August Round-Up: NPR Book Recommendations (30 before 30)

So, I listen to National Public Radio.  Yes. I’m one of *them.*

There are lots of wonderful things about NPR. For starters, I feel like I show up to work a smarter person because I’ve already heard the news. I often have “driveway moments” finishing up an interesting story.  My husband and I don’t always agree on politics, and it’s nice to get news from a mostly impartial source. In fact, I loved that while the other media outlets were going crazy during the Boston Marathon bombing (for example), NPR’s correspondent said, “We are not saying anything that has not been confirmed. So far we know xyz and that’s it. We’re not speculating.”  You have to respect that.

Another great thing about NPR besides their reporting is that they interview authors to get the story beyond the book, ask good questions, and really get you interested in their works.   The books this month are mostly nonfiction that I got interested in by hearing about them on NPR.  I originally heard about these books from The Diane Rehm Show, Fresh Air, and Talk of the Nation/Science Friday.  If you wish, the transcripts/shows/articles are on NPR.org if you search the book title.


The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, Melanie Benjamin 

While this is technically fiction, it is based on the extraordinary life of Lavinia “Vinne” Warren, aka Mrs. Tom Thumb. She was a proportionate dwarf who became famous by touring with P.T. Barnum and his other dwarf act, General Tom Thumb.  It talks about her family life– how she felt stuck until a shady cousin comes around seeking fame and fortune.

I originally heard about this book on The Diane Rehm Show.  This was an interesting book, to say the least.  It’s good, but I won’t be re-reading it.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
Wow. Just wow. This is the true story of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who died of cervical cancer in the 1951.  Her doctor took some of her cancer cells to do research (without permission). And they keep growing. These cells, known as HeLa cells, are extremely unusual and have been key to discovering several medical breakthroughs. However, the family had no idea until the ’70s, and when they did find out, they didn’t understand what was going on.

Skloot’s book writes about both the history and the breakthroughs of the cells but focuses much of her book on Henrietta’s family. I listened to the audiobook and it was a great book. Fantastic research.  This has been on my list of books to read since I heard an interview with the author ages ago. In fact, I was pretty certain I heard about this book twice on NPR– Talk of the Nation and Fresh Air.   Very good.

Beautiful Souls, Eyal Press
This is a beautiful book. This is written by a journalist who wanted to explore why people did good. Not just didn’t do evil, but why they actively went against the evil that was being done.  What does it mean, and what does it cost, to follow your conscience? He profiles four incredible people: one Swiss guard that falsified Jewish reports to allow them in the country;  one unique Serbian soldier who “sorted” Serbs from Croats (and allowed many Croats to avoid beatings and possibly death); an Israeli soldier who refuses to occupy land; a whistle-blower from Stanford (a financial company).

I first heard about this book on Talk of the Nation. (Man, I’ll miss that show.) This book was short, and I was able to read it in a day.  It was fascinating and a worthwhile book to read. It makes you wonder what you would do in their place. I don’t know if I would have been so creative in my problem-solving, so bold in my actions. It was a lot to take in.

I thought the chapter on the whistleblower was very appropriate after the Edward Snowden stuff. Here are some interesting quotes that go with that:

  • “To judge by Time’s cover story back in 2002,  whistleblowers were harassed and vilified until proven right, at which point they morphed into folk heroes.  In reality, being right not infrequently made things worse. For if the person who blew the whistle was justified, what did this say about all the people who didn’t? About the team players who’d profited handsomely by remaining silent?” (167)
  • According to a 2006 study conduced by Claude Fischer, 45% of Americans said people should on occasion follow their conscience even if it means breaking the law. Compared with Europeans, Americans “consistently answer questions in a way that favors the group over the individual… should follow a boss’s orders even if the boss is wrong… defer to church leaders.” (152).
  • Continuing with that study, “precisely because [the U.S.] was so free and open, many Americans viewed expressions of dissent as superfluous– or worse, indulgent, an abuse of the tolerance and liberty for which citizens ought to be grateful…. a higher proportion of U.S. citizens agreed that ‘people should support their country even if the country is in the wrong.'” (152-153).
  • All this to say, no wonder Snowden is going through what he’s going through.

