Reads and Recommends

Friday Reads & Recommends: The Mostly Books Edition

It's been a long time since we had a Friday Reads & Recommends, yes? 

First up: I made this Cheesy Baked Pasta With Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Eggplant for my vegetarian-ish friends tonight and it was YUMMY. It felt like the right spot between Grown Up Food and Easy Enough For Me To Make. (Also: No Onions Or Other Unpleasant Vegetables. Bonus points.)

I have read lots and lots and lots of online articles, but I haven't bookmarked any of them. SORRY. A lot of times I'll read something interesting on my phone and I don't really know how to save the link so I can easily (EASILY) go back to it later on the computer. I know. Lame. Not like I live with a Technology Professional or anything. So now I'm going to tell you about a bunch of books. BOOKS! How novel. (NOVEL! That was totally unintended. I am super proud of myself anyway.) 

FIRST UP. Sisterland! I read this poolside in Cabo. I loved (loved loved loved loved) Prep, it's one of the very few books I've read more than once. I just think Curtis Sittenfeld is a genius when it comes to... I don't know, like the insecure female inner monologue. ANYWAY. This was not a masterpiece like Prep and there were parts of it that I really didn't like - at the same time I appreciate her writing. She has ways of saying things that make my brain whir. One of the best parts of this book is when the main character, a stay at home mom, is talking about her husband and his professional life and home life, how he figured out how to have the job and "us", but the main character has only figured out how to have "us". MAYBE I IDENTIFIED. I DON'T KNOW.

Then I read The Spectacular Now, because I've been seeing the movie previews and even though I am not inclined to like Shailene Woodley after seeing some of her interviews, I thought she was amazing in The Descendants SO. This was a bummer of a book, you guys. At first it's all about this super cocky, super likable high school boy, which is my favorite kind, and alcohol is not one of the YA Sacred Cows that makes me twitch. BUT. The girl character in this book sucks. SUCKS SO MUCH. It's like she's not even there. She's a cardboard cut out. She's a wisp. She's pointless. She makes no sense. The EX-girlfriend in this book is a thousand times more developed (and interesting) than the main girl. And since I really liked the beginning and I was pulling for the high school boy, this stunk. 

Before those I finished To End All Wars on the plane. This book, THIS book is tremendous. And hopefully not just because it's the first WWI book I've managed to get through. I feel like I have a modicum of understanding now. Amazing! Also it zeroes in on real people, sharing their stories from long before the war until way after, and that makes it much less of a Boring History Book, you know? It's mainly about Britain and goes super in depth on suffragettes, conscientious objectors, and the socialist movement - things I knew absolutely nothing about, and now I think I could bore you to death on how all of those things interconnected with wartime. It reminded me a bit of Inferno (about WWII) in that it doesn't glorify war or its proponents at all, quite the opposite. And it has affected what I think about today's madness in Syria. Not that I will go into that here. HA HA HA. 

(Also: Phillip is reading this book. As I type. PHILLIP. You can do it too, folks.)

Phillip read Lean In on our trip. And read so much of it to me that I feel Iike I read it too. Eh. 

Before our trip I read The Demon Catchers of Milan because my dad handed me a little slip of paper with the title and author and said, "I GUARANTEE YOU WILL LIKE THIS BOOK." Aaaaand, I hate to say it, but I did. Even though it was overwrought, unbelievable (and I'm not talking about the demon part), and Twilighty in that our fearless heroine gets hooked up with a Family With Special Secret Gifts, it's about 1) THE SUPERNATURAL in 2) ITALY. I am guaranteed to like this book. Best thing about it: the crush remains unrequited and unencouraged. Worst thing about it: not sure how you write a whole book about exorcising demons without mentioning God. But that's just me.

Before THAT I read Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store. Courtesy of EBJ. And I really really reeeeeeally wanted to love this book, but I knew the ending would disappoint. And it did. Sort of. It's like you KNOW Kelly should choose herself, but it's disappointing anyway? That. (Best thing about this book: Google/technology is like a full fledged character. Super interesting. Have passed it on to a tech nerd so he can tell me which parts are actually real.) 

Oh and somewhere in there I read Life After Life. Have I already written about it? I loved it. It was amazing. I want to re-read it and make a timeline/take notes. I feel like it went on a little too long? I feel like the perfect ending was right there and then I was surprised when that wasn't the end? But I thought this was amazing. (Note: I should say I didn't think it was amazing until Ursula starts trying to beat the Spanish flu. I think I only got what was going on at that point. But from then on: amazingness.)

