December 06, 2012

A Blessed Feast

Happy feast of St. Nicholas!  I hope your Christmas preparations are going well, and that the festive spirit is beginning to glow within you as we enjoy the Advent season.

Photo by Christophe Finot

December 05, 2012

Counting Down...

Dear Readers, in case I have not yet made you aware of this, I am now scheduled for exploratory surgery on January 3rd, by means of which my doctors hope to finally identify--and correct--the source of my medical woes throughout 2012.  Now, not only is there a countdown to Christmas quietly ticking in my head, but there is a much more insistent date staring at me, always standing in large, bold print in my mind's eye.  I am really just a big kid, and never outgrew the wonder and thrill of Christmas, so I'm doing my best not to obsess about things, indeed not to think about the surgery any more than absolutely necessary until I've enjoyed far more Christmas goodies than I should have, had the fun of opening my presents, and delighted in watching my family open the presents I chose for them.  Hence, the appearance of things like coloring and candy corn keeps hovering in the background...

tick, tock...tick, tock...

Photo by Wolfgang Glock

December 04, 2012

Coloring and Candy Corn

...because sometimes, they're the only things standing between you and sheer lunacy.

December 03, 2012

Mom Goes Crazy Part 1

That awesome yet terrifying moment when you discover that not only has your beautiful little SuperToddler learned to play her games that you bought for her from the App store on your iPod, but she has also learned how to save her "artwork" from those games on your camera roll!

The "Chica" character, and the game with which my daughter created this mess
on my iPod, belongs to Sprout, a special preschool-only channel from PBS.
I intend no copyright infringement; this is just "Exhibit A."

Need I say more about the slow, slippery slope downward into motherhood insanity?

December 02, 2012

For the Sake of NaBloPoMo

Here's a visual representation of today:

Background Noise--

Now in the oven--

Happy to have the house to myself for a few more hours--

Happy when the rest of the crew gets home later--

Clearly, it's been a while since THIS was taken. ;)

Hope you had a great weekend, too.

December 01, 2012


For reasons that elude even me, I stumbled upon a post from BlogHer about their December theme for NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month, which actually happens EVERY month with a different theme), and decided I would participate for the first time in over a year.  It was the word "Work" that caught my attention.  I'm a stay-at-home Mom, a book blogger, a fledgling writer.  Currently, I'm also dealing with an "invisible illness," and indeed am actually still waiting for a definite diagnosis.  I don't work outside the home; I haven't had an actual paying job in over six years, and couldn't have if I'd wanted to, as I also suffer from PTSD, anxiety, and depression issues.  Sometimes I feel like I'm a weak individual whose defects have left her leading a small life.

But when I think about the fact that over 100 people now follow my blog on some form of social media, leave me comments and interact with me and tell me in many small ways that they connect with what I have to say...

When I remember that I'm the Mommy of a beautiful 3-year-old girl, who loves me with a beautiful, unconditional love, trusts me because she knows she can depend on me, that I wasn't supposed to ever be able to have children, and yet through the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary and the grace of Her Son, Jesus Christ, I have my miracle baby, that I competently care for her needs each day...

Photo by Kolossos

When I remember that I currently have several writing projects whirling in my head, and that I do occasionally sit down and capture a chapter here, a chapter there, when the muse will no longer let me hide, that I'm making progress with them, though slow it may be...

When I think of all the hell in my health and my emotional health and the complex life issues that I've endured that got me to this point...

I realize that I do work. That I have worked hard in the past, and have every intention of continuing to work that hard for the foreseeable future, because this is my life, and it does take work, like everyone's life takes work. But I am not weak, because "Christ's strength is made perfect in my weakness," and human beings who are truly defective don't exist.  Every one of us is valuable, of intrinsic human worth, and we have the right to be proud of the work we do.  Living is hard work, and not possible for the faint of heart.  We are all busy working, and we are all pillars of strength, each in our own way.

November 18, 2012

The Missing Review

People!  You will never believe the enormous oversight I have just discovered in my own reviewing history.  Fellow book bloggers, have you ever gotten so absorbed in the routine of reading and reviewing that you somehow forgot to ever write a review for one of the books that left the greatest impression on you of the whole year?!  Somehow, I managed to never review The Hunger Games!  Because I was taking part in The Hunger Games Read-Along at the time and had to post my review of a specific chapter, I seem to have somehow overlooked my usual habit of posting a full review for the book. Considering how much screen space I dedicated to it, however, I think we can consider my view of The Hunger Games well and truly explored--I found it fascinating and thought-provoking, and gave it 4.5 stars.  Having now corrected that mistake, let us dip once again into my Review Backlog Files.

