

I don’t have any answers, just some thoughts. Often, I hurry through the line at the grocery store because I want to get home and only briefly thank the cashier. I could do better. I could at least say more than, “thank you,” and add “for the groceries” to my gratitude. Perhaps that would make it more acknowledging. I wonder what the person who stocks the produce at the Smith’s is currently reading. Perhaps it’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, another classic that I have attempted to conquer but have twice failed. Maybe the produce guy can follow stream of consciousness better than I can. More power to him.

Anyway, what I wanted to tell you was that I really enjoyed reading this book even if it made me feel lacking in the vocabulary department. And I also enjoyed drawing an “elegant hedgehog” for you. Isn’t he, well, elegant?

Have you read this book? Did you like it?

Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

Yes, it’s been a while since we’ve done a book review. I apologize. Profusely. But here’s a great one for you.

I read Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, several years ago. It’s an insightful book that I would recommend so when I saw his follow-up book, Social Intelligence, in the audiobook section at the library, I snatched it up.

I listened to this book while driving to work, about town, or sitting in my car at the McDonald’s drive thru. In it, Goleman describes how the brain reacts when we interract with others and in so doing, he describes the influence of our social interactions. Did you know that when you watch a movie, your brain’s chemical reactions are the exact same as they would be if you watched a murder, sex, etc in real life? So I guess we’ve told ourselves, “this is only a movie,” but our brains didn’t get the memo. Makes you think next time you go to an R-rated movie (maybe).

I have to tell you that I kept on thinking about LDS gospel principles while reading this. I know; I’m about to get serious here. Prepare yourselves.

Goleman talks about how our social interractions can actually mold human biology. So the people that we interract with most, the movies we see, the books we read, the music we listen to can actually affect the makeup of our brain. Have you ever wondered how in the world you can possibly attempt to become more like the Savior? Have you ever wondered if your choices like which radio station you listen to on the way to work might do more than just provide you with a good beat while you sit in traffic?

I think I’ll need to purchase this book so that I can read it again and again in hopes of learning how to better connect with others. By the way, Goleman also mentioned the #1 attraction for men AND women. So are you curious enough now? Don’t you want to know what that guy is REALLY looking for in a little wifey? And no, it’s not how cute she looks in an apron…

Guess you better get the book and find out.

(I gave my dad this audiobook for his birthday. Hope he liked it.)

A Potrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Here’s a little twist on this week’s book review… let’s review a book that I never finished: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

I gave up on reading this because I couldn’t follow Joyce’s stream of consciousness. I kept on losing focus; apparently, MY own stream of consciousness was more interesting than Stephen Dedalus’s (the main character). I’ve tried to read this book TWICE, too, because apparently, I didn’t want to fail only once.

Maybe I should try to “read” it as an audio book. Only I don’t know how that would keep my attention any better. See, that’s my problem with reading sometimes: I have to be more interested in the book than I am in my own thoughts. I have really interesting thoughts, I’ll have you know.

What I remember from the parts that I did pay attention were that he started with childhood memories that included his parents and various Irish Catholic priests. This book is constantly praised for Joyce’s prose and description and for its use of stream of consciousness. I feel like an English major failure because I haven’t been able to read this.

I did read the Cliff Notes before I took a test on it. Way to go me.

P.S. Jennie and Jarv had a new baby girl today! Picture to come…

A Ring of Endless Light

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright,
And round beneath it, Time, in hours, days, years,
Driv’n by the spheres,
Like a vast shadow moved, in which the world
And all her train were hurled.

I picked up a used paperback when I was at Powell’s Books in Portland.* It was one of Madeleine L’Engle’s books that I hadn’t read before; I hadn’t even heard of it before, to be honest. It had a cheesy picture on the cover of a teenage-looking boy and girl swimming with a dolphin. If it wasn’t written by L’Engle, I never would have purchased it. In elementary school, I used to read her books like other kids read through Babysitter Club books.** I even wrote L’Engle a letter telling her how much I loved her books and I got a response! Yes, it’s true; it was probably written by some editor’s assistant, but like I cared. Somehow, though, I never read A Ring of Endless Light.

I started reading it about a week ago and many of the names were strangely familiar: Vicky Austin, Zachary Gray, Vicky’s family… It wasn’t until AFTER I finished the book that I looked up on Wikipedia the “Austin family series” and remembered reading The Moon by Night, which I checked out from the library in Sugarhouse back in the day. That’s where I had first met Vicky, Zachary, and friends. Years ago.

As a kid, I didn’t realize that L’Engle’s underlying themes of religion and Christianity weren’t typical. The other books I was reading at the time were by C.S. Lewis. I thought this was typical. Plus, I grew up in a very religious family where we talked about it on days other than Sunday.***

I realize now, that having the religious theme throughout is rare and how much more I appreciate it now. There are phrases in this book that really stuck with me:

Suzy still sounded angry. “Prayer didn’t keep Jeb from being hit by a motorcycle. It didn’t stop grandfather form having leukemia.”

“Prayer was never meant to be magic,” Mother said.

“Then why bother with it?” Suzy scowled.

“Because it’s an act of love,” Mother said.

