Books: The Lawgiver

July 18, 2013

I had heard of Herman Wouk but never read any of his books. When I saw his latest book, The Lawgiver, in the library, I couldn’t even think of the title of any of those books of his I hadn’t read. But the name meant something, and I decided this looked like a good book to read to see if I wanted to read more.

I saw from the cover that Wouk had always wanted to write a novel about Moses, and he had finally found a way to do so by writing about the making of a movie about Moses. I enjoy reading novels about Biblical characters, so that was another reason to read it. And it’s short – even without knowing any of his books I remembered that they were long.

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Writing as an essential academic skill

September 30, 2012

Someone on Facebook drew my attention to this article in the The Atlantic about a low-performing school that was turned around by a focus on analytic writing. That’s not an approach that educational reformers usually take, but I hope many schools learn from the example of New Dorp.

The article explains how, decades ago, educators adopted an approach to teaching writing that really didn’t teach them how to write. The idea was that if they were given interesting writing assignments, they would pick up the skills they needed. Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t work very well.

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Job and identity

July 13, 2012

I don’t think of myself primarily as what I do at work. At least I didn’t think I did. If asked how I think of who/what I am, I think about being a mother, a pastor’s wife, and a child of God. Even if someone asks specifically about my job, it’s hard to sum it up in a few words because what I do right now is help in several different areas – areas that will have to manage without my help once my position is eliminated in about a month.

So I was surprised, recently, to realize how much it bothers me to be losing this rather ill-defined set of responsibilities. It’s not just the financial impact and the difficulty of finding another job in this uncertain economy – though it is discouraging not to get responses regarding any of the few jobs I’ve found to apply for. (I did finally get one “you do not meet the requirements of the position” form letter from the corporation I currently work for, regarding a position in another department.)

Suddenly there is a lack of a sense of purpose to what I am doing at work. I no longer feel part of a team that I am trying to help succeed. The co-workers to whom I have mentioned this assure me I am still part of the team and they appreciate the work I do, but the sense of being “in this together” is gone for me. I feel like a temporary employee, someone who is working here for the time being but has no future here.

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Books: The Last Dragons Chronicles

September 3, 2011

I’ve just finished the third book in Chris d’Lacey’s six-book series. Since my son Al is reading them also (he introduced me to them), I plan to continue reading them. But I have to admit some disappointment with the way the series has changed from the first book to the third.

The Fire Within was delightful. The idea was original (Liz Pennykettle crafts clay dragons for sale, but it seems that they are more than just clay figurines), and the characters really came to life through d’Lacey’s writing. He didn’t just tell about them or how they felt, he used dialog and action to show just what they were like.

There’s David, the college student who knows there’s something strange in the Pennykettle household, but isn’t about to believe that the dragons are real. There’s Lucy, 11 years old and impetuous, endearing, passionate (especially about the backyard squirrels), and sometimes petulant. Then there’s Liz, Lucy’s mother and David’s landlady, trying to keep the truth about the dragons hidden from David until he is ready to accept it.

The dragons are also enchanting, each with its own personality. Liz makes a dragon for David, which he names Gadzooks. It is a special writing dragon, and it gives him inspiration for a story he writes for Lucy’s birthday, by sometimes writing a word on the writing pad it carries (David sees these words when he imagines Gadzooks writing them).

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A fantastic writer

August 24, 2011

fan·tas·tic [fan-tas-tik]
1. conceived or appearing as if conceived by an unrestrained imagination
2. extravagantly fanciful; marvelous
3. incredibly great or extreme

Unless you’ve studied Spanish, chances are that you haven’t read much, if anything, by Jorge Luis Borges. I’m sure his works are available in English translations, but I don’t recall seeing any when I’ve browsed in bookstores (where I do remember seeing translations of books by other Latin American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa).

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything by Borges, but for a few years he was my favorite author. I first read something by him when I had been studying Spanish for less than a year (but at an accelerated rate, equal to at least two years of college Spanish) and I didn’t understand everything, but I was hooked. I read everything by him I could get my hands on.

Then a few years later, after my miserable experiences as a Spanish teacher, I boxed up most of my Spanish books and had little desire to read even my favorites. I thought I’d eventually get back to them, but I never did. I got married and started reading some of my husband’s favorite books, most science fiction/fantasy. I had kids and spent time reading parenting magazines and children’s books. My husband went to seminary and I was thrilled to have a large range of theology books available to me (both his textbooks and in the seminary library).

I hadn’t thought about Borges in a very long time, until I went to Google this morning and discovered their Doodle celebrating what would have been Borges’ 112th birthday. Between nostalgia for the delight I had found in reading his works, and curiosity what people know and think about him, I checked out some links regarding the man and his work.

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Enjoying ComPost

July 20, 2011

The Washington Post isn’t one of the newspapers I normally read online (mostly I stick to the Muscatine Journal and the Wall Street Journal), but I think I’ll be visiting their site more often in the future. Not for the news – though I might read that too – but to read ComPost by Alexandra Petri, who “puts the ‘pun’ in punditry” according to the blog heading.