April 10, 2012

Catching Fire
by Suzanne Collins

After seeing the recently released film of the first Hunger Games book, I was even more determined to read the rest of the trilogy ASAP (even though I'm sure I've got a few years to wait before THOSE movies are released).  I scarfed both of them down very quickly, staying up to unholy hours with each because I couldn't put either of them down until I finished.

Having now read this second book, I have to agree with the Tweet of one of my fellow book bloggers, which said that this book contains too much rehash of the first book.  After all, we go to another Hunger Games, we see the preliminary work of Cinna and Co. again, watch the Tributes settling into their domiciles again, being dangerously defiant before the Gamemakers again, and undergoing their training again. 

It seemed a bit lame to me at first, too, but I pretty much got over that when I reached the quite literally explosive ending, which was very effective and couldn't have happened at all if Collins hadn't taken us back into the arena.  Oh, the cliffhanger!

November 13, 2012

Reviewing My Way to Joy

Friends, unless I'm just going to lie to you all, I have to say that it's only Tuesday and already I've had a shitty week.  I hope and pray that it can only get better from here, that my doctors will continue to make progress in finally diagnosing my mystery illness, that my daughter will be able to overcome her new and worrisome addiction to playing games on my iPod Touch, and that I will stop feeling a bit like Chicken Little, running about screaming, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"  I'm going to take an important first, optimistic step toward this week looking up, and share another review from my Review Backlog Files, which always makes me feel like I've accomplished something worthwhile.  New posts instantly make me feel a bit more chipper, especially when you lovely people stop by and leave encouraging comments.  It's a beautiful circle of blogging friendship, really. 

*I'd like to teach the world to sing/
In perfect harmony* 

Ahem...sorry...moving on...

April 8, 2012

A Light in the Window
by Jan Karon

[I must warn you that there are SPOILERS in this review, but since the book was published in 1998, it's kind of fair game at this point, don't you think?]

So, the second of the Mitford books, and our sweet, kindly, fusty little vicar is engaged, of all things!  Or at least, by the end of the book he is, but there's an extraordinary amount of hemming and hawing about it before he and his lovely next-door neighbor finally get it sorted out.  In other words, when it comes to romance, Fr. Timothy is a scaredy cat!

Of course, you can hardly blame the man, as he's highly distracted by the machinations of a nauseating female parishioner.  She's recently widowed, and as she was never very fond of the poor blighter who was stuck with her for all those years, she's now determined to drag the poor old vicar into her bed by any means necessary!  Naturally, he would rather eat carpet tacks, and on top of everything else, he also has to find some way to keep her from driving the local diner out of business.  Never a dull moment for the harassed, well-meaning clergyman.

Honestly, these books are about 6 parts Mayberry, USA, 3 parts tent revival, and only one part believable plot, but they're soothing to read.  They're not total escapism--the characters do actually have some problems and heartaches--and though I didn't like this one as much as the first, I can still recommend it to anyone who needs something as cozy as an old bathrobe and fuzzy slippers after a long day in a busy, care-worn world.

November 10, 2012

A Review, or Back to Basics

Photo by Andewa
Yes, dear friends, despite a flood of posts lately about mental health, physical health (and the lack thereof), new favorite British comedies and the wonders of the fountain pen, I do consider myself a book blogger in the sense that I do read books--frequently! Constantly!--and I do review each one I finish, even if it takes me a while to get those reviews posted.  The blog is called "The Beauty of Eclecticism" BECAUSE I have all these varied interests, because I'm more than a "one-trick pony," but it's still nice to get back to basics every now and then and just review something.  Here's another golden oldie from the Review Backlog Files, the collection of hand-written reviews that I'm slowly getting transferred to the blog.  I hope you find it informative.

March 28, 2012

The Third Reich in Power
by Richard J. Evans

So, this is the second installment in Evans' trilogy, chronicling the Nazi movement from its antecedents to the unmitigated human tragedy it left in its wake before it was finally defeated.  The horrific saga of human depravity continues in this volume, as the author takes us inside the daily lives of Germans ruled by a newly triumphant Nazi party.