And joy, Grandfather would remind me, joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.

I said, slowly, “How do we know how much we’re to do for other people? Or for how long? I mean–like Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus’ cross for a while, and then putting it down.”

“I suppose that’s somewhere in the Bible?”

“Yes. All I mean is, we are meant to help each other, but not to feel that we have to do it all, all by ourselves…”

It’s a deep novel for juvenile literature. It’s certainly not juvenile. Death, God, religion, love, anxiety, and on. Her passages provoked a lot of thinking and pondering that linger with me still. It’s good for me to be reminded of the unstable emotions of adolescence when tragedy and joy seemed to be constantly battling to control my feelings. It was an amazing rollercoaster ride, which sometimes I miss, but other times, I am thankful for the stability of being an adult. And after reading this book, it reminded me that a great deal of that stability is dependant upon my faith, which becomes more and more unshakable every day.

*If I lived within a few hours driving distance from this store, I would have no retirement. It would instead be invested in books with broken spines and receipts used as bookmarks.

**I can’t recall reading even one Babysitter Club book. Does that make me any less of a child from the 80s?

***I know, I’m totally Mormon with my FHE and Primary background. It’s fabulous.

Mutant Message Down Under

I don’t mind lending books to people, but I do expect them to be returned. A friend from work once lost one of my books and was a gentleman when he bought me a new copy to replace it. (Thanks, Ross.) My mom couldn’t remember when I lent her the book, Mutant Message Down Under, to read when she went with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on their tour. I was sure it was a great book and she would love reading it. But the book disappeared and she didn’t remember me handing it to her, even though I could tell her which room we were standing in. One day, at least a year later, the book suddenly appeared on the couch in her bedroom. As much as I wanted her to read the book, I decided to take it back. It is now on MY bookshelf again.

Bella told me about this book while we were waiting in port to board our cruise ship. I had brought one book with me (America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It) and a day and a half into our 5-day cruise, I had finished it. I asked Bella about her book and she lent it to me. She gave me a brief background, something along the lines of, “The author self-published it and was eventually forced to publish it as fiction because she couldn’t PROVE that it had happened.” After a little internet searching today, I found that Bella was somewhat correct. Marlo Morgan sold 370,000 copies with her self-published book. When she published it with HarperCollins, she called it a work of fiction to protect the identities of her Aboriginal guides and conceal the sacred locations she had traveled to.

Morgan’s spiritual journey has created a lot of controversy because of her choice to not prove the authenticity of her story and still insist that it was factual. Some have assumed this has been a PR stunt, others agree with her claim to protect the anonymity of others. Although I am still fairly skeptical, I tend to lean towards the later because of my Mormon faith–some of her claims can only be explained, in my opinion, through some of the religious doctrine I have studied. But even if you read the book as a work of fiction, it provides a mythical adventure that gets the reader to think about the priorities and the direction of our western culture.

Due to the controversial nature of this book, their are ample reviews out there that cover both sides of the argument. (Here’s a good one.) Because of that, I won’t go into it, but instead, suggest the book as an interesting read. It’s a good book if you liked The Alchemist, Wherever You Go There You Are, and The Four Agreements. And I liked it because I could take my religious beliefs and apply them to interpreting the messages within the text.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Since I mentioned this book last week, I thought I would review it. It is MY blog after all, so I do what I please. Is nice.

The first time that I read, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was my senior year of high school when the boy that I liked lent me his copy. As he gave it to me, he told me that it would be a little slow to start, but then I would get used to the ebonics and really enjoy it. I better enjoy it, I thought, to make him happy because if I didn’t, I knew I wouldn’t be able to pretend. Even though I told myself (and teachers, vice principals, students, etc) that I didn’t like English in high school, that didn’t stop me from reading lots and for sure being the only kid that REALLY appreciated my mom’s library in the back of the boys’ room.

D-Dawg was right; it was a little slow to start reading this book, but before long, I did get used to the writing and finished within a few days. And I didn’t have to pretend; I really did enjoy it and would even go so far as to say that I loved it. Why?

First, because the protagonist is a woman who has to battle for independence from a strong-willed grandmother and domineering husband. Second, because I mostly fell in love with Tea Cake. At first, I couldn’t accept him for his name, but before too long, his respect, sweet-talking and extempore won me over.

Published in 1937, Zora Neale Hurston wrote an early feminist novel of black literature. (Can you believe that a boy suggested that I read it? He was a good boy, too.) Set in Florida, it’s the story of Janie, raised by her grandmother, married to the man who grandmother chose for her, Logan. After Nanny dies and Logan’s affections for his very young wife disappear, Janie runs away with Joe Starks, a well-dressed, whistling man walking down the road. Her new, younger husband (only 17-years older) spoils her and talks about the colored town they are moving to. Joe’s energy and confidence builds up their new town and Janie becomes Mrs. Mayor Starks, who has to put up with censors from her husband, run the store without knowing much math, and keeps her hair hidden under a head rag.

Without giving away too much more of the plot, eventually, Tea Cake comes into Janie’s picture and brings back a free-wheeling sense of fun.

