Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012... Predictions, Resolutions, and Excitements

Can you believe that today is the last day of 2011? Seriously, I think this is the fastest year I've ever had - I turned around and it was time for thinking about how the year has gone and how I want the next year to go. Looking to next year...

Predictions:
1) Someone will get elected president of the USA and the process will be painful for everyone involved. No one will move to Canada in protest.
2) E-book pricing and royalty battles will come to a head, which will continue to reshape the book industry. I think that the standard rate for e-book prices will ultimately shake out to average around $4.99, but it may take a few more years to get there.
3) The world will not come to an end (though if it does, I'm game - praise the Lord!)

Resolutions:
1) To read 12 more books in '12 than I did in '11... that's 62 books. Yeehaw!
2) To write every day - whether 50 words or 500
3) To think deliberately about my daily actions and how they do or do not honor what I believe and love

Excitements:
1) More books and more writing will be taking over my life and I am excited about that
2) I will be working on different clients at work and challenging myself and I am excited about that
3) There are possibly some location changes looming on the horizon and I am excited about that

All in all, I think that 2011 has been a year of waiting for me. I am hopeful that 2012 will be a year of change and doing, which is something I have been longing for. Change is scary but good and I am thankful that the Lord has been preparing my heart to run towards change rather than running away from it.

I hope everyone had a blessed 2011 and that your 2012 will be interesting and full of things that challenge and sustain you.

What are your 2012 predictions, resolutions, and excitements? Did your 2011 fly by as fast as mine?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Books Like Whoa: Ready Player One by Ernest Kline (2011 Book Countdown)

This is it. The last 2011 countdown book. Tears!




Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline

Procured from Audible.com 

Procured in November 2011

Finished in December 2011 

Format: Audio, with superb narration from that time honored favorite, Wil Wheaton

Summary: The worst has happened: the energy crisis has reached a boiling point and the fall out is a pretty bleak world where even a job at your local fast food joint is a welcomed blessing. To escape from the dystopia, Americans increasingly retreat into the hyper realistic virtual reality world called The Oasis. The Oasis creator kicked it a few years back and his will stipulates that the lucky fellow who figures out the clues planted in the Oasis will inherit the whole shebang... we're talking billions of dollars and control over the main source of entertainment and commerce for the world. Will our plucky high school hero be the one to do it?!

Thoughts: This book is so much about the plot that I don't want to give very much away. One of the strengths of the story is that Cline builds a world that exists plausibly within the parameters that he's set for the dystopian milieu. He also has created the quintessential geek hero: an overweight, ubergamer named Wade Watts, whose main strength is his obsessive knowledge of 80's pop culture and video games.

And have we talked about the 80's references in this thing? Wow. As someone who was born in the 80's but didn't grow up in the decade, this might have left me out in the cold; however, I've watched enough VH1 I Love the 80's so that I was hip to most of the allusions and references. If you get them, this is a delightful smorgasbord of pop culture candy. From movies to TV to video games, there are shout-outs in every other line, layered in like nuggets in chocolate.

I was also impressed that for a book that is essentially about a video game and that as a non-gamer (seriously, a non-gamer... you should see me trying to play Mario Kart... yikes) I was able to enjoy the story and go along with the ride. In terms of plot, this is a mystery and treasure hunt, so it transcends the genre trappings that might put off some readings.

In terms of actual writing, though, this has some pretty rough patches. The dialogue is particularly creaky in some places. Cline is lucky that Wil Wheaton is such a good narrator and is almost able to pull those clunkers off, but even he can't make some exchanges play. Also, when these bad patches pop up, you are pulled out of the story enough to notice how implausible the story really is within the confines of the story (really? this high school kid is the only one who has the right gaming skills and knowledge to find the first clue?).

That aside, this is a highly enjoyable romp that I think most people would get a kick out of. And I highly recommend the audio route - Wil Wheaton is a great narrator and like I said, he makes some of the rougher prose work without too much distraction. 

Rating:

4 - I enjoyed it... a solid offering

What do you think about this kind of dystopian literature? Do you dig or do you hate?

That does it for 2011... see you in 2012, for another great year of books!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

A very, very Merry Christmas to you, dear readers. I hope you have a truly refreshing and joyful day with your friends, family, or yourself.

You know, sometimes I find the Facebook and Twitter postings this time of year a little nauseating - "Suzie Cue is blessed with the very bestest family in the whole wide universe and they are all snuggled next to a perfectly picturesque fireplace with a generous but not overly extravagant pile of expensive and thoughtful presents, gazing into each others' eyes and giggling with the overwhelming sense of familial love and yuletide spirit."As these statuses flood my newsfeed (and I even write one of my own), I can't help but wonder if we're all trying to one-up each other with our holiday spirit, or with how much more we have to be thankful for than everyone else.

That's the cynical part of my brain. And maybe it's a little bit true. But you know what? If it makes all of us take a step back and really see how great our lives are for the most part (especially here in the Western lands of plenty), I'm on board. I know I need a little more of that perspective for the rest of the year.

So I hope you are taking this time to celebrate not only the bounty and blessings of your life, but also the overflowing graciousness of a God who has sought to meet us where we are. I hope that we all take a little bit of the spirit of this season with us through the year.

Merry Christmas!



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On Being So Opinionated...

Oh, how I love returning to the land of okra and mountains! Yes, I have returned to my Tennessee mountain home for Christmas and I am enjoying all of the comforts of my hometown. Familiar restaurants, familiar shops, familiar family, and familiar friends... they are all just comfortable and lovely.

I was at dinner the other night with some of those familiar friends, enjoying some delicious Southern food and some wonderful company. We were chatting about our lives afterwards and my friend Kayla mentioned that she loves to give her friend a topic and tell her to "soapbox" it. "You know," she said, "Like Frankie does." Everyone laughed in agreement. I kind of looked around and laughed. I know that I do have opinions- and that I express them. They gave me some topic and told me to soapbox it, but I didn't have any strong feelings about it.