In reading about the Nazis' program and how it developed in The Coming of the Third Reich, I greatly appreciated the fact that, unlike so many historians these days, Richard Evans attempted to tell a single, unified story, presented in as chronological a fashion as possible.  Historical surveys tend to be heavily compartmentalized by subtopic--economic trends, cultural developments, social mores and so forth--and are only arranged chronologically within each of these categories.  It's a format that frankly annoys me, even though I can understand why it is useful or in some cases even necessary.  I so enjoyed the fact that the first volume of this trilogy was NOT arranged in that way.  Unfortunately, this one is arranged in precisely that fashion.

Still, I found that to be the book's only major detracting feature, and as I said, I can understand why Evans felt the subject would be too unwieldy otherwise.  This book is very thorough, and though it would no doubt be boring to those who really dislike non-fiction or have no interest in reading histories, I was absolutely spellbound by it.  Art, literature, films, music--virtually every aspect of human life, the Nazis attempted to control as much as they possibly could, even sex.  This book only covers the period between Hitler's rise to chancellor of Germany and the moment he began annexing other territories, so it really doesn't touch upon the Nazis' treatment of non-Germans, though it certainly covers the early development of their anti-Jewish policies.  The subtlety, the insidious and deceptive--even, at times, self-deceptive--nature of Nazi propaganda was breath-takingly terrifying, something I didn't fully understand until I read this book.  As in the first volume, the subject matter Evans has chosen to cover is chilling, but his handling of it is brilliant.

November 09, 2012

A Quick Look at My Current Report Card

Greetings, loyal supporters and wonderful cheering section!

As the more observant of you may already have noticed, there is a new element in the left sidebar of this blog, my "WIP (Work in Progress) Report."  It's just a little text box, nothing too fancy, but now that I have confessed that I'm in the midst of writing a novel, I decided I would keep you updated on my progress.  Through all of your encouraging words and even the occasional, "Stop obsessing and just write, already!", I managed to commit chapter 3 to the page last night.  I'm not feeling as confident about how it turned out as I was about the first two chapters, but that's what editing and re-writes are for, right?  At least I sat down and actually wrote, which for me is always the really difficult battle.

So, just wanted to let you know that you can follow my progress through the novel, as I will be updating the progress tracker whenever there's actually some to report!  All votes of confidence will be gratefully accepted, as I have a serious confidence deficiency disorder some days.  Here's wishing you brilliant success with all your WIPs!

November 07, 2012

Introducing The Insecure Writers' Support Group

Dear Readers, many of you who have been following The Beauty of Eclecticism for any length of time know that I am an aspiring writer--isn't virtually every book blogger you've ever heard of? However, I haven't mentioned any writing attempts or projects here for quite some time, partly because my life kind of went into the crapper for several months due to health issues, and I haven't felt like writing.  But that's not really how writing works; writers don't control the situation.  Writing does.  This mythical, ethereal power that takes hold of my brain any time I hear something that makes me think, "Ooo! THAT would make an interesting plot!", doesn't care if I'm sick, healthy, sleepy, perky--nothing changes the compelling drive to write.

And so, I will confess that I am, indeed, currently working on a novel.  It is a project that takes me well outside my comfort zone, a way to work through some mental gymnastics that my brain has been performing for some months now, to sort out my views on a controversial topic.  (I prefer not to go into greater detail at present.)  The good news is that I've made it past the dreaded second chapter; I'm sure I'm not the only writer who has stacks of brilliant first chapters lying about my house, that never got their second chapter or any other chapters at all.  The bad news is that I'm now staring down the barrel of chapter 3, and this is where the self-doubts really begin to settle in.  "Why am I bothering? Do I honestly think someone other than me will ever want to read this? I don't even have a literary agent yet; how am I ever going to work up the courage to start approaching them? How I dread the long, hard slog of finding one that is a good fit, IF I ever do!"  A whole spate of really unhelpful thought processes like that come along, and then here I sit, procrastinating about writing chapter 3 because it feels like it will be an exhausting and perhaps pointless exercise.  I even know what I want it to say!  But the act of transferring it from my brain, through my finger tips, to the computer screen as text just feels so daunting.

Am I speaking anybody else's language?  I can't possibly be the only wannabe writer who gets trapped in this death-spiral of unproductivity.  The only answer I've found is:

  1. Wait until the SuperToddler is in bed for the night.
  2. Put on music that I know is conducive, rather than distracting.
  3. Start typing, and don't stop until I've said what I need to say.
  4. Give a deep sigh, and make myself NOT start on the next chapter while I'm "on a roll," or I'll only burn myself out.
All of this is why I have decided to start participating in Alex Cavanaugh's "Insecure Writers' Support Group," and this is my first official post as a member.  The very existence of such a weekly group demonstrates very clearly that I'm NOT alone in these problems, and that in itself can sometimes be enough to get me to my Checklist of Challenges.  Wish me luck!  I certainly wish all of you a continuous flow of brilliant words.