I found it to begin with by clicking on Google’s Doodle today, honoring Gregor Mendel’s 189th birthday. I had nothing in particular in mind to blog about this evening, and figured that something worthy of a Google Doodle probably also merited a blog post. But I was pretty sure I remembered having done that a previous July 20.

(Oddly enough, it turns out that I wrote that post July 22, 2008, based on what I found at infoplease.com. I checked tonight, and infoplease.com still shows that Gregor Mendel’s birthday is July 22. From wikipedia, I found out that his birthday is July 20; July 22 is often cited, but it is the date of his baptism, not his birth.)

Anyway, the first hit I saw was “Gregor Mendel’s naughty peas and our GM future.” I had no idea what could have been naughty about Mendel’s peas but I decided to find out. I was hooked with the first line: “It started off innocuously, in a garden. These things often do.” I admit I had to stop and think a moment to understand the allusion. Then I smiled, knowing I was going to enjoy reading the rest of the post. And I did.

I can’t say I enjoyed all Petri’s posts as much as the first one I read. Part of it, I suppose, is that they tend to deal with topics at the forefront of many people’s attention, but that I have little or no knowledge of. I had seen headlines about phone hacking recently, but hadn’t read any articles. I heard other people’s opinions about Casey Anthony, but chose not to learn details of the case. I’m not sure I had even heard of Charlie Sheen. (Is he an actor? A musician? A politician?)

But “Save the Oxford Comma! A Grammar Nazi’s Plea” is definitely worth reading. I didn’t even know what an Oxford comma was, at least not by name. But grammar is something I know and appreciate, unlike news about celebrities. Plus it’s just plain well-written. How often do you see punctuation compared to endangered species? Or the economy?

Good writing is probably an endangered species also. But I’m glad to find some of it at ComPost.


Summarizing what matters most

July 8, 2011

Reading the First Things website lately has got me thinking – which I’m sure is what the writers there hope for. There are always thought-provoking articles and links, such as this article on the meaning of marriage, this column on why it should matter to use what pleasures other people seek, and the link to this discussion on whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Most of the time, though, I don’t think much more about the article once I’ve read it. It occupies space somewhere in my brain, helping shape my views in at least some small way, and if the subject comes up I may actually remember where I read something about it recently. But I don’t find it constantly coming back to my mind the way a couple of articles have this week.

Wednesday there was Joe Carter’s article on being an influence-seeker. While I don’t generally think of myself as an influence-seeker, perhaps I should be. Carter’s intended audience is “Christians who have a message they want to communicate but limited opportunities to do so.” When I started my blog, I had hoped to generate thoughtful discussion on important and interesting topics.

With a few exceptions, if I have generated any discussion it happens somewhere else. I write about things that interest me, and apparently interest the few dozen people who visit here on a typical day (how much they read once they get here I have no idea). But what I write about follows no particular plan – just whatever I’ve been reading or thinking about.

Carter suggests writing about the great themes that God has set before you. He identifies his own as “restoration of the family as the basic unit of society and the recognition of the intrinsic dignity of all members of the human family.” I’m sure that somewhere among my musings about words and books and history I have something important I want to communicate, but it will take some more thinking to be able to state it in a few words.

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Books: In Fact

May 14, 2011

Apparently I’ve been reading creative nonfiction for years, but never came across the term until a few weeks ago. After I finished reading Moby Duck, I had enjoyed it so much that I looked up author Donovan Hohn in the library’s catalog system to see what else I could find by him.

What I found was The Best of Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 2, edited by Lee Gutkind, which includes the essay “Moby-Duck” by Hohn. I don’t know if he wrote the essay first then lengthened it into a book or the other way around. In any case, I wasn’t looking to read the same material again.

I was intrigued, however, by the idea that I could read an anthology containing a variety of nonfiction writing that was as readable as Hohn’s. (Opinions vary on how good his writing is, but it definitely appeals to me.) Rather than read Volume 2, however, I decided I’d start with Gutkind’s first creative nonfiction anthology, published under the title In Fact.

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Reading science for the fun of it

April 10, 2011

I like reading about science. For months now I’ve been checking in at futurity.org every few days to see if they have any new and interesting articles. Some days there are new ones, but few really catch my interest. The biggest thing I’ve learned from reading articles there is how narrow the scope is of much scientific research.

In order to show that A causes B, you have to limit the effects of C, D, E, F, and G, or at least control for them in analyzing your data. That means that you are often studying a very small part of a very big picture. Put together all the scientific research being done around the world, and it starts adding up, which is why we see such incredible advances in certain fields. But the results of any individual research project can seem pretty underwhelming.

Today I came across Science 2.0, which covers a wide variety of scientific fields, and has contributors who are good at writing, not just at science. They may not have news quite as up-to-date as futurity.org, but the articles are a whole lot more interesting. (Obviously that’s just my opinion, but then this is my blog – who else’s opinion would you expect it to be?)