Then the movie "Anonymous" came up. And my soapbox came out. And we all laughed and shook our heads and agreed that I would never change.

It got me thinking about all the times in my life that expressing my opinion honestly has gotten me in trouble or caused tension in relationships or generally made life unpleasant. Believing your opinion is a fact is a tragic familial trait. It's also something that I've gotten much better about as I've grown up. I have a strong sense of black, white, and gray- I always have. The problem used to be that I would mislabel my grays as blacks or whites. These days, I think I'm much better about placing things in their proper tonal value. (Yes, for those who are wondering, I am a big, fat "J" in Myers-Briggs)

That doesn't change the fact that I still have strong feelings about the grays. Nowadays, people do respect me for being opinionated. They generally like that I know my own mind, which is an upgrade from my earlier days. I can't help but wonder, though, if people would tell me if they had a different opinion. Sometimes they do - but if they don't, is it because they don't have one? Or that they just  don't want to verbalize it? Or that I intimidate them out of verbalizing it? Any of these states are largely foreign to me. I have moments when I don't really have an opinion on something or that I decide to hold my peace to keep the peace. Honestly, though, those moments are few and far between. I don't want to be someone that people feel like they can't talk to, but I also don't know how to be someone who isn't honest about what they think or know to be true. People say that they love that about me, but they also avoid me sometimes, because they know I'm not going to bullshit them.

What is it like to not have opinions on things? What is it like to not express them? I can't imagine a mindset like this. I know they exist. I don't understand it. I wish that I could understand it a bit more, but I just don't. I know that it probably makes me less feminine or desirable or whatever - this I've heard. Maybe it means I should keep my mouth shut and just agree with people. But would I really want to be friends or romantic with someone who I had to watch myself with all the time? Probably not.

I don't know. Should I want to be able to shut my mouth? Probably. I don't really have an ending for this... all I can say is that being opinionated and outspoken is a big part of my personality, one that I don't know how to cover up or minimize. I can and have learned to be more kind with that part of me. It will always be there, though, whether or not I like it, so I guess I need to keep learning how to understand people who have different personalities and how to deal gently with people regardless.

Opinions = fine. Being a jerk = lame sauce. Frankie = constantly learning how to be opinionated without being a jerk.

Have you ever put your foot in your mouth and kind of liked it?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Books Like Whoa: On Agatha

Everyone has their predilections and pet topics. For some, it's politics; others it's model airplanes; and for some unfortunates, it's Kim Kardashian.

I have several pet topics that I periodically obsess about, and one of them is Agatha. Which Agatha, might you ask? Well, considering that there aren't as many famous Agathas as there should be, you probably guessed that this one is Agatha Christie.



My first taste of her literary awesomeness was when I was a wee lass of 14, travelling on a plane to somewhere or other. I devoured Murder on the Orient Express in no time flat - I couldn't believe how she managed to bring all the threads together into an incredibly satisfying (if somewhat incredulous) denouement. I didn't realize that she was the prolific novel making machine I now know her to be, so I didn't try to find another one to read.

Cut to a few years later - I was in Heathrow airport and nearly out of books to read before my return flight. How this happened, I'll never know... it must have been fate to send me into the nearest bookstore. There was a huge display of her books and I realized that there was a whole world to explore! I picked up The Hollow and a couple of others. By the end of the flight, I was completely hooked and jonesing for more. I've read almost all of her mysteries now, with only about 15 left to finish off the canon.

There are many reasons I love reading her, but I'll try to break it down for you:

1) Her characters are perfectly flat. People criticize her for this, but they are failing to see that they need behave according to certain "types" to get the plots off the ground. I don't mean that they aren't believable or that she's lazy - it's simply that her plots revolve around playing with types and her ability to distract you from a character's innate type that makes him or her a killer. The gold-digging husband killer is inherently a gold-digging husband killer, no matter how charming and beautiful she may also be. Christie's plots are based on your ability to determine what type everyone is. If you do this correctly, you will always identify the killer, no matter how much other stuff is going on.  These flat characters are also really well drawn - I compare her to Jane Austen, in that she has that ability to quickly paint a picture of a character so that you know exactly what kind of person they are. Don't we all know a Mr. Collins? Don't we all know a Captain Hastings?

2) Stuff happens. I'm sorry, I do love books where the main show is how beautifully it's written or that it's a piercing insight into a character. But I also need a reason to keep turning the page, and the most powerful way to do that is the burning question, what happens next?! Agatha does that effortlessly and you really want to know what's going to happen.

3) There is a lot of humor and the violence is not graphic. I like what are called "cozy mysteries," and Agatha fits neatly in that category. Basically, I don't want to read an explicit account of a woman being raped and murdered. I don't want to read about bulging veins as someone is being strangled or the dripping blood from a screwdriver in someone's head. That's just my personal preference. There is a lightness of touch and a lack of dwelling on morbid or gruesome details that makes these murder mysteries palatable for me. Besides, how often to do you laugh out loud while reading about a serial murderer?

So for those of you who are intrigued but may not know where to start with her 82 mysteries, may I suggest a few titles?

1) Murder on the Orient Express: This is the one that started it all for me. It's a Poirot mystery, set on the titular Orient Express, and it definitely showcases Christie's mastery of plotting and her ability to build suspense. It's a classic, one of her best known books.
2) And Then There Were None: One of the "standalone" novels that doesn't feature a recurring detective, this is arguably her best and most famous work. Set on a spooky, isolated island with an unknown host, this will satisfy those who love locked-door mysteries (me!) and the creepy nursery rhyme helps her build the tension to the point of breaking in a very satisfying manner.
3) The Thirteen Problems: I love, love Agatha's short stories. They really show case her skills and are just enjoyable little snacks. This particular collection features everyone's favorite spinster sleuth, Miss Marple. Her best full Marple novel, in my opinion, is The Body in the Library, but I think this collection is the best use of Miss Marple.
4) The Mysterious Affair at Styles: I may have to say that this is my favorite of the Poirot novels... it's also the very first one. It's a country house mystery, which is my kryptonite, and it sets up all the hallmarks of her parlor tricks.
5) Crooked House: This is possibly my favorite Agatha Christie mystery. It's a standalone, it's a closed door mystery, and it hinges on the psychology of a wide cast of characters to figure out the twist.
6) The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: A classic much lauded for breaking convention, it's a must read in the Poirot series. It's also one of the few first person narrations in that series that isn't Hastings.
7) The Seven Dials Club: And finally, this is a personal favorite, though I don't know how widely loved it is. It's an example of one of her international thriller type mysteries and it has the spunky Lady Bundle Brent as the intrepid heroine.