November 06, 2012

I'll Confess Mine If You Confess Yours

Fellow readers, I have a dirty little secret to admit to you today, and I wonder how many of you out there suffer from the same...well, addiction.  What is this horrible malady, this shameful weakness of which I speak?  I think the best, most descriptive title I can give it is Luxuriating.  Book Luxuriating, to be exact, and while it's not illegal or anything, it can certainly be hard on both your wallet and your available shelf space.  Yes, folks, I confess that I sometimes buy another copy of a book that I already own, because some other publisher has released their own edition of it with a gorgeous new cover, or additional appendices--what video afficianados call "better special features"--or has restored the original illustrations.  The list of reasons can be never-ending, really.  Let me give you an example of a book that I have not yet begun Luxuriating in, but am considering it very seriously.  (Obviously, if these books are being simultaneously released by multiple publishers, we know we're dealing with classics, books for which the original publishing copyright has expired.)  Exhibit A:

Jane Eyre

Collector's Library Edition
This is the one I currently own.

Everyman's Library Edition
This is the current movie tie-in, as well.

Penguin Hardback Classics Edition
This whole series is so gorgeous,
and very reasonably priced if bought one or two at a time.
My secret ambition is to someday own them all.

Penguin Drop Caps Edition
To further torment me, Penguin is just getting ready to release
the first few volumes of this new, elegant series as well.

You see my predicament?  If you're thinking that it doesn't get much more "First World Problem" than this, you're absolutely right, and it is that very realization that makes this a problem.  It engenders guilt, you see; I mean, I don't really NEED all these different editions of one book, now do I?  What's a bibliomaniac to do?  Honestly, it's a fun problem to have, but I'd still be interested in hearing how all of you handle the issue, if you've come up with some creative solutions to the problem of Book Luxuriating.

November 04, 2012

Seeking Courage

Well, folks, Friday certainly proved to be an eventful end to my week.  I finally had my appointment with the new gynecologist recommended by my family doctor, and all I can say is, thank God that there are still doctors in the world who actually listen to their patients, and believe that those patients have some idea what is going on in their own bodies! My new doctor took me seriously, listened carefully to everything I had to say, and gave me some rather sobering news--we're probably looking at a large, invasive surgery in the near future. Though that is serious news, it is also EXCELLENT news, in my opinion, if we really have finally found the source of my phantom pain and are going to take decisive action to free me of it!

First off, more of the interminable tests.  The doctors all suspect endometriosis at this point; I have to go in and have an ultrasound Tuesday, to see exactly how bad things have gotten and--hopefully--to verify or disprove that theory.  Depending on what the ultrasound reveals, I may have a hysterectomy before the end of November.  A lot going on, a lot to think about and process, and I'm having many different reactions to all of this from moment to moment, as you might well imagine.  I'm more thankful now than ever that God gave Michael and me our little SuperToddler, and that she is flourishing and healthy, for there will be no more children in our future.  Still, we three form a happy little family, and we are truly blessed.

Image by Robert Diedrichs

Turning to less somber news, some exciting things are coming to The Beauty of Eclecticism.  I wanted to give you the health update in this post, and let you know that there may be a brief interruption in posting if I go into the hospital for surgery, and of course, have to spend some time afterwards recuperating.  But the now-famous list for My Re-Education Reading Challenge 2013 is complete, and I'll be posting more information about it shortly.  Also, there will soon be a regular feature involving the art of a dear friend of mine, who has agreed to hold a weekly showing of one of her works here on my blog.  I know--doesn't that just sound impressively high-class?!  We're pretty excited about it, and hope that all of you will enjoy it, as well.  Exciting things await you, so stay tuned!