I happened to encounter Science 2.0 by way of The Daytime Astronomer, written by Alex “Sandy” Antunes. The particular article which I stumbled on (thanks to Thirty Three Things, a regular feature at the First Thoughts blog) was Which Science Kills More People? OK, so it’s not exactly a serious study of mortality rates, but I was glad to see that, despite the title, it was not an anti-science screed blaming chemicals for everything that’s wrong with modern life. (You do realize, don’t you, that you can die from an excess of dihydrogen monoxide?)

Most of the articles I read, in my brief excursion at Science 2.0 this evening, are more serious in nature, but they are also well-written and therefore enjoyable to read. I look forward to reading more of them, either when I have time to spare, or when I need a good topic for my own blog post.


Worth waiting for

April 7, 2011

Back during the first year of this blog (2008), Karen O commented one time that she didn’t know how I came up with something new and interesting every day. I’m not sure how I did either, though of course the fact that it was the first year meant that I could use ideas then that wouldn’t be new if I used them now. Lately I haven’t had very many ideas.

And that’s what Plinky Prompts are for. I’ve been subscribing to their weekly email for quite some time now, but have never seen a prompt I really wanted to blog about. I’ve never seen a point in writing a blog post just for the sake of doing it. I write what interests me but I also hope it will interest you; if it doesn’t interest me it seems unlikely it will interest you. (Even if the topic were of interest to you, a different blog written by someone who shared that interest would make for better reading.)

But I do fancy myself a writer, and I’ve always read that writers need to write daily to be good. (Of course, there are so many things that I should do daily – exercise, prayer, Bible study, dishes, laundry, quality time with my husband, quality time with my son, not to mention going to work. The reality is that I don’t do a single one of those every single day.) So this evening I decided to use today’s Plinky Prompt and see where it takes me.

Name three things that are worth waiting in long lines for.

Hmm, that’s tough because I haven’t had to wait in lines much since moving to the rural Midwest. When I worked as a bank teller in Roscommon, MI, it amused me that my co-workers would become concerned if there were more than three people in line. (Not that I let my amusement get in the way of serving customers as efficiently as possible.) Back in Trenton, NJ, I was glad if the line at the bank was short enough that the end of the line was still inside the building.

I could tell you things that are not worth waiting in long lines for.

  • the latest popular toy (Remember Transformers? Pound Puppies? I worked at Toys ‘R Us the year those were in short supply at Christmas, and it was crazy trying to keep them on the shelves.)
  • a popular movie the first weekend it is in the theaters (If it’s a good movie, it will be just as good a couple of weeks later.)
  • a celebrity’s autograph

I remember waiting in long lines at amusement parks, back when I lived in the PA/NJ area, and I wouldn’t do that again. Of course, these days I wouldn’t want to go on any of the popular rides, because I get nauseous much more easily than I used to. And the kind of rides that I could go on without feeling sick generally don’t have long lines.

But as to things that are worth waiting for…

1. A really good deal, only available for a short time, on something I especially want to get.
I don’t do much Black Friday shopping, but I did wait in line this past November 26, at about 1 AM, to get a very low price on a special edition Wii that came not only with a special edition Mario game, but also a $50 gift card. Not that the line was all that long – there were less than ten people in front of me once I finally found the right line, but every one of them had some problem that slowed things down. What I found remarkable, considering things I had read about Black Friday shopping, was that everyone seemed to be in a good mood, patient, and friendly with fellow shoppers.

2. School and Scout activities.
I would not have waited in line to get the book my son wanted from the Scholastic Book Fair a few weeks ago, if it had been anywhere other than his school. If the line moved that slowly in a bookstore, I’d find somewhere else to buy the book – such as online. But I appreciate all that his school has done for him, and I support any school activities he wants to go to (as long as our schedule allows). Besides, he and the girl behind us spent the whole time we were waiting (must have been at least fifteen minutes) chatting and playing with the Googley Eyes pens they were buying.
I went with him to Webelos camp last summer, and spent quite a while waiting in lines with him there too. Waiting to get into the dining hall for meals, waiting for activities to start, waiting  to get in to the swimming pool… Not only is Scouts important to be involved in, and therefore worth waiting for, but if I can wait patiently, I hope that he will learn some patience also. (Still, I don’t mind not having to go with him to Boy Scout camp this coming summer.)

3. Lines at the airport.
I may not like waiting in line at the airport, but if there’s someplace I want – or need – to go that requires air travel, then I know I’m going to wait in some lines. The last two plane trips I took were for the memorial service for my mother (which also gave me the opportunity to see some good friends I hadn’t seen in quite a while), and to do some contract programming work at the company I used to work for in Michigan. Both trips were important to me, and both gave me the chance to spend time with good friends. The lines I had to wait in – getting checked in, getting screened by TSA, getting on the plane, then getting off the plane – were well worth it. Besides, I know enough to take along books to read while I wait.

What would you wait in line for?


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