In conclusion, my stuff this month was a little heavy.  I will continue to read books I hear about from NPR because if nothing else, the interviews I hear give me a better background about the book. I admit, the books I read this month were good, but Death Comes to Pemberley  got a huge thumbs down (and NPR got me excited about it 😦 .)

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July Round-Up: What the Teen Coordinator at the Library Told Me to Read (30 project)

So, my friend Hannahlily is a busy, busy woman. Not only is she the Teen Coordinator for my local library, she blogs about what she’s reading (and is she ever not reading?) and is planning her wedding. I told her about my 30 before 30 project, and asked her what three books should be on my “must-read” list.  Mind you, I eliminated her quintessential YA author, John Green, because I had read most of them (and eventually I’ll finish that blog post), and I already read her favorite book, Code Name Verity. She pondered and came back with, in no particular order:

1) I am the Messenger
2) Saving Francesca
3) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.

I had already read #3, so I subtlely harassed her. I replied to the message, “One more book! Two, if you want!” I stalked her GoodReads. And finally, I announced on a facebook post, “I’ve read Saving Francesca. WOW! What’s next, Hannah?” (I meant the WOW sincerely, btw. ) This actually led to a whole bunch of people telling me my next book and getting into crazy book discussions with people I was shocked to see commenting. At any rate, I got a list she compiled for the library and picked Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. 

This post could easily be titled “Books about Teens Figuring Out Who They Are.” (That would also be true if I included Frankie on the list.) I thoroughly enjoyed all of the books, spoiler alert. I can’t give them justice so seriously, these are barely blurbs. 

These are also high-school books, even though I usually read middle grade novels.  All of the books discussed sex, although none were like, “Let’s go have some and tell the reader juicy details!” The biggest thing about the books was learning how to live.  They all were brilliant.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz.
This book is about the friendship of two kids with weird names. Neither of them have had a true friend before, and they have an incredibly tight bond. Ari has a darker attitude to life whereas Dante is the eternal optimist; Ari hides his emotions, Dante is an open book, etc.  They balance each other out. When Ari saves Dante from an on-coming car, Ari has to explore what their friendship really means.

I loved the family dynamics in this book. Dante’s family is very sweet and affectionate. Ari’s dad is a Vietnam War vet, and his older brother’s in jail, so there are a lot of things Ari struggles with, but that doesn’t stop them from loving each other deeply– even when no one can fight the others’ battles.

Grades: 9 and up.
Grade: A  The writing was beautiful without being pretentious or stuffy.
 

Saving Francesca, Melina Marchetta
Francesca is not having a good year. Her all-girl old school just went to year 10, so she’s at St. Sebastian’s, former all-boys school that just started admitting girls.  All of her friends go to a different school, so she hangs out with the only other girls that went to her former school (Justine, Tara, and Siobohan. Siobohan and Francesca are former BFFs — up until Francesca got “rescued” in year seven).  The boys at the school, like Thomas and Jimmy, are generally gross.  When she goes home, she has to deal with her mom’s crushing depression.  Eventually, Francesca warms up to Sebastian’s, but her home life is still spiraling. She has to figure out who she is and how she’s going to save herself.

I LOVE THIS BOOK. It’s realistic, and it’s no wonder Hannahlily paired it with Frankie Landau-Banks.  The people she thinks are her friends suck and try to stifle her, whereas her true friends get shafted a bit. It’s got really funny lines. I actually shared a line with my husband and he couldn’t stop laughing:  Thomas informs the girls they’re dubbed “Bitch Spice, Butch Spice, Slut Spice, and  Stupid Spice.” They then begin to argue which one they must be. I would think that would be embarrassing, but no,  “Between you and I, we’re either Bitchy or Stupid…” “Oh no! Everyone thinks I’m an idiot!”   “You’re the whole spice rack!”

Grades: 9 and up.
Grade: A+ Funny, real, and just good.

I am the Messenger, Markus Zusak
An underage taxi driver, Ed Kennedy, stops a bank robber, who informs him he’s a dead man. Shortly after, Ed receives playing cards in the mail: all aces, all with cryptic messages. He soon realizes that these are places that he must go to, but doesn’t know what he needs to do. So he watches and learns. Sometimes, he encourages the people he meets. Sometimes, he beats the living hell out of people.  He always leaves a message. But who’s sending him the messages?