October 26, 2012

Fountain Pen Day 2012

Oh, loyal readers, I'm so excited right now, I can barely remain conscious!  I just discovered that there is an annual celebration of my beloved favorite writing utensil--that's right, Fountain Pen Day approacheth!  It is apparently held on the first Friday of every November, which means that this year,

Fountain Pen Day is November 2, 2012!
My cup of joy really is overflowing at this point.  As long-time readers of this blog will remember, I dedicated an entire (lengthy) post once, just to rhapsodizing the only dignified way to communicate--the hand-written letter, crafted with a well-balanced, smoothly-flowing fountain pen.  (Feel free to take a moment and [re]-read that post now, Before All Things.  The title is a quote from the Qur'an: "Al-Qalam qabla kull shay" "The Pen was before all things.")

Photo by Michael de Silva

Still, one post hardly puts me in the same die-hard pen-blogger category as some of the people celebrating this event on their blogs.  The headquarters of this wonderful holiday,, explains the event more fully, and has a list of those worthy pen bloggers who are taking part.  Be sure to pop over there and give them some love, too, especially if you're a true pen afficianado, as well.

October 25, 2012

Pathetic Fan Girl Dies Happy

And THIS is why I Tweet, people!  For all time, I now have documentary evidence that Richard Schiff, once "Toby Ziegler" of The West Wing, one of the members of my Crushes Hall of Fame, addressed me personally, even though he doesn't have a clue who I am and couldn't care less!  *gasp, scream, swoon, cue the closing credits*

2012 Reading Challenge Crunch Time

Friends, I don't know about you, but now that the weather is turning crisp and my daughter keeps telling me she wants a pumpkin costume for Hallowe'en, I'm suddenly lifting my head up as if I'd fallen asleep with my head on my desk at work, looking sleepily around me, and noticing that 2012 begins to grow old.  It's nearly November, for heaven's sake, and how far along have YOU gotten in all of your reading challenges?  Yes, it's a bewildering thought, isn't it?  For those 5 of you who have already finished and read 30 more books than you estimated on your Goodreads goal, Hermione would be proud.  For everyone else, you can cheer yourself up by checking out the following list of books that I'm supposed to finished between now and December 31st.  Even better, I have predictably left all the hardest ones until last.  Wish me luck, she said sardonically...

  • The Confessions of St. Augustine of Hippo
  • The Life of St. Columba by St. Adamnan of Iona
  • Ecclesiastical History of the English People by the Venerable Bede
  • History of the Franks by St. Gregory of Tours
  • Beowulf
  • History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth
  • Pastoral Care by Pope St. Gregory the Great
  • The Letters of Abelard and Heloise
  • Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory
  • The Alexiad of Anna Comnena
  • The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan

By Agatha Christie:
  • The Sittaford Mystery
  • The Golden Ball and Other Stories
  • Destination Unknown
  • Ordeal by Innocence

  • Arabella by Georgette Heyer
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

By Debbie Macomber
  • 311 Pelican Court
  • 44 Cranberry Point
  • 50 Harbor Street
  • 6 Rainier Drive
  • 74 Seaside Avenue
  • 8 Sandpiper Way
  • 92 Pacific Boulevard
  • 1022 Evergreen Place
  • 1105 Yakima Street
  • 1225 Christmas Tree Lane

  • King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by H.G. Wells
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
  • The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
  • The Odyssey by Homer
  • Angel Time by Anne Rice
  • The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
  • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
  • Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

So, that's all.  In two months.  Right.  It'll be the coldest day Hell's ever seen if I manage to finish it all in that amount of time.  But, I am still busily reading away on the list, believe it or not, and I mean to get through as much of it as I can.  Also, I've already bumped a couple of the items onto 2013's My Re-Education Challenge (they are written in purple in the list above).  I'll get them next year, if not this.  Of course, it was just the old story, wasn't it?  "The best laid plans"...  When I signed on to read all of this, I wasn't expecting to lose basically an entire year of my life to a mystery illness which we still have yet to diagnose.  The search goes on.  But I think I actually made a respectable showing, considering the actual percentage of 2012 I spent in hospital and emergency rooms!  On to 2013.

October 24, 2012

My Re-Education Reading Challenge

Faithful few readers, I'd like to tell you a little story, and ask you how you all think it should end.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was raised as the daughter of a fundamentalist Southern Indiana Pentecostal preacher, who spent at least as much time in scary little fundamentalist schools as she did in public school--actually, a fair bit more, come to add it up.  She was assigned lots of readings describing an Earth that is only 6,000 years old, "proving" that dinosaurs and human beings once co-existed, and discussing how Noah's Ark is still stranded on a mountain in Turkey, but the mean Turkish government won't let a bunch of Americans climb around all over their mountain and prove it.  Curiously absent from the girl's reading were books written for children throughout the history of the English-speaking world, as well as classics not written for children that are usually assigned in school to teach students to stretch their minds and their critical thinking skills.  Not a single Shakespearean play, narry a mention of modern authors like Kafka or Virginia Woolf, none of the childhood favorites by Frances Hodgson Burnett managed to slip through the net of censorship cast around the girl's plastic young mind.