How about you- do you have a favorite Agatha Christie? Or maybe your own pet author?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Books Like Whoa: The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier (2011 Book Countdown)

The 2011 bookmania continues...






The Illumination
by Kevin Brockmeier

Procured from The Fountain in Richmond... what a cute bookstore! Jealous of my friend, Maria, for living near such a gem

Procured in July 2011

Finished on September 18, 2011

Format: A lovely, small hardcover, with a beautifully simple cover design and deckled pages (deckled pages = Frankie kryptonite)

Why did I give it a try: I heard rave reviews on the Bookrageous podcast (http://bookrageous.tumblr.com) and the Books on the Nightstand podcast (http://booksonthenightstand.com/). Plus, the bookseller in the Fountain overheard me mention something about the book and promptly placed it in my hand and told me that I absolutely had to read it. Who can say no to a good handsell?


Summary: Hmmm.... okay. I don't want to spoiler this. I'll just say that I would classify this book as a few tightly interconnected novellas that are tied together by a journal that a wife has used to record love notes that her husband writes her daily. Every day he leaves a note on the fridge telling her something that he loves about her. We follow the journal through the hands of a few different POV characters. Oh, and the titular illumination? These stories take place in a world with one slightly fantastical twist: suddenly, one night, everyone around the globe's wounds start to shine. If you have a bruise, a cut, cancer, arthritis, whatever - people can see your pain by the shining from the malady. (theme alert! seeing other people's pain!)

Thoughts: This is the kind of book that I have mixed feelings about, not because it's not wonderful, but because of the emotional toll it takes on me. Modern literary fiction that is set in a modern milieu is something that I love to read, but cannot read too much of because it is always just so sad. The mood is nearly always depressed and contemplative as the characters deal with a world where they are isolated from the community and understanding that they need. An interesting discussion topic at dinner tables... why do nearly all contemporary authors writing "serious" literature see this as the mood of the age? I don't dispute that it is, just an interesting discussion point...

Anyhoo, the writing in this book is mouth-wateringly gorgeous. Mouth-watering, because I covet the ability to craft these kinds of beautiful sentences. This is exemplified in the central MacGuffin of the piece, the journal:

"I love sitting outside on a blanket with you, my bare foot brushing against yours. I love how embarrassing you find your middle name. I love your Free Cell addiction. I love how irritated you get at smily face icons, or, as I know you love to call them, 'emoticons.' I love the way you'll hold a new book up to your face and fan through the pages to inhale the scent. I love wasting an afternoon tossing stones off the pier with you. I love seeing your body turn into a mosaic through the frosted glass of the hotel shower. I love the fact that you know all the lyrics to 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.' I love it when you fall asleep while I'm driving, because it lets me feel like I'm protecting you. I love the way you'll call me in the middle of the day to apologize for the littlest things." -p. 142

I wish that the whole journal would be published as a separate work. I would buy it. And give it as presents to everyone I love. And then sit in a corner and cry with jealousy that I didn't come up with this device.

I feel constrained from giving my full thoughts, simply because I don't want to spoiler anything in the book. It's not that it's a particularly plot driven book - on the contrary, it's rare to see a book with such a fantastical situation that relies so little on that conceit. Rather, this is a book of small character studies, with the characters dealing simultaneously with this overwhelming artifact of love and the inability for them to hide their own pain from others.

I have to say that I find the first 4 novellas much stronger than the last 2 in the book. Also, there are a couple of lazy plot points, but I won't hold them against Mr. Brockmeier too much because as I said, the plot isn't really the main show. The main show is the prose and the amazingly well drawn characters.

Overall, this book left me sad and reflective, in the best possible way. 

Rating:

5 - It's really good: well written and pleasurable

How would you rate The Illumination? 

Two more 2011 books to go! 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Books Like Whoa: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (2011 Book Countdown)

Next up in 2011 Book Countdown... Racism! War! Ignorance! Yippee!




In the Garden of Beasts
by Erik Larson

Procured from Audible.com 

Procured in August 2011

Finished on December 16, 2011 (I left the last hour unfinished for months... I think I forgot that I hadn't finish it... this is, alas, one of the problems I have with audiobooks)

Format: Audio, with some really terrible narration... definitely go the print route on this one

Summary: It's after World War I. The Depression is on. And Germany has a sparky new chancellor, Herr Adolph Hitler. The US, replete with its own antisemitic attitudes, is more concerned with having its loans repaid by German businesses than with calling the new Nazi regime to the carpet for rising persecution of Jews and obvious acts of general aggression. In the midst of this, the new American ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, arrives with his family, including his sexpot daughter, Martha. The book chronicles the gradual awakening of the scholarly, Jeffersonian democrat to the realities of the Nazis' brutality, as well as Martha's romantic and social escapades with high ranking Nazi officers and Communist representatives. 

Thoughts: I think what is shocking to modern American readers is the pervasiveness of hateful attitudes towards Jews, in America and abroad. Throughout the narrative, the Americans dealing with the Nazi assure them that they have found more humane ways of dealing with "the Jewish problem." Um... what?  Evidently, a huge portion of the population in America wished that Jews weren't around, or at least didn't have as many prominent positions in our culture (BTW, 13% of Americans today still think that Jews have too much power... yikes). That was really eye opening, to be confronted with the reality of our own legacy of hatred and indifference to the treatment of others. There seemed to be an unspoken code running through the culture about how Jewish people look and act. In fact, when trying to minimize the fact that all these American tourists where being beaten in the streets of Berlin (yeah, that was going on),  a reporter comments that these Americans probably brought it on themselves by being mistaken for Jews in the way they were acting. A) This implies that there is a Jewish way to act that merits attack and B) implicitly validates attacks against the actually Jewish victims. It was not easy to hear all of this thinly veiled contempt for an entire group of people.