If there’s a book about learning how to live, this is it.  If the book has a message, it’s live. And it’s awesome.  It’s a great story that you cannot put down.  It’s one that underscores our need for people.

Grades: 10 and up
Grade: A+.
If you’re wondering where you’ve heard of Zusak before, it’s because he wrote The Book Thief.  Fantastic stuff.

I could have easily done a post for each of these books, but then they wouldn’t have been in my neat little 30 before 30 Collection.  I may revise this “system” but I didn’t want to go too long and accidentally ruin a book. 🙂

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June Round-Up: Book to Film (30 before 30)

In June, I went to Disney World on vacation with my family. It was awesome, other than the ridiculous heat. In honor of my trip, I decided to read books that had become films. My methods of choosing themes are simple, folks. (It did turn out semi-humorous when I read Cloud Atlas and in the future segment, they call films disneys.) I’m publishing mid-July because yes, I am watching the movies as well.

All of these are adult fiction, so no, I wouldn’t read these in class. Therefore, not grading them.  Also, all of these movies had mixed to negative reviews. Because I had low expectations of most of the movies, I enjoyed them quite a bit. 🙂

One Day, David Nichols. The premise of this book is pretty straight-forward.  Emma and Dexter just graduated from college on July 15,1988, and they meet and nearly hook up on that day. It is decided that they will be friends instead. The book checks in on them every July 15th and continues the story of their friendship for twenty years.  They have a lot of highs and lows, but no matter what, they stick together. I really liked the book and the friendship “Dex and Em” have.

Movie: I was hesitant about this one.  I read a few reviews saying Anne Hathaway’s accent changed midway through scenes, that type of thing.  Upon hearing how she got the part (awkward meeting, then sending a playlist about what songs Emma’s listening to?), I was going to avoid it out of annoyance. But… Jim Sturgess. Slight crush. And it was at the library, so, hey, free.  Because my standards were lowered, I did end up enjoying the movie, if nothing else but for the transformations over twenty years. Anne, you regressed to your pre-Princess days! We dressed like that in the 90’s?  Wow, Jim’s going to look good with gray hair! 

Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert.  This is one of those books I had lying around unread, and it had been mentioned in two of my March books (at least one mentioned the whole praying thing… you know, to God?).  When previous books mention it, I kind of have to read it. Call it a compulsion. Again, simple premise: After a devastating divorce, Gilbert gets to go to different countries and gets paid to write about her healing process. Gee, wish I could heal by eating pasta in Italy, doing yoga in India, and talking to the local medicine man in Indonesia.  I’m oversimplifying it, of course.   But… yeah. That’s about it.  It took me some time reading it. I think I spent 3 days reading it, which normally I just speed through. She split it into three sections of 36 chapters (equaling the number of prayer beads on a string, 108), so I also felt compelled to read in multiples of 3, 4, 6, or 9. BECAUSE I’M THAT NERDY. And I felt I had to reach a goal before taking a nap or something.

Movie: Montages of pasta a movie does not make.  There just wasn’t much plot to the book to make a movie.  It started off with the divorce, which made you just go, “Goodness, what a b.  Gosh, she likes this idiot instead?”  I liked Richard from Texas in the book; he was less likable in the movie.  It didn’t really hold my attention.

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell   Now, here’s a doozie of a book. I’m not going to summarize the six stories that make up the novel.  They’re all completely different, but linked together in weird ways that make you second guess the part you just read. The stories are told in a “nested” style, where they end the story on a suspenseful part and start the next. I kept trying to figure out the links between stories and I’m not sure if I enjoyed the stories for what they were because I was so busy looking for links. My favorite was Luisa Rey (the connection was clear, it was a good story).   I liked some stories more than others,  and if I’m going to be honest, I don’t know how much of this I understood.  I could tell it was well-written. I could tell I needed to read it a second time to fully get it, and that won’t happen for a while. I’m okay with announcing to the world, “I’M NOT DEEP! I READ MORE YA LIT THAN A HIGH SCHOOLER!” So, there’s that. I just wanted to let you know, dear reader. It wouldn’t be fair to you otherwise.