Some of these gaps were filled in when the young woman finally decided to attend a state-sponsored, liberal arts university.  By the time she finished her BA and three MAs, she'd read more Poe, more "Norton Anthologies," more about Yellow Wallpaper than she ever wanted to, really.  Nevertheless, the now 35-year-old book blogger is still finding books all the time about which her peers say, "Oh, yeah, I read that in high school!"  And in this season when a book blogger's fancy turns to thoughts of next year's reading challenges, this particular blogger is hoping to form a cooperative challenge with the help of her loyal readers.  Are you willing to help me in a "Re-Education Challenge"?

You guys are basically the bosses on this challenge, but I think we should set out a few basic ground rules, just to keep things running well and make sure I live up to the spirit of the thing.  So, here we go:

1.  You don't have to have a blog to challenge me; you just need to visit this blog and leave comments relating to my "Re-Education."

2.  Since this is supposed to be about exposing me to ideas that I should have encountered a long time ago, let's please restrict this to books that any well-educated American should have read before graduating high school.  In other words, if you cannot imagine HOW I've survived this long without reading 50 Shades of Grey, I'm sorry, but you still can't recommend it.  Any teacher who required his or her students to read a book about S&M would get quickly fired, and we all know it.  Still, I think this leaves you with a lot of leeway, anything from standard YA to Dickensian favorites.

3.  If by some miracle I already managed to read the book you suggest somewhere along the way, I won't be adding it to the challenge, because that would basically be me cheating, now wouldn't it?

4.  Limit 5 suggestions per contributor, please.  I'm setting the cut-off at 100 books, as I know I could never get through more than that in 2013.

5.  I reserve the right to reject anything that would simply give me too many nightmares, like Stephen King's It, which I have always known myself too well to ever try to read.  (Surely that wouldn't really fit the qualifications, anyway.)

So, come help out a poor, deprived, recovering fundamentalist and add your suggestions.  The suggestion box is open through December 31, 2012, after which I will gather the titles, weed through duplicates and ones I've already read, and announce the master list in a post.  You're welcome to read along, if you like, and leave us links to your own posts!  Meanwhile, I will update the list periodically, with reviews, as I plow my way through.

"The Coming of the Third Reich"

The next block of reviews from the backlog files represents a reading project that took up most of my spring this year, and captivated my brain the way few things have in quite a while.  It was certainly gruesome reading at times, and a warning from history par excellence, but as so many historians of sheer human lunacy have discovered, it has a terrifying, mezmerizing quality of its own, the account of a mass hysteria something like that which I imagine gripped the noose-wielding citizens of Salem, Massachusetts, who were victims as well, whether they realized it or not.

March 20, 2012

The Coming of the Third Reich
 by Richard J. Evans

This book possesses all the eerie, morbid fascination of a car crash that you can see coming from where you're sitting in your own car across the intersection, and since you know that there's nothing you can do to prevent it, you indulge your curiosity, telling yourself that you're doing so in order to give the police an accurate witness statement when they arrive.  Though you know full well what the outcome will be, you still experience the adrenaline rush and suspense of reading a thriller, or at least, I did.

Since my very first viewing of The Sound of Music at the age of about 10 (before which I'd been completely ignorant of Nazism), I have wondered where on earth this insane movement came from, and exactly what kind of occult powers it was able to exercise that allowed Hitler to surge into power, while the entire world stood by dumbfounded.  I was also curious to learn how Adolf Hitler cooked up his psychotic ideas about the Jews.  This is the book on the subject that I was waiting to read.

How disappointingly mundane the facts of the Nazi rise to power proved to be.  No magic--just Hitler and Goebbels discovering how to herd people's mental processes around like so many unruly cattle.  In early 20th-century Germany, and much of Europe generally, Hitler's antisemitism was unusual only in its level of vitriol.  Basically, the whole world just really was that gullible, and Hitler really was that bitter because no one had ever decided he was a genius and given him a glittering career as an artist.  How pathetic. 