Right now I am reading a $2.99 Kindle book about a WWII crash and rescue blah blah blah WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO RECOMMEND? 

Oh! Other articles of note. The Rolling Stone feature on Macklemore? Excellent. The Mark Bowden piece in the Atlantic on drones? FUH-REAKY. The entire new issue of The New Republic? Fascinating. I need to subscribe to that again.

Okay, the end. Next week: Cabo recap! I mean it this time! 


Tuesday Reads & Recommends: An Actual Book Edition

I finished The 5th Wave this afternoon and I need to talk about it. It is INTENSE. It is dark, dystopian, teenage angst with ALIENS and SHOOTING and VIOLENCE (especially among and between children) and therefore it is not at ALL the sort of book I would at ALL be interested in. Except, you guys, it was so good. 

I am hesitant to say HOW GOOD because of this other book I read called Bomb: The Race to Build - And Steal - The World's Most Dangerous Weapon. Elizabeth told me about this book when I was visiting her in Sacramento. Apparently it won a Newbery Honor and heaps of people were raving about it. She was unsure, but obvs I instantly downloaded it and read it on the plane ride home. And it WAS great! It was a fast-paced, thrilling, true life read that I'd recommend to anyone even slightly interested in Oppenheimer or World War II or espionage. It's worth a read just for the story of how the Norwegians sabotaged the German bombmaking facilities. (CRAZYPANTS.) 

However! I could not figure out why, exactly, it received honors or why people were especially smitten with it. I also didn't understand why a Newbery honor. Because to be perfectly honest, this book was just like many of the other fast-paced, thrilling, true life historical books I've read in the last several years. It was GOOD but why was it better than the others? And nothing about it seemed specifically directed at young people, at least as far as I could tell.

After discussing this with my dad, with whom I discuss all things Book- or War-Related, I decided it had to be one of two things. Either people were pushing non-fiction on the YA crowd and drumming up interest and excitement around a new and very good book OR. OR these people weren't FOND of history books and tried not to read them and when they had to read this one they were excited to have finally found one that didn't bore them to death. THAT COULD BE IT, RIGHT? 

So that's a bit of what I'm feeling around The 5th Wave. I don't normally read those sorts of books, so maybe this one is good-but-nothing-special. I don't know! Apparently the movie rights are already sold and it's the first of a planned trilogy, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's AWESOME. It also had elements of books I really didn't like (Twilight) or only sort of liked (The Hunger Games) and the love story was drippy and silly (at least to this 34-year-old cynic). BUT THE REST. The rest is more Ender's Game and I couldn't put it down. I want to read the next one NOW. 

On a completely TOTALLY different note, I also read Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work And Service. A much different kind of intense. I spent a whole evening trying to tell a friend what I got out of this book - I'm not sure I can do much better here. It's not the BEST book I've ever read, it's not the greatest story. It was something else, though. It details the author's attempt to find her Calcutta. What is the thing she is called to do. I appreciated what she had to say on that front, but for me what was most impactful was the study of Mother Teresa herself. Her humility, her obedience, her wisdom, her pursuit of God even when she hadn't heard his voice for years and years and years. In the face of that character my own anxieties seemed petty and insignificant, my ambitions small and unexciting. I guess I could say reading this book exposed me to my own spiritual immaturity. LAME. At the same time, it was so encouraging I only feel uplifted and reenergized. 

Now I don't have anything to read. And I can't buy MORE Kindle books. I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MYSELF. 


Friday Reads & Recommends: the Vintage Edition

So, heads up, I have a serious amount of war links, even for me. 

Have you heard of Irena Sendler? I hadn't either. Shame on me. What a courageous, amazing woman.

My father, the good Nazi. I just... Where did I get this link from? I forget. This story just broke my heart. The father wasn't just any old garden variety Nazi, he was a MONSTER, but it was hard to totally fault and blame and condemn the son for making so many excuses. Especially maybe because the father was so terrible. Despite his denials, it's telling to see the effects the father had on the son who never knew him. 

This story is just flat out crazypants. An Auschwitz Survivor Searches For His Twin On Facebook. I KNOW. Holy crap. They were one of Dr. Mengele's experiments. 