Movie: It’s a little clearer that the stories are linked together by, as the filmmakers worded it, a reincarnated soul, as shown by the same comet birthmark. It drives the connectedness of humanity home– “we are not our own, we are bound to others.” Wonderful cast. Downside: nearly three hours, although I felt it was time well spent. This is a hard book to translate into film. They did well,  although yeah, still hard to follow.

Want to talk about not deep? Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith.  Yes, the same guy who wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  One has to take it in that spirit. It’s written like a biography with excerpts from letters and historic tidbits. Like P&P&Z,  it hilariously weaves history and explains mysteries we’ve always wondered about… with vampires and Mr. Lincoln.  Now, true history? At least some of it is. Like, everything I know about the Lost Colony of Roanoke actually was in the book. I can’t verify everything, though.  This was a pretty fun book.

This is the only movie from this post that would appeal to both the husband and me. This was not well received by movie critics, but my friend Robin thought it was hilarious. Husband, who hadn’t read the book, kept saying, “What the heck?” and laughing. (I should have kept a running total of “what the hecks.”) It’s got gross stuff in it, of course, as there are vampires and hunting them, but overall pretty funny.

So, fun month of books.

P.S. I just hit publish on Bastille Day (July 14) and only now realizing if I published in two hours, it would be the date we would check in on Dex and Em. Alas! I can’t time everything perfectly, I guess!

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May Round-Up: Inkheart Trilogy

I’m gearing up for the summer, and the big trip is DISNEY WORLD! What better prelude for the trip than a fantasy coming to life? I’ve had Cornelia Funke’s  Inkheart Trilogy on my bookshelf for a while, and although it is not *Disney* or even *Hogwarts*, I didn’t want to overdo it before I even left Tennessee.  Quick blurbs for this one, sorry if they’re woefully inadequate.

Basic Characters:
Mo Folchart: Dad, aka Silvertongue, later Bluejay
Meg: his daughter
Resa: his wife
Elinor: his wife’s aunt
Fengolio: the author of “Inkheart”

Dustfinger: good guy, plays with fire
Farid: character from Arabian Nights, follows Dustfinger
Basta: as the name may indicate, a jerk
Capricorn: evil ruler

Inkheart 

Mo Folchart has a wonderful reading voice that lures characters out of the page. While reading to his wife Resa from the book Inkheart, Dustfinger, Basta, and Capricorn come to life in their living room. Unfortunately, Resa enters the book. No matter how much Dustfinger pleads and Mo tries, he cannot return characters or get his wife back.

Fast forward ten years. Mo and Meg are on the run because Dustfinger has discovered them and Capricorn has need  for Silvertongue’s voice and the last known copy of Inkheart.  The Folcharts turn to Elinor, a formidable woman, for a little bit of refuge. Capricorn kidnaps Mo and a book. Elinor happened to have Inkheart hidden in her room. Meg insists that they must go after him.

Well, hey, they have to be successful to get two sequels, right? I will end my summary there. Sorry if I took the fun out of that. It’s a nail-biter, actually, not kidding on that, but hey, here’s a quick blurb about Inkspell. 

Meg and Farid (who appears in Inkheart) attempt to read themselves into “Inkheart” after Dustfinger finally makes it back. It works. They get to explore Inkworld, meet characters from the book, and overall live in a book.

Inkdeath: Fengolio has been continuing his story and has written a character based on Mo called the Bluejay (who is a thief).  Mo is trying to live up to his reputation.

OVERALL:  I really like Inkheart.  Inkspell gave me a little bit of a headache. I liked how Inkdeath wrapped it up but it probably took me the longest to read.   Hard to tell, really, I was reading it during the last month of school.

Since this is kiddie lit, I’m thinking 6th grade and up, Inkheart gets an A and the sequels a B-. Good trilogy, but as always, the original is the best. 

Yeah. So, I think I’ll start packing. Party! 😀 Hope your summer is going well.

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Stacey Takes a Stand. (BSC television series)

A couple Decembers ago, I broke out the Baby-sitters Club VHS tapes (part one and two here). Super fun to re-watch. And then today, I saw an awesome post from Nikki of Are you there Youth? It’s Me, Nikki fame:

Netflix just added the Baby-sitters Club series to instant watch!!!!!