This aside, I'm trying not to just word vomit all the super interesting topics that Larson explores in this book. And they are many: the routine attacks in the streets on foreigners by Nazis, the ambivalence of the Roosevelt administration on how to interact with the new party, the unwillingness of many to see the writing on the wall, the elitism within the American foreign service itself, the sexual taboos of the time, the perception of Communism in the US, and on, and on. Larson tackles all of these topics effortlessly in his narrative, dropping fascinating little nuggets on every page.


He also paints a lovely picture of Mr. Dodd as a Cassandra figure- a tragic hero who was roundly ignored by his superiors as he tried to open their eyes to the growing threat of Hitler. You feel so frustrated as he and his righthand man send frank and alarming reports that are dismissed out of hand by bureaucrats who just care about debt repayment. What comes across strongly is the fatal "wait and see" policy of the rest of the world at a point when the Nazis could have still been stopped. 


This book is one that has to be read, not described. I think it is a truly important work that has hopefully sparked debate on America's historical blind spots to injustice, as well as cause some self reflection on the injustices that we are turning our back on today. Maybe this will become a standard text for high school world history classes - I think it's accessible enough to open up the dialogue on the political machinations of the era.


I would highly recommend this book for just about anybody - great for book clubs, great for dinner table conversations.

Rating:

6 - Why are you still reading this review? Go pick this one up NOW

What did you think about In the Garden of Beasts? Did it scare you as much as it did me?

Only one 2011 book left... what will it be?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Again

You guys know I get all liturgical on you whenever a high holy day is coming up, so here is this season's dose of meditation. In church this week, one of our pastors had us kneel for beginning prayer. Instead of one of our normal prayers from the BoCP, he asked us to sing the first verse of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" together.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

I love this hymn, anyways, but the few moments he spent reminding us of the meaning of each of the lines freshened the significance in my mind. 

More than anything else, the sweetness of the name of "Emmanuel" has resonated with me - "God is with us." This is the name that our Savior takes. I've been contemplating all the different ways that phrase can be interpreted:

God is with me - no matter where I go, He goes with me.

God is with me - He's tracking with what I'm saying, thinking, feeling, understanding where I'm coming from

God is with me - He has taken the form of man and He gets it... He gets what it means to be a person walking around on this earth.

This comforting and astonishing reality doesn't penetrate with me often enough. I am not grateful enough for it. And I forget that any area of my life that I try to deal with on my own only leads to "mourning in lonely exile... until the Son of God appears."

Where do I not believe that God is with me? Where do I find myself thinking that I have to go it alone, that I am not understood, that I am not empathized with? 

This is a season of waiting, but joyfully, there is not need to wait to embrace the truth that God is with me. There is no delay or obstacle to me bringing these places to Him; to embracing His presence with me wherever I feel alone or that I just have to suck it up and do it myself. 

Sunday was a great Advent meditation for me that has lingered through the week; I hope I'm able to maintain that contemplative spirit for the rest of the season.

What have you been thinking about this Advent season?

Christmas Movies - The Only Hope to Save Frankie's Christmas Spirit

Helllooo, I'm back. Guys, I've flaked out. I've been so focused elsewhere for a good chunk of the year that blogging has just been on the backburner. But, I've gotten your nastygrams and requests to resume, so here I am. Back and pretty excited about some things I'll be rolling out over the next few weeks.

That being said, Miss Frankie is in the Christmas spirit, full throttle. This spirit is in constant danger from cranky managers, late package deliveries, and terrible traffic, so to buoy it through to the Big Day itself, Miss Frankie will be forced to watch every one of these Christmasy movies at some point:

1. Elf: This is basically a perfect movie and did the world a public service by giving Will Ferrell a proper outlet for his nutty talent. WF is a hit or a miss with his movies (sketch comedy is really his milieu), and this was a big, fat hit. Can  you think of a movie that will make you feel as good as quickly? Irrepressibly quotable, touchingly innocent, and an embodiment of what the modern Christmas holiday is supposed to be about. Plus, ever year, I am delighted to remember by that Papa Elf looks exactly like my dad.



Except that Tim wouldn't touch those tights and that tunic with a ten foot pole. Maybe the hat, if I convinced him that it properly trapped his body heat from escaping. 

2. The Family Stone: This might not be one that immediately comes to people's minds when thinking of Christmas movies. I really love it, warts and all- because it's not perfect. What it does do very well is capture the cozy feeling of a New England family house resplendent with the New England family Christmas spirit. I want to move into the house they are all coming back to, though maybe not with Diane Keaton or Rachel McAdams. Coach can stay. It also manages to depict that weird familial tension that happens when an outsider is introduced into the dynamic - the presence of someone who doesn't know all the little pettinesses and histories of the group makes those things come to the forefront all the more strongly for those who do know them. Anyways, I'm not sure how many people like this movie (though I was delighted to realize that my roommate shares my enjoyment), but it's a holiday favorite of mine.

3. Love Actually: I remember feeling quite scandalous and European when I first saw (and instantly fell in love with) this movie. There is nudity and British swearing. Good on me for being cosmopolitan enough to enjoy it! Okay, seriously, this is such, such a good movie. I love that it's the cinematic equivalent of interconnected short stories, and there's not a single storyline that I want to skip through. It's got the crisp quality to the cinematography that makes it visually really pretty and the soundtrack is amazing. I still groove out to "Christmas Is All Around" in my car every yuletide season. And the moment after Emma Thompson doesn't get the necklace? I weep like the little girl that I am every time. 