I am fascinated by the story of Ryan Fogle, the CIA agent found out in Moscow. The details are bizarre, but according to this story about spies in our history, he's in good company. 

North Korea isn't fighting a war (yet?) but I feel like this story about North Korean orphans fits in the category. This is awful, just like every other story that comes out of there. I've been debating picking up that newish book on FDR and the Jews, and every time I read about North Korea I can't help thinking WHAT SHOULD WE BE DOING ABOUT THIS? Fifty years from now is someone going to write a book about the US and how we knew what was going on and did nothing? UGH. 

All righty! That heavy enough? Here's a "this book is totally overrated" review of The Great Gatsby on Vulture. Excellent. I totally want to see the movie, though, because is there anything more glamorous than 1920s fashion? NO. And 1920s fashion as depicted by Baz Luhrmann? SWOON.

Wikipedia's Women Problem. Discuss.

Vintage cigarette ads. 

50 Shades of Draper. SERIOUSLY. I love this show, I really really do, I love how it's a chapter of a novel for me to dissect each week, but this was the first episode where I just needed something good. Simply good. Like Burt whatshisname falling in love with Joanie and they get married happily ever after and CAN SOMETHING HAPPY PLEASE HAPPEN OMG.


Reads & Recommends, the What Bad News? edition

What a terrible day. Here are some other things to read.

Courtesy of Phillip Cheung and his odd internet browsings, here's how a physicist proposed to another physicist

I fully agree with this picky picky anti-pagination crusader. 

I forget who linked to this on Twitter, but this memory of a recipient of a terrible review encountering Roger Ebert is pretty awesome. Thanks for linking, whoever you are!

I happened to catch this Medal of Honor ceremony during my lengthy SAHM lunch hour. Amazingness. Faith in humanity. The presence of light in darkness. The story of Army Chaplain Emil Kapaun

Did you guys hear the This American Life about coincidences? Actually I thought it was sorta dull until they got to the romantic part and HOO BOY those are some GOOD STORIES! The one about the dollar bill! PINK SPARKLY GOOSEBUMPS!

I still have mixed feelings about the Veronica Mars kickstarter thing, especially the frequent emails asking for more, but dudes! $5.7 million! And I am VERY excited for the movie. I've been watching old episodes on the treadmill and it's still crisp and dark and quippy. Logan Echolls is still my favorite TV boyfriend. (I have a few.)

I liked The Voice before, but I LOVE IT now. Usher is SO COOL you guys, SO CHILL and so good at laughing at himself (at least on the show?) and Shakira is a DOLL. I never thought I'd say that about the singer of Phillip's Favorite Song With Which To Annoy Me ("Hips Don't Lie") but for serious. She'sadorable. I usually get a little bored after the live auditions, but this season I am COMMITTED.

Here's the reaction of a little girl who sees herself for the first time after cleft palate surgery.

This article is super old, but it's still amazing. I think the lions were angels. 

Peace out, Internet 


Reads & Recommends: too tired to write anything else edition

I am blog-empty, Internet. But I have been reading LOTS of nonsense. 

A tablet simple enough for a WOMAN to use! Oh good, because I am REALLY struggling with my husband's manly too-smart-for-me tablet.

Surrogate offered $10,000 to abort baby. I just couldn't with this story. I just couldn't. I don't even know. BLARGH. 

Phillip and I watched the video on this guy's personal website with our jaws hanging open, neither one of us knowing quite what to make of it. I am well versed in the Asian Man Stereotypes, but this dude... THIS dude seems WACKO. Anyway. Here he is warning his clientele that the upcoming release of the new StarCraft game will only lead to greater isolation. (Uh, yeah.) (And yet Phillip Cheung? Totally stoked.)

I really really hope there are other more popular Phillip Cheungs out there, higher up on the Google list of search hits. 

I think this Veronica Mars "where are they now" slideshow came out before the big Kickstarter thing - probably just getting us all mopey again and ready to open our wallets when the moment demanded it. 

This is, pretty much, the ONLY positive thing I've read about Matt Lauer. Ever. 

Okay, we already did the whole papal election thing, but are we so over it that we aren't at least mildly interested in the lengths the Vatican goes to to keep it secret? This is super interesting!