I had two that I hadn’t seen recently, but since I had one practically memorized I went for the one I have never actually owned, Stacey takes a StandPretty much,  Stacey deals with the whole split custody thing and not being able to be in two places at once.

  • The BSC is having a father/daughter banquet. Stacey is like, ugh, that falls on a dad weekend, I’ll be in New York with my dad watching Guys and Dolls, and wahh.
  • Stacey is sooo bummed!  It’s hard being a kid with divorced parents! Here are some of her complaints:
    • When someone says, “Hey, you have two closets full of clothes!” she responds, “But the clothes I want are never in the place I am!” Example, please? “I left my tights in Stoneybrooke and I had to wear a miniskirt with knee socks. The skirt was plaid, the socks were striped, and I was freezing!”
      • Via Claudia, “That could work!”
    • My dad hates Stoneybrooke! He wouldn’t come to my father/daughter dinner!
    • My mom hates hearing about awesome stuff I’m doing in the City!
    • My friends plan to do stuff when I can’t be there!
  • So the babysitters come and visit her in the city to remind her that no matter where she is, she’ll always have them! 
  • Also, her mom ends up telling dad about the father/daughter banquet and he says, “If it’s important to you, I’ll be here! I divorced your mom, not you!”
  • Also, this is when the Barretts have recently split and Buddy is all, “I’m the man of the house! I can’t have any fun because I’m in charge.” And the babysitters are like, chill, because we’re here and seven years older than you and so much more responsible. So he then goes to play.

My comments:

So, overall, not a bad episode but more “after-school special” than the others. I may have seen it once, and all I remembered was,”Woah, Stacey’s real name is Anastacia?”

Yes, kids with divorced parents have it rough. You’re talking to someone who dealt with multiple custody battles, 3 “stepmoms”, and generally a lot of fuss when it woulda coulda shoulda been simple. I was lucky in that my parents lived in the same county, so I only remember one instance that my dad said I couldn’t do something with my friends that conflicted with his plans.  But yeah. It seems as though Stacey has a ton of first world/white girl problems that it’s kind of like, dude, that’s it– knee socks instead of tights? Can’t babysit Charlotte because you’re going to Broadway? Waaah. So Stacey learns to express herself in this special episode, and tells her parents quit talking bad about each other and play nice. Good girl.

I’ve been kinda snarky towards Stacey in this post.  I realize that as a 29-year old with most of my crap together, I may feel superior to her, but the truth is, it’s always going to be hard. We live halfway (6 hours either way) between my parents and my husband’s parents, and we eventually want to move closer to one set.  When we have kids,  how can we develop relationships between all sides of the family? Can I limit time with current stepmom in a subtle way? In twenty years when my future kid graduates, will I choose wisely who gets a graduation ticket? (When you are a child with divorced parents MARRIED to another child with divorced parents, it layers on and on and on– which is what my sister is currently putting up with as my nephew is thisclose to graduation.)

Hey Stacey– it’s going to work out. You standing up to your parents is step one. Keep a good relationship with them. It’s going to get both easier and harder as an adult, but fortunately, as an adult you can say, “Screw it, I’m living as far from you  as possible,” and it’s lovely.  It’s also heartbreaking not being there. But mostly, it’s nice to do your own thing. I hope, twenty-three years later, you got to do that. Why am I talking to a fictional character? Do I seriously feel guilty about making fun of her?  I guess in the tiniest way I can relate to her, but I’m annoyed by this revelation.

I can see why I didn’t own the video, but it wasn’t the worst of the shows. I think that honor goes to whichever one had the sisters club.  Maybe she convinced a girl to do the right thing, somewhere, at some point.

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Eleven Birthdays, Wendy Mass

Summary:  Amanda and Leo were born minutes apart on the same day. Both were named after their great-great-grandparents. And it was decided (primarily by a stranger) that these two babies would celebrate all future birthdays together. So they did. Even if it was by accident the first time. 

On the day of their tenth birthday, Amanda overhears Leo claiming to his friends that he does these parties with Amanda because he feels sorry for her. Angry, Amanda tosses everything that reminds her of him out of the window, and she refuses to speak to him. 