4. Meet Me in St. Louis: This isn't  a Christmas movie, per se, but it is all about family and it has maybe the best Christmas scene in cinema history. Judy at the ball? Judy singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"? Judy in the snow telling her little sister about the true meaning of family? It's all amazing. And she looks gorgeous:



5. A Christmas Story: Is it really Christmas without this movie? I think not. I will be parked in front of the TV on Christmas Eve watching at least 2-3 hours of the marathon with my Mom. Cliche, perhaps. Necessary, absolutely. Here's to you, Ralphie. Looking forward to spending some QT with you in a couple of weeks.

As far as Christmas day goes, my family somehow has gotten in the tradition of seeing whatever Leonardo DiCaprio movie is out. So this year, J. Edgar Hoover will be my Christmas day movie. That's the spirit...

How about you? What are your Christmas "must-sees"? 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Books Like Whoa: Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011 Book Countdown)

My End of the Year Book Review Countdown begins right... now: KABOOM!



Bossypants
by Tina Fey

Procured from a certain ginormous online book retailer 

Procured in July 2011

Finished on August 4, 2011

Format: Audio, narrated by Ms. Fey herself

Why I gave it a try: This has obviously been one of the big books of the year, and I had heard a lot of people particularly praising the audio version. I like SNL, I like laughing, and I like women with huge hairy arms - looked like this would be one for me.

Summary: This is a memoir par excellence, filled with little nuggets about about Tina Fey's life, comedy, and general wisdom. There is an overall chronological order that starts at the beginning and works towards the present, but it certainly isn't a traditionally organized autobiography. 

Thoughts: I enjoyed this book- a quick and satisfying read. Before I say anything else, I would strongly recommend going the audio route on this one. Tina Fey narrates the book herself, and her delivery and timing adds to the humor. The only minor quibble I have with her reading is that she tends to trail off at the end of some sentences and get really quiet - I think it's meant to convey that the thought was an aside, but it's a little frustrating to not clearly hear the end of the sentence. 

When it comes to any memoir type work, the ultimate success or failure of the book rests on whether or not you like the author. If you're not "with" him or her, at the end of the day, you're not going to enjoy the book - you're just not. One of the things that sets this memoir apart is Fey's ability to almost universally get her readers on her side. I've not heard a negative review of this book yet - that's because she completely hooks you on her POV from page one and never breaks that good faith bond through the rest of the book. I'm not sure that this is the kind of book where you come away feeling like you know the person better (i.e. My Life in France), but you do walk away liking Tina Fey even more than you did coming in. Her comedic style is observational and self-deprecating, but not in a biting, cynical way, which is refreshing, and many of her stories had me laughing out loud. I don't want to get too much into the specific episodes, because, frankly, it would ruin them for you. I'll just say that she covers topics as diverse as the superiority complex of mothers who breast feed to the brutal stage politics that dominate theater camp to how to pray for your infant daughter. I particularly identified with her hilarious tribute to her father. I think Don Fey and Tim Ellis should be golf buddies.

She also has some amusing but well articulated points about being a professional woman in a male dominated field. From male readers' feedback, it's not something that is man-hating or boring for general readers, but I think for us gals trying to make our way in the boy's club, it's got some good thoughts and overall commiseration. Though I have never seen a bottle of urine in a male coworker's office - I thankful for that. 

This was an excellent book, top to bottom. It's also the kind of book that you can give to just about anyone to enjoy. A great stocking stuffer, for those still shopping 

Rating:

6 - Why are you still reading this review? Go pick this one up NOW 

How about you? Did you love Bossypants as much as I did?

I've got three more reviews up my sleeves for 2011 books... stay tuned!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Podcast Spotlight: Books You Should Read

Welcome to a new feature I'm calling (in a highly imaginative fashion) Podcast Spotlight. I spend a good amount of time listening to podcasts throughout the week to keep up with the book biz, stay informed on the world around me, and get ideas for stories. Some of these will be obscure, some of them will be crowd favorites, but all in all, I hope you find some new things to check out.

Also, I'll stick to a 1 - 5 star rating for this section, with 1 being awful and 5 being amazing.

Now onto our first edition...

Books You Should Read






How do you get it?: Listed in iTunes by searching "books you should read"

How did I find it?: Someone mentioned it on the BOTNS Goodreads group, so I looked it up

Website?http://www.simplysyndicated.com/shows/booksyoushouldread/

How often does it post new shows?: Varies; generally there's one every few weeks

Do they spoiler the books they discuss?: Very often

Production quality?: Solid - an occasional echo or imbalance, but nothing too jarring

Can I listen to this with the kids in the car?: Probably not, as there are objectionable words bandied about with pretty high frequency... though even swear words sound classy when they're spoken in dulcet British accents

Should I start at the beginning?: No - the early episodes of this one are pretty rough; Start on Episode 43, which is the first edition of the only worthwhile feature of this podcast, The Book Club

Should I listen to every episode?: No - look for the ones that have "The Book Club" listed at the front (Episodes 43, 47, 50, 57, 61, 65, and 69, to date)

What's awesome about this podcast?: Oh, The Book Club. This feature pops up about once every 3-4 months and it is the redeeming grace of the entire podcast. It's an episode that is dedicated to a group of four sassy Brits who pick a theme and read four books related to that theme. This may or may not sound appealing to you on face value, but let me assure you, this is a hilarious hour of book delight that visibly excites me whenever it appears in my download queue.

What helps is that they have similar enough taste to be able to have productive discussions but different enough taste for there to be disagreements and haranguing of each other for picking certain books. They manage to entertain (because all of them are genuinely witty with good group rapport), as well as have insightful conversations about whatever book or genre they're investigating. I've gotten several excellent book recommendations from this feature, and I generally agree with their assessments of the books I've read that they've discussed. And the bottom line?  Even if I don't agree with their perspective on something or why they do or don't like something, I like them enough as people to keep rolling with them.