When the book was first published, people were buying Gone With the Wind and Absalom, Abasalom!, not books about black women’s rights. Most black males were angered when they encountered the violence of Joe Starks and Tea Cake. Hurston’s heroine was admirable and a survivor who deserved a better black male role model. It also lacked any political message; not one character in the novel was interested in segregation, the horrors of lynching or voting rights. It wasn’t until Alice Walker reintroduced Hurston to the literary world in 1973 that the book received a positive reception. Now it is recognized as the story of choices, love, spousal abuse and story-telling.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

My friend, Carolyn, referred me to a book about books, which I picked up from the library the other day. It’s called, You’ve Got to Read This Book; 55 People Tell the Story of the Book That Changed Their Life. So far, I’ve only scanned through and was rather surprised that I hardly knew ANY of the books these people named.

Unbelievable, I know. And you thought all I did with my free time was read books. This book did get me to thinking about some of the books that have had an impact on my life. Of course, for me, there are the religious books like The Book of Mormon and His Holy Name. But there are also the not-so-religious books that left me with a resonating feeling such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Their Eyes Were Watching God, How Green Was My Valley, and An Unquiet Mind. Since I don’t think many people know about the last book I named, I’m going to review it here and explain a little bit about the impact reading it had on me.

Kay Redfield Jamison is a psychiatrist. She has studied mental illnesses, worked with those suffering from them, and associated with other psychiatrists. She has also suffered, herself, from manic depression (bipolar disorder). This is her autobiography of her disease.

I picked this up when I was wandering through the mall in Chambersburg, PA, and, of course, was pulled without realizing it straight to the bookstore, Walden Books. I wish I could remember how, exactly, I found this book, but I did and after reading a bit of the description and some of the first chapter, I bought it. I then read it in two days instead of working (door-to-door sales) or sleeping. I had to read this one slow because I wanted to remember it (and if I speed read, I only remember long enough to write an essay or take a test on it).

I wrote one of the passages down in my journal because the experience talked to me about a friendship that was in effect 24/7 and reached out to her when she refused to reach out to anyone:

Sometimes, after I had told him that I simply had to be alone, he would call me later, at one or two o’clock in the morning, to see how I was doing. He could tell from my voice what state I was in, and, despite my pleas to be left alone, he would insist on coming over. Often this was in the guise of “I can’t sleep. You wouldn’t refuse to keep a friend company, would you?” Knowing full well that he was only calling to check up on me, I would say, “Yes, trust me. I can refuse. Leave me alone. I’m in a foul mood.” He would call back in a few minutes and say, “Please, please, pretty please. I really need the company. We can go somewhere and get some ice cream.” So we would get together at some ungodly hour, I would be secretly and inexpressibly grateful, and he somehow would have finessed it so that I didn’t feel like I was too huge a burden to him. It was a rare gift of friendship.

Have you ever had days where you are sure that you’re crazy? Or maybe you’ve been down and wondered what was wrong with you? You’re riding an emotional rollercoaster and don’t think anyone can relate? Reading this book, for me, helped me to realize that we’re ALL crazy. Seriously.

If a successful psychiatrist, who writes so poignantly, can suffer with a debilitating disease and still love, still find a way to succeed, still keep at it, then it’s okay for us to have days where we struggle. For me, I just haven’t quite mastered the mind-over-mattress skill in the mornings.

I’ve reread this book three times now. Something continues to draw me back to it. I think it may be in part because of her writing, and also because I find hope in reading the stories of someone who struggled, but now has the perspective to see how bright the light can be in contrast to the dark she’s been in. It’s more than just a story of struggling with moods; Jamison offers a study in human character.

I like it.

Breaking Dawn

So this would be my last post where I make a shout out to somebody who took my quiz so what did I do? I posted a comment on Cousin Adam’s Facebook wall, asking him what three of his favorite books were. No, no, don’t worry, my cousin didn’t ACTUALLY say that Breaking Dawn was his favorite. He said, “Uhhh…encyclopedia, dictionary, thesaurus.” Nice. I chose not to write a review about one of those (do people still read encyclopedias?), but we can talk about the last book that I read: Breaking Dawn.

If you’re planning on reading this book, you might not want to read my review. You can’t really talk much about the plot without giving away the “big” surprise. SO STOP READING NOW so you can’t complain to me about ruining it for you.

The hardest part about this book was trying not to cringe everytime somebody hissed, cringed, etc. How come Stephanie Meyer’s editor didn’t make her use different descriptions after one chapter already included enough hissing for any decent cat fight? Before long, I started imagining all of the vampires spitting, due to the excessive hissing.

It sure seemed like a lot of pages just to tell us about some giddy, human girl marrying a vampire and then creating a human/vampire hybrid baby with her statuesque husband. But get this… Meyer even tried to suggest what the DNA makeup of this hybrid would be. Seriously?

I will say, though, that it was an easy read and fairly interesting plot, even if I could guess what would happen next a few pages prior. Anybody else, though, think that the Twilight series books were all a bit downhill after Meyer’s first book? Maybe it was my mistake for comparing her with other great young adult authors (think J. K. Rowling, C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Louise Plummer, etc). Think they’ll change the screenplay much if they continue making movies based on the books?