A year later, they still aren’t speaking, and they’re having separate parties. Amanda has the worst day ever: her locker gets stuck, she has a pop quiz, she freezes during gymnast try-outs (that she’s being forced into doing– doesn’t make it less embarrassing), people leave her party early to go to Leo’s, her mom loses her job, and everything sucks. 

Then it happens again. 

Only Leo and Amanda seem to realize this is happening. They have no idea how to fix this, but they do know that they have to work together to make it stop. 

Commentary:  Yeah, I know, it’s Groundhog Day for the middle grades set. 

You know what? I don’t care. What fifth grader has watched that, anyway? (Other than kids in Rafe’s class.)  This book is flat-out adorable and happy. Yeah, sure, the concept isn’t original, but there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s got humor, it’s touching, it’s a good package. 

/Tangent/ Can I be blunt? I haven’t been reading a lot of kiddie lit lately.  My 30 before 30 project has taken over my reading, but with the end of school I’m reading more YA/Juvenile fiction.  I worked the Scholastic Book Fair (IT’S LIKE CHRISTMAS!!!), and was on a mission to find books for my cousin in second grade  and my niece (who’s 10). My mom was upset with my niece for sneaking The Hunger Games trilogy onto her Nook. Yeah. It’s inappropriate for a ten-year old. Then my mom read a chapter of a book I grabbed for my cousin, and she was shocked at the content. (It’s got apocalyptic themes.)/end tangent/
It’s really, really nice to find a chapter book that’s age-appropriate, happy, realistic (mostly) and teaches a lesson. 

Here are some of the lessons: 

  • One major lesson is be yourself. For example, Amanda tries out for gymnastics because her best friend tells her it’s the way to be cool. She wants to be in marching band. By the time her “Groundhog Day” quits repeating, she has auditioned for band. 
  • You make all the difference in how your day goes. So, they skip school one day. That didn’t work out too well. Amanda reads her sister’s diary and gives her a heads-up about her crush. That didn’t work out too well. She helps a crying kid by having his “missing assignment” ready on day 6. Wow, she made someone’s day. 
  • Know your friends. Amanda’s next BFF (after Leo) is Stephanie, but Stephanie is really concerned about being cool. She decides marching band is not cool– even though that’s what Amanda wants to do. When she makes the team, she decides going to Leo’s party would show team spirit– instead of sticking with her BFF. Amanda realizes that she has two friends who were so loyal they showed up early and stayed the entire time. Ouch. Way to waste energy on someone not worth it, Amanda. 

Class Stuff: 
Grades: upper 3rd-5th. 
Grade: A- 
I’m a little out of the grading books game, can’t remember the last book I “graded.” But due to the Bill Murray-esque plot, I have to take a couple points off… but not many. It’s funny. It’s sweet. This is really popular with the kids, from what a fellow book fair volunteer said.  😀

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April Round Up: A Month with Awesome Ladies

My themes for my 3 books/month come to me, rather than me dreaming them up. I know I sound dumb for saying so, but they truly come to me by happenstance.  In January, when I first came up with this harebrained 30 before 30 idea, I got two books for Christmas about different aspects of womanhood  (How to be a Hepburn in a Hilton World and A Year of Biblical Womanhood) and then heard an NPR interview about Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman.  Apparently, many people heard that interview with Moran and immediately ran to get it from the library, so I had to put the book (and therefore the theme) on hold.

Then, I kept coming across the “year long journey.”  I get that this is a popular subgenre lately. I think it’s the idea that you can do almost anything for a year. (Since last year I had a “52 project” year and this year I’m doing “30 before 30” I TOTALLY get it.) I found two memoirs of people who did a year long journey with fabulous females as their guides– Eleanor Roosevelt and Jane Austen.  I’m fitting biblical women in here as well.

I get that this subgenre gets quite a bit of flack.  I can totally get the “not this again” aspect. But each person has their own story to tell, and the these projects fascinated me. Also, it’s fun to note that as I’m doing my WAY lower-key year compared to Noelle and Rachel, they were both 29 when they did their year. Maybe I just relate to them a lot. Without further ado, here’s a year in the life of awesome women:

My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock
Inspiration: After losing her job, Noelle noticed an Eleanor Roosevelt quote hanging on a wall of a coffee shop: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” After encouragement from her therapist, Noelle began to list her fears and started (on her 29th birthday) to do one thing that scared her every day for a year. This included small fears, like calling the credit card company for reduced rates, to major ones like sky-diving (and shark diving… and trapeze lessons…)! It wasn’t necessarily a new fear everyday. For example, it’s not as though a fear of heights goes away after a sky-dive, so fly a plane. Along the way, Noelle had Eleanor as her guide.