What's not so awesome about this podcast?: Any episode not including The Book Club. The new host has helped this one improve a bit, but overall, I have a really hard time listening to any podcast that consists primarily of a single guy monologuing. Some podcasts get away with it by splicing in interviews to break things up (think WTF with Mark Maron) or having a genuinely funny or interesting host (again, see WTF), but this one is just not great when it's primarily the host. He also has this chick who joins him from time to time, but there doesn't seem to be any chemistry. If you see an episode that's themed on one of your pet topics, give it a try and see if you think I'm being too harsh, but I could barely get through an episode of people rhapsodizing about C.S. Lewis, so that should tell you something.

Highlight?: The first episode I listened to was the Books Chicks Should Read, where they read several different forms of chick lit. I innocuously turned it on at work and soon found myself laughing uncontrollably at my desk as they each described the plot of a Harlequin-esque British romance novel series called Mills & Boon. So funny and does a good job at pointing out the problematic ideas that a lot of chick lit is promoting

Overall rating?: For just The Book Club, it's a definite 5 stars... if you're including the rest of the episodes, it's dropped to 3 stars

The long and short of it is that an episode of The Book Club is my favorite thing that happens on podcasting. But it only comes around every once in a while. 

For those who listen to this one, what do you think? Do you like the Book Club feature?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Books Like Whoa - How's This Going to Work?

Finally, I am sufficiently caffeinated and focused to give this the attention it deserves. Because this is it, y'all... I am finally ready to dive into some book loving fun!



I've been stewing over having a bit more focus to the content here (rather than only my random thoughts on life) and, considering that I do it on Goodreads anyways, I am going to start sharing my book nerdery here. I'll still be sharing my general musings, life events, etc., but any time you see the tag, "Books Like Whoa," know that some serious bibliophile candy is to follow.

I'm going to play this by ear, but expect book reviews, links to book related awesome, recommendations, event alerts, and anything else that comes to me. I'd love to play a little "book match-making," so if you are looking for your next read, drop me a line and I will try to work some magic for you!

Or, I guess I could try to do a book version of eHarmony... not sure what the results of that would look like. Probably not the best way to find your soulmate. Though, if I found a chap who loved all of my favorite books, I would go on at least one date with him. I digress...

I've got a whole bevy of reviews in the wings that I will be slowly releasing, so *dark, scary movie trailer guy voice* prepare for the storm.

I'm going to go ahead and let you know how I'll be rating these bad boys (you can find this again on the review fine print page):

0 - I couldn't even get through the whole thing
1 - I weep for the trees wasted to create this book
2 - It's bad, with tantalizing glimpses of something worthwhile sprinkled in
3 - Not my cup of tea, but I get why people dig it
4 - I enjoyed it... a solid offering**
5 - It's really good: well written and pleasurable
6 - Why are you still reading this review? Go pick this one up NOW
7 - I will have to seriously reevaluate any friendship or romantic interest that does not like this book: a favorite


**I will put anything I consider to be a guilty pleasure in this bucket (http://misadventuresfromthebrink.blogspot.com/2010/01/what-is-guilty-pleasure-what-are-yours.html)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Proof that poetry is still alive and well

I appreciate literary criticism in any form and when it comes to this "deeply beautiful" work, I tip my hats to these gents for bringing out the King Lear and Chinese references that I missed on my first reading.

http://www.berfrois.com/2011/11/paul-muldoon-on-kesha/

Insightful.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Kicking off the Book Madness...

This is an interesting link that I found the other day - it raises an interesting discussion around actual facts. In light of the high number of female writers and the fact that women have the majority in readership, why are there still so few prominent female authors? Discuss.

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2011/02/women_at_work.html

Friday, July 8, 2011

In the In-Between

I like plans. I like knowing where I'm going and what I'm doing, how I'm getting there and when I need to act. That's how I'm wired and that's all I know.

So it's just weird to be at a point where I literally don't know where my life is going. I usually have at least some constant to center myself around... school or work, if nothing else. But as of January 3rd, I have no idea what I'm doing in the short term (I'm waiting to figure out where I will be staffed next) or in the long term (I'm waiting to understand what my options for the future are going to be). I literally have no plans beyond going to prayer class Wednesday night and church on Sunday morning. Everything else in my life is open... I just don't know how to respond to this place.

I am thankful that my anchor and center is Jesus, who is a surer foundation than any of these other touch points that I too often cling to. I want this to be a time to learn to trust Him further and deeper. I am also thankful for this reminder of the peace that surpasses all understanding and am encouraged by the growth I see in my response to these times of uncertainty. I am not freaking out - mostly, I'm marveling at my lack of freak out and trying to develop a "new normal" response to these moments.

That's the thing - as I grow in my ability to respond with maturity to things, I'm not yet used to being unshaken. Basically, I'm not used to being more okay with ambiguity. Ha.

Anyways, I'm just trying to be faithful at this juncture of uncertainty, but I'm also trying to enjoy the certainty that I do have that I am in good hands. I'll leave you with a poem my pastor shared with us last year:

I asked for strength that I might achieve,
I was made weak that I might obey.

I asked for health that I might do greater things,
I was given grace that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy,
I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life,
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I received nothing that I asked for and all that I hoped for.
-- Found on the body of a Confederate solider

Do you like ambiguity or are you more Type A like me? How do you handle moments of uncertainty in your own life?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Frankie Goes to Court

I had no intention of coming in late to work on a Tuesday, when I first got the speeding ticket. I was going to be a good, docile citizen, and pay the thing online. But with being gone to Asia Minor and all, I wasn't in town when the thing was posted. And by the time I got back, it was too late to pay it online. And by the time I realized that, it was too late to pay it by mail. So one way or other, I was going to have to make my way to the Fairfax county court.

Surprising to many of you, I have never been on the wrong side of the law before. I am an exceptionally law abiding person; I am rather a stickler for any kind of rules, government given or otherwise. So I was not acquainted with the ways of the court system. I stepped into the foyer and was horrified to realize that my phones were going to be confiscated from me. Not only that, but my computer that I was going to do work on while I was waiting. Did anyone else know they do that? I didn't. But I guess they don't want people taking pictures of the building to plan their gang brother's escape route.