Evans' account of the miserable tale, however, is masterfully written, and I can highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in this time period or just well-crafted histories.  Before you dive in, however, be aware (and the author points this out in the foreword) that this volume covers only the period up to Hitler's election as chancellor of Germany; this is a trilogy, each section of which can stand on its own, in my opinion, if you're only interested in reading about one specific period of Nazi history.  However, I recommend the whole experience, especially if you're fairly new to certain portions of it, as I was.  Chilling, but very eye-opening.

October 11, 2012

A Review of "At Home in Mitford"

Another review from the files for you today, and one that was particularly satisfying when I was finally able to bury it in my Victory Garden.  Why, you may ask, was I so especially thrilled with myself when I actually finished this book?  First of all, it was the first (and thus far only) book I'd read for Book Dragon's Lair's Getting Lost in a Comfortable Book challenge.  But more importantly, this was my FOURTH ATTEMPT to get into and all the way through this book.  I don't know what stopped me the first three times; I'm just pleased that I finally managed it.

March 8, 2012

At Home in Mitford
by Jan Karon

I really LOVED this book.  I sort of have to laugh at myself for loving it, considering that it's a little meandering, that one of the main characters is a little annoying, and that the whole "town that time forgot" theme is MORE than a little improbable.  But I loved it all the same.  It's just so comfy and cozy and wholesome.  Reading it is kind of like spending an evening soaking in a bubble-laden bath, snuggling up in flannels and hand-knitted socks before a lovely fire, and then slipping away to sleep between cool, clean sheets.  In other words, it doesn't get much snugglier than this book.

Fr. Timothy is an Episcopal priest, the rector of Lord's Chapel in the hills of Mitford, North Carolina.  The tiny southern town has its requisite share of odd and quirky "characters," beautiful gardens and small shops.  "Where everybody knows your name" kind of thing.  There's a bit more Evangelicalism in the book than I would prefer, but I still enjoyed the discussions of liturgical Episcopalianism.  Like so many other things in Mitford, a visit to Lord's Chapel is like using a time machine, with its portrait of the Madonna and Child and its regular application of incense.  Really, that's one of the nicest things about the whole experience.

On a personal note, I found Fr. Tim's struggles to adjust to his diagnosis of diabetes heartening, as I'm still battling with that same adjustment myself.  He gave me some hope to keep trying.

October 07, 2012

A Review of "The Casual Vacancy"

The Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling

I finished this book in a mad dash at 4:00 a.m. this morning.  It is now nearly 10:00 p.m., and after giving myself the whole day to process it, I have to sit down and review it while it's still a fresh wound on my mind.  I don't use the word "wound" in an entirely perjorative sense; after all, when a surgeon recently repaired a hernea for me, I was very grateful to have him do so.  However, the large incision he made in the process was certainly a wound nonetheless.  And honestly, I'm still not sure how grateful I am to J.K. Rowling for the experience of The Casual Vacancy, but certainly not as grateful as I was to my surgeon.  Of that I have no doubt whatever.

All of us knew going in that there would be no magic or centaurs or floo powder in this book.  We wished we were wrong about that, but we knew that we weren't, and that all the publicity for this book had pointedly reminded us over and over that this is Rowling's first book solely for ADULTS.  Yet my overriding impression throughout most of the book was that this book was for Rowling what Equus was for Daniel Radcliffe--it was as if she wanted to shock, to prove that she does know stronger swear words than, "Bloody hell!", and is aware that teenagers actually have sex every day all over the world.

The language of this book is extremely crude.  I never met a swear word I didn't love, and I routinely ruffle people's feathers before I remember that not everyone employs the full force of the English language in ordinary, dispassionate conversation.  So, I really wasn't that bothered by the language, but I know many, many people who would never have survived past the first chapter or two.  They would have been desperate to bleach their brains.  The much greater challenge for me was the actual content of the book.  Nearly everything that took place from start to finish was on a scale of negativity ranging from unpleasant to totally horrific.  Until the very end, there's hardly a single character that you can actually like.  It is just an unrelenting onslaught of hateful human thought and behavior and depressing, tragic events.  If the book had been by almost ANY other author, I would've given up in disgust very early on.

Here's why I didn't.  There were several moments in the last three or four Harry Potter books at which I thought, "Oh, my gosh!  She's finally let the whole thing get away from her.  My favorite series is about to jump the frigging shark!!"  She always pulled it off in the end.  After the genuinely epic Harry Potter saga, I had learned to trust J.K. Rowling.  Implicitly.  So I barrelled on through this tale of woe, often thinking to myself, "I am used to your writing always ending with an absolutely life-affirming larger message.  How on EARTH are you going to manage that in these last 100 pages, Jo?!"