I really liked this one, and I immediately wanted to pass it on to my younger sister. I admire Eleanor Roosevelt tremendously, and I think  doing “one thing every day that scares you” is just a great idea.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
Inspiration: After hearing the term “biblical womanhood” tossed around, Rachel wondered, “What does that even mean?” She spent a year studying the Bible for verses related to being female and tried to live it out as best as she could. (Yes, Mr. Jacobs did this as well, but gender makes a big difference. There’s so many rules men don’t have to live by— like purifying after your period.)

Rachel basically picks a theme a month, like modesty and gentleness, and has rules to follow based on verses relating to the theme.  By studying the “rules” and the women of the Bible, she learns a lot about faith and how we misuse the Bible to turn us all into June Cleavers.

For example:

  • Proverbs 31 is often used as a checklist of “this is what an awesome lady should be like.”  American Christians use it as a model of what to strive for.  That was not the intent.  Jewish men sing it to their wives to express their appreciation for what they do. They use the phrase “eshet chayil” (woman of valor) as a compliment. “You cleaned the house? Eshet chayil!” “You brought pizza home? Eshet chayil!”   Rachel compares it to, “you go girl!”  As her Jewish “source” Ahava says, “the woman described in Proverbs 31 is not some ideal that exists out there; she is present in each one of us when we do even the smallest things with valor.”  
  • My favorite quote from the entire book is about how God used women like Tamar, Bathsheba, Rahab, and Ruth. “God, it seems, prefers chutzpah to status.” 

I found the book to be very insightful and enjoyable. I read Rachel’s blog occasionally she posts on facebook and she’s not afraid to thoughtfully tackle hard topics. I think she did a marvelous job and had a pretty trying– but great– year of experimenting and learning. Eshet chayil!

All Roads Lead To Austen by Amy Smith
Inspiration: A lit professor notices her students respond to Jane Austen differently than they would the Brontës. (For example, you never hear, “My ex is such a Heathcliff,” but you may likely hear comparisons to Willoughby, etc.) She wonders if it translates across cultures, so she decides to travel to Latin America and discover other opinions on Jane’s works. She visited Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Paraguay, Chile, and Argentina. She basically created book clubs in each country to discuss one of three books: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility. (Part of me wishes she picked one book per country, and then I realize, making unsuspecting victims read Mansfield Park? No way to meet Austen!)  Her main discovery was that Austen does span time and language barriers.

As my February books were Jane’s, I liked having another look at how other cultures viewed her.

Quick Blurbs about two more womanhood books, because I don’t think I have enough material for another post:

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran is a memoir, not a how-to book, and is compared to Bossypants.  The main difference is I can recommend Bossypants to my mom, but probably not How to be a Woman.  I liked the book, but at times it can be crass.  Her cry is we need to take back feminism. (“Do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it? Congratulations! You’re a feminist!”)   I liked her views, but I’m not gonna lie: I skipped the chapter on child birth.

How to be a Hepburn in a Hilton World is Jordan Christy’s advice book about being classy.  It seems, as Scar would say, “I’m SURROUNDED by IDIOTS.”  Snookie and Honey Boo Boo are everywhere* and where are the friggin’ intelligent classy women? Basically, this is a book of good common sense that has everything from fashion advice (put some clothes on!) and professional advice (act like a grown-up).  This is putting the values of Audrey in a modern world. As a fan of Audrey Hepburn, this was kind of old hat for me, but it was stuff that needed to be said.

*I’m probably outdated on the Snookie and Honey Boo Boo references– or I hope so! I used to watch E’s The Soup but somehow the cable company realized I was getting an extra channel. I don’t know if there’s a new “it” girl.

 

This may be my favorite month of books so far. I meant to double-up and do six books this month, but I think I’ll stick with my five this month and do four another.  😀  Next time will be a regular post.

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