Anyways, stripped of my technology, I was going to be forced to watch the proceedings as they unfolded. What a gift!

For starters, they hear about 100 cases at the same hearing. So the room is filled with people from every walk of life in Fairfax County. I quickly learned that only 30% of us had any command of the English language, which added further confusion to the proceedings, as translators of various mother tongues had to be shuffled in and out of the court. I'm not sure how adept they were at conveying the pronouncements of the bench, because more than one of them made a threatening approach towards the judge and had to be herded back to their podium by bored security guards. The most aggressive guy seemed to be an Asian diplomat who was convinced that his status liberated him from the traffic rules of the state of Virginia. Oh, contraire.

I was also becoming increasingly thankful for how professionally my citing officer had been when he pulled me over. When he asked me why I had been speeding, I told him the truth - that I thought the speed limit was 35mph and that I was singing Disney songs. He snorted, regained his composure, and waived the $200 additional fine for the neighborhood zone. I was lucky - from the sound of it, there are some crazy people on police motorcycles, roaming the streets of Fairfax County looking for people to accost. One lady in particular was routinely characterized as having hit people cars with her clipboard, leaning into open windows to scream in people's face, and generally making herself terrifying. I am staying away from the community college campuses of the NOVA area, as this seems to be her hunting grounds.

Finally, after many tears and pleas for mercy, I heard my name called. So I sauntered up to the stand, made my baby blues as wide and innocent as possible...


And said, in my most delectable, dulcet Southern tones, "Your honor, I am so sorry to have caused all this trouble. I apologize and just say that this was an honest mistake. I was new to Falls Church at the time, and I really thought the speed limit was 35 mph. I have never been pulled over in my life before - you can see on my driving record. I do apologize, like I said, and I have certainly learned my lesson."

He glanced up.  "What state did you come from?" I smiled sweetly and purred, "Tennessee." He paused.

"Just pay the court cost. The rest of the fine is waived. Next."

Frankie fought the law. Frankie won. Bam.

Note: For those attempting a similar feat, make sure that 1) you do in fact have an unblemished record, 2) you are in fact from the South, and 3) you are in fact female. For the gents, may I suggest wearing a full suit and tie? This seemed to curry favor, as well.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Travel Reflections, Part 1: Data Dump... Get Thee to Asia Minor!

I am back in the USA and pretty overwhelmed by trying to process everything that's happened in the last couple of weeks. On every front, really. Add to that a fun, but crazy, wedding weekend, and two of the most brutal work weeks in recent memory, and you have a reeling and exhausted Frankie.
But considering how significant my time abroad was, and that I want to persuade everyone to follow suit and get themselves to Turkey, I want to be faithful to document some of my thoughts while they are relatively fresh.
So to that end, I am snuggled up under my blanket on this rainy Saturday, eating chicken fried rice, watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and mulling on how to share everything in my mind.
I guess I can break what I'm thinking about into three categories: what I've learned about the Bible, what I've learned about Turkish/Islamic culture, and what I'm learning about myself. Let's start with la Biblia- I cannot believe how much I've learned in the last 2 weeks. You know, I've always wanted to go to Israel. I guess as a pilgrimage - the feeling of walking in the same place that Joshua, David, Jeremiah, John, Jesus, Peter, and Paul, of being where they were, of seeing what they saw. I've always seen the value and privilege of that.
But what I had never fully computed was the "educational value," for lack of better term, of physically being in the same place that the people and events inhabited that space. I'm not sure why this never completely registered for me, since being in Athens showed me so much about Paul's address on God among many gods.
The sheer volume of Biblical sites drove this reality right down my throat; and I feel like I have to share the wealth




Ephesus (Ephesians; Acts 15:19-24, 19:1-35, 20:16-17, 21:29; I Cor. 15:32, 16:8; I Tim. 1:3; II Tim. 1:18, 4:12; Rev. 2:1-7)
    1. If Rome was the DC of the Roman Empire, then Ephesus was the NYC - called "the Jewel of the Aegean," it was the cultural center of the empire, situated on a massive and hugely wealthy harbor. This was an extremely busy, wealthy city
    2. This is the epicenter of mother goddess worship, which spans back for thousands of years. The Amazons, the Hittites, the Lydians, the Greeks- on and on, there has been an astonishing tradition of mother goddess worship here, culminating into the cult of Artemis and her temple. Actually, I learned more about mother goddess worship than I ever knew there was to learn. Anyways, this fact is CENTRAL in understanding how Paul/Peter address the women in this region. Seriously - they are used to be revered as priestesses with a more spiritual nature than men, participating in sometimes highly debaucherous and frankly gross ceremonies. Also, many think that the declarations from the Robber Council are a derivative from this deep seeded tradition. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robber_Council)
    3. Artemis herself is an amalgamation of all the incarnations of goddess is seen in Artemis of Ephesus... she has gotten more queenly over time (she started off as a gigantic blob with placenta hanging between her legs - yesh. I almost ralphed in the museum). By Paul's time, she is covered in various groups' fertility symbols, notably all of the eggs all over her chest
    4. The sea began to recede and several engineering projects attempted to slow the tide were to no avail in stemming the silting in (removing the lampstand?)
    5. Besides the cult of Artemis, there were 2 main other gods- Nike, goddess of victory (Rev. 2:7), and the snake of the healing staff, which evolves and gains more popularity as gnosticism picks up steam throughout the Roman world --> Gnosticism changes the Eden story to glorify Eve (mother goddess!) & the snake for seeking knowledge (Rev. 2:7)
    6. Ephesus is commended for their diligence (not getting sucked up in the hustle and bustle of their city) and their love of the truth/battle against gnosticism (Nicolaitans) 
    7. Ephesus is called out for losing their passion/drive to love and serve the Lord with their full heart - this is a church struggling with how to keep passion in the 2nd generation
    8. Ephesus is John the Beloved's bishopric seat
    9. Demetrius in Acts 19 can be seen as a union president or labor organizer - you can see the view from the amplitheater's entrance into the agora below