Only of interest if you're local - how the UW light rail link will gentrify the neighborhood. (Mighty Maggie Trivia: I wrote one article for that paper! It was about new equipment at the dentistry school! It was terrifying! I had to INTERVIEW PEOPLE! OH THE HORROR! And then my second article assignment? Was about free condoms on campus. Yes. I think it got killed. And then I quit. OH DEAR GOD.) 

Required reading for life listy bloggers: why are we so obsessed with the pursuit of authenticity? For the record, I have no idea why people were upset about Beyonce lip syncing at the Superbowl. It's not like we don't know she can sing. GIRL CAN SING. 

I know the internet loves reading about unusual names

But this is the kind of thing writers and would-be authors think about. Curtis Sittenfeld’s parents called their daughter by her middle name from birth to distinguish her from the many Elizabeths in the family. Sittenfeld, the author of “Prep” and “American Wife,” didn’t think much of her name growing up, in part because she attended boarding school, “and no place has more people with weird names than boarding school,” she told me. But as an author, her name has resulted in numerous misreadings. “A lot of people have e-mailed me, ‘I read your story and I was so impressed at how a man could get inside the head of a female character,’ ” she said. “Then when they meet me, they’re much less impressed.”

My war books glossed over this particular guy, Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist, last surviving member of the July 20 plot (to assassinate Hitler). I was... simply amazed he was still around. Not least because I thought everyone even remotely associated with that plot paid with their lives. 

Phillip forwarded this one to me: pictures of children around the world with their favorite toys. Wow. 

P.S. Since this IS a reads & recommends post 

1. The newest Inspector Montalbano (Dance of the Seagull, by Andrea Camilleri) was GOOD. Not nearly enough talking to himself, but infinitely fewer young ladies throwing themselves at his feet. 

2. The newest Inspector Rutledge (I Forget The Title, by Charles Todd) is... not that good. I don't know why. I think the bad guy never felt interesting to me. Of course, I'm not quite done so there's still time to surprise me. And Meredith Channing disappeared! I KNOW! I need a book just about Rutledge and Meredith Channing. 

3. I'm reading that Birth Order book and I keep cross referencing it with my enneagram book and just be happy you aren't friends with me in real life for I fear I am now Entirely Insufferable. 

4. I finished Bailout, vomited, then coped for a week with Easter candy. I tweeted to the author and he tweeted back: 

Tweet
Shut up. My DAD was impressed, so THERE.

 


Reads & Recommends, Movie Edition

I've seen a few good ones lately. 

My sister and I borrowed our other sister's copy of Pitch Perfect and watched it at my house - wait. There is something I maybe haven't shared with you. I don't really like watching movies at home. I want to watch them in a big dark movie theater with a massive sound system on a ginormous screen, even if it's the simplest quietest movie. If I'm home I'd rather watch a TV show, and I'd rather be playing an iPad game and reading Twitter at the same time. I don't know. I have a short attention span at home, I get bored fast, I fall asleep. Movies are so much LESS at home (and I HATE seeing them twice). That said I love sitting in movie theaters almost as much as I love movies, so I will pretty much go see (and enjoy) almost anything. But anyway. Pitch Perfect. LOVE IT. It's silly and crass and ridiculous and AWESOME. My new favorite thing is telling people they have fat hearts. (IT'S A COMPLIMENT.) Anna Kendrick has never been my favorite (and I can't STAND Anna Camp) but they are determined to make me like them. Determined! 

Then Phillip and I went to see Silver Linings Playbook last weekend and seriously, is there a worse movie title? Don't answer that. The first couple of times (or twenty times) I saw the preview for this movie I didn't think much of it. I thought it looked too ISSUEY (you know?) and the age difference between J Law and the Hangover Dude really bugged me. But I like to see some if not ALL Oscar-nominated movies (at least the ones that are not Quentin Tarantino movies) so we went and OHHHHHHH. I haven't liked a movie so much in a very long time. I mean, I thought Pitch Perfect was a blast, but Silver Linings Playbook was like a very very good and engrossing and thought-provoking novel, where you loved all the characters and wanted the best for them and your faith in humanity swelled. I would see it again, I would even watch it at home. I was crazy impressed by every single actor in this movie EVEN CHRIS TUCKER. Love love love. LOOOOVE.

