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 I checked tonight, and 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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