I'll be damned if she didn't manage it in the end.  I was absolutely gob-smacked that she pulled it out of the fire, but she did.  I kept thinking that in order to try and put a decent ending on this long, drawn-out tragedy, she'd have to make people change so much and behave so completely out of character that she'd just be blowing sunshine up our asses, and it would be completely unbelievable.  But let us never forget that when all is said and done, the woman can WRITE!  My God, she can write, and she managed it in the end.  I think the only question will be whether that ultimate payoff will be big enough for others who wade through all the misery to get to it.  For me, it was--barely.

October 05, 2012

Best Served Cold

This blog (and its blogger!) supports PBS and all our friends at Sesame Street, both morally and financially!

They helped me learn to read; they taught my daughter her whole alphabet and how to count to 20 by the time she turned 3 years old.  The legacy of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and a host of other dedicated performers is a sacred trust, placed into the loving hands of delighted children for nearly 50 years now.  Even more importantly, PBS grows up with its youngest viewers, continuing to be the only trustworthy news source in this country today.  Mr. Romney, you drew the ire of the powerful Geek Community with your disrespect, and you MESSED WITH THE WRONG BIRD!

However, I appreciate the reminder that I needed to send in my payment for the pledge I made earlier this year, so thanks for that.  Meanwhile, fellow Geeks, book bloggers, concerned Americans, let us make the best response possible to this outrageous attack on our yellow-feathered friend--a MASSIVE donation to PBS!

October 02, 2012

With a Little Help From My Friends, or The Giraffe Thing

As I'm having a flare-up this week--complete with trip to ER last night--there seems no more appropriate time to introduce all of my faithful readers to a dear new friend of mine.  First, however, you'll need a bit of backstory. *special, fade-ish effects on the screen as we step back into my childhood*

When I was a baby, the first toy I ever received was a stuffed giraffe.  Considering that he was made in the 1970's, he was actually quite a realistic looking giraffe, and I loved him dearly.  He remained a good friend and companion long enough for me to name him when I began to speak--I called him Gerri-raffe.  Obviously, I was just trying to say the word "giraffe" and wasn't yet able to accomplish it at 2, but the name stuck, and to this day, I still have my Gerri-raffe.  (Unfortunately, he's in a box packed away right now, and I'm in no condition to fetch him out to take a picture for you, but you know the kind of thing--yellowish, long neck, brown spots, weird fuzzy protrusions on the top of the head.)

Photo by Hans Hillewaert

Flash forward to last week, and the SuperToddler and I were shopping in Barnes and Noble.  Well, I say shopping, but actually, she was busily playing with their model train display while I enjoyed the chance to sit down in a spot where I could keep a direct eye on her while playing Yatzee on my iPod.

All of a sudden, my eye fell upon the most adorable little giraffe I've ever seen (although to be fair, she looks far less like a REAL giraffe than my old friend Gerri-raffe does).  I had noticed the display of My Blue Nose Friends many times, and always thought they were very sweet, but on this day, it just struck me that I needed this little giraffe in my life.  I had a feeling that a flare-up was slowly building, and I thought to myself, "When I'm having to spend the day drugged and wallowed down into my recliner under my blanket, she will make a perfect little comfort animal for me."  And she does.

Don't you just LOVE her little patches?  And it's very fitting that she has one right on her tummy.  It was those patches that really made me decide I had to have a Blue Nose Friend, because they all have them, and naturally, when I discovered there was a giraffe, she was the one I picked.  Like me, she's not all brand-new-shiny-show-room-perfect; she's seen some hard knocks in her life, been patched and repaired (or at least, she was made to look like it), and I thought, "How fitting!  We may not be as young or as healthy as we once were, little giraffe, but we can hang in there together, can't we?"  Her tag says that her name is Twiggy, which I immediately tried to deny because it reminds me of the stick-figure modeling star of the 1960's who went by that name.  Too late!  As soon as I saw it on the tag, the name stuck in my brain as an adorable handle for a sweet little stuffed giraffe, and so she is Twiggy, and ever more shall be.  I periodically have to remind the SuperToddler that the "sweet little giraffe" belongs to Mommy, and may only be played with in very short, careful turns, but other than that, Twiggy has settled very quickly and comfortably into our home.  As I said, she didn't arrive any too soon.
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