Smyrna (Revelations 2:8-11)


  1. This coastal town has existed since antiquity, moving several times before modern placement. When the Hittites came, it is believed that the Amazons were the group that were unseated from the site (again, mother goddess worship). The city continued on, but then greatly dwindled, to the point of death
  2. Alexander the Great conquered the "city", though it had basically died out (Rev. 2:8) and had a dream from Apollo while he was there, telling him to place the Acropolis on modern location on Mt. Pagos (this is where the word "pagan" comes from, since the Acropolis was a massive pantheon, teeming with various temples and gods). Consequently, Smyrna has always been a very Greek, sophisticated city, even into modern times. It was called "the Crown of the Aegean" (Rev. 2:10)
  3. Polycarp was John's pupil, bishop of Smyrna, & was martyred on Mt. Pagos for refusing to call the Emperor god (those who wouldn't take this worship could not be in the guilds). He was dragged through the streets. They begged him to recant, because he was evidently a beloved old man, but he wouldn't bow to the Emperor. Legend has it that the local synagogues turned him over because they were afraid that their exemption from Emperor worship was going to be revoked, though there is inconsistent historical evidence on this score
  4. Jesus has no condemnation for this church ... a church persecuted for righteousness is a healthy one. The curhc has existed in some form in Izmir since Paul, so they can be seen as having kept their lampstand
  5. The fire of Izmir in 1923 was a genocide of the Greek/Armenian Christians, which drove out nearly all the Christians in the country, leaving only the few native believers
Sardis (Revelations 3:1-6)


  1. Sardis was the site of the richest man in the world at one time - the Lydian King Croateus - because of their abundance of precious metals. This was an immensely wealthy city (the first to mint coins) and had a virtually unscalable Acropolis (you can see it in the left had side of the photo above). Reputation was a of a wealthy, unconquerable city (Rev. 3:2)
  2. The city was famously lost to Persia when the king carelessly left part of the Acropolis wall unguarded and the city was sneak sacked in the night when they weren't being vigilant. The city was lost again much later, to much less formidable enemies - again, because of carelessness. Two time were defeated by stealth because of their own carelessness (Rev. 3:4)
  3. Mother goddess worship was big here, as well, surprise, surprise, and above you can see a never finished temple to Artemis. The site was deconsecrated by the Byzantines and a chapel was built.
  4. Rev. 3:5 - White garments signify conquering and/or innocence (a judge would appear in court in white robes to announce a "not guilty" verdict); "book of life" is the book of citizenry for a city and if your name was blotted out, it was very difficult to restore
Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13)


  1. A small town, even in Biblical times, & remains so to this day. It is situated at the beginning of a marked geographic change in landscape as Phrygia begins... the open door? (Rev. 3:8)
  2. This is a town known for its loving deeds; it got it's name because the king refused to make an alliance against his nearby king brother
  3. Rev. 3:12 - pillars would be dedicated to honored citizens and their names would be carved on them
  4. Like Smyrna, Jesus has no condemnation for them - He commends them for their perseverance with the little that they have
Colossae (Colossians)
  1. Modern day, near Denizili, Hierapolis/Pummukale, and Laodicea 
  2. Had a cold spring
  3. A rural gospel for a rural area; these were not the sophisticated Aegean Turks
  4. Beginning of a region with a lot of folk religion (i.e. Konya/Iconium)
Hierapolis (Col. 4:13)



  1. Home to the famous calcium deposits/mineral thermal springs, which made it a bustling vacation/spa/party locale for the Romans, the hot mineral springs that bubbled up from beneath the rocks form the beautiful white encrusted peaks that are visible across the river valley
  2. Also, home to some of the most exuberant, orgiastic Phrygian worship practices, specifically to Dionysus, who is generally portrayed as ambisexual. Women were seen as the more spiritual beings and thus often acted as the priestesses in debaucherous ceremonies, where they would slaughter animals and drink their blood to take on their traits, which becomes a problem when these women try to serve Communion (Paul's letter to Timothy). This cult also led to women refusing to have women to increase their power; Gentile women's worship behavior became increasingly outlandish as this spread from Phrygia into the rest of the Roman empire
  3. Phillip was martyred on the far hill of this city
  4. Christian message was basically antithetical of what this city was about
Laodicea (Col. 2:1, 4:13-15; Rev. 3:14-22)
  1. Across the river valley from Hierapolis, this very wealthy city could see the white calcium peaks. They wanted the hot springs, so they tried to build a pipeline to tap it, but it was only tepid by the time it got through the valley (Rev. 3:15-16). They also were near Colossae's cold springs.
  2. They were renowned for their gold trade, black wool industry, and eye salve cures (Rev. 3:17-18)
  3. The door of Phrygia again? (Rev. 3:20)
  4. Jesus has no commendation for this church

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Longing - A Moment of Reflection

These weeks since being back have been beyond crazy. I have a couple of reflective posts in the pipeline, but in this quite moment, I just want to share a song with you. I've been feeling so scattered, so adrift. And I realized it's because my alone time with Him has been all over the place. I found myself crying on my way to work saying, "Jesus, I just want to be alone with You! I just want to enjoy You!"

And this is the song that came up in my mind. It's from ol' Sufjan, who I love. This is such a sweet song, contrasted my desire to be alone with Him with what He has done to be alone with me. Enjoy!

 http://youtu.be/FoQzWb_f1oA

I'd swim across Lake Michigan
I'd sell my shoes
I'd give my body to be back again
In the rest of the room
To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you

You gave your body to the lonely
They took your clothes
You gave up a wife and a family
You gave your ghost
To be alone with me
To be alone with me
To be alone with me
You went up on a tree

To be alone with me
You went up on a tree

I've never known a man who loved me


-"To Be Alone With You", Sufjan Stevens