We have cable now - did I tell you that? We used to have cable, then we got rid of it, then our antenna was acting up during a Very Important Seahawks Game and Phillip Cheung was all THAT'S IT WE ARE GETTING CABLE AGAIN. Except it's Dish, because cable doesn't work on my street. Long story. (I LIVE IN THE WOODS. SORT OF. IN SEATTLE. ISH. SHUT UP.) So yeah, we have cable now, and one thing we like to do is scroll through the endless pointless channels to see how many times Bridesmaids is playing this week. I mean, we like to see if there are any movies we want to record. So even though I don't like to watch movies at home (SEE ABOVE) I had really really really really wanted to see An Education when it was out a few years ago and missed it. But it was playing the other night. So I recorded it. And I watched the first half with Phillip and the second half today at naptime. AAAAAND. I cannot decide! Part of me loved it. I think that part of me is in my early 20s, loves things set in the early 60s, ADORES Carey Mulligan and coming of age stories, and relates to the Girl Who Wants To See The World. The other part of me is in my 30s and old and married and long over her women's studies classes and thought everyone in it was being stupid and selfish and careless and BIG HUGE EYE ROLL. Age Twenty Me loved the dresses and hair and Paris scenes best, Age Thirty Me loved the dad character development. Both of the Mes thought Carey Mulligan was great. Possibly both of the Mes want to BE Carey Mulligan.

And now I am watching Take This Waltz with Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen because it was free on Amazon Prime and I like to watch Free On Amazon Prime things while I am suffering through my nineteen-minute miles on the treadmill. I've been trudging through every season of the West Wing but I was getting a little bored with that and I love Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen. I haven't finished it yet, but it's... well, the circumstances feel forced to me? A young married chick (Michelle) just HAPPENS to live across the street from a charming dude she meets on an airplane, except oops, MARRIED (to Seth) and DRAMA. So that part is, you know, whatever. But the interactions? Those feel VERY REAL and some of those very simple quiet scenes are UNNERVING. Anyway. Has anyone seen it? Trivia note: it's written and directed by Sarah Polley, who I'm supposed to think of as a Hip Young Emerging Canadian Filmmaker, but who I actually think of as The Girl Who Won The Role Of Ramona Quimby Way Back When They Were Making A TV Series About Ramona Quimby. 

Movies I would really like to see, but probably won't: Amour, the parts of Zero Dark Thirty that aren't depicting torture

Movies in which I have absolutely no interest: Les Mis, Django Unchained, Life of Pi


Reads & Recommends, Tuesday Night Edition

Interesting profile of a South African comedian:

"The son of a black South African woman and a white Swiss man who met when interracial relationships were illegal in South Africa, Noah jokes that he was "born a crime.""

Shudder.

You'll probably find this one incredibly boring, but NOT ME! What cruise lines don't want you to know. Phillip is dyyyying to go on a cruise, but they've never sounded great to me. You can't get off! I get motion sick just looking at them! I would gain 100 pounds a night! Hello claustrophobia! Here is something I probably haven't told you: in my past working life I was required to know more about maritime law and issues than the average person, and I also helped recruit staff for a US-flagged cruise ship line. The stuff in this opinion piece is a Big Deal, and yeah, I'm happy to add "foreign-flagged" to my list of reasons to keep up the Lifetime Cruise Ship Boycott. (Phillip is super bummed.)

WASHINGTON RULES. A friend of mine linked to this on Facebook and it speaks truth. I'd say it's required reading for all locals. Perhaps the colorful language is not necessarily the sort we use here on mightymaggie.com, but I support and commend the author's skill in deploying it.

On a TOTALLY DIFFERENT NOTE, Marie from Tiny Town linked to THIS on Facebook: "If I were at home, I would have died". Another entry in the home birth vs. hospital birth catalogue, but the comments are the best and most interesting part. As I read through it occurred to me, for the absolute very first time, that if I'd had Emma at home? Or at a birth center? Or even maybe with a midwife? Things would have been SO different, right? I have no complaints about my first two hospital (and medicated) births - Molly's birth was probably the Most Perfect Hospital Birth, for both provider and mother. And of course I had no intention of doing it naturally the third time. I didn't think I COULD if it was another 40+ hour labor like the others. But with hindsight? YES. I would absolutely 100% choose home over hospital. The three things that traumatized me most were 1) being alone until the last minute, not realizing where my body was in the labor process 2) being forced into delivering in the stupid bed, and 3) the whole mess AFTER the baby was out, with EJ across the room and me feeling like a slab of meat getting poked and prodded. NONE OF THOSE THINGS would have happened if I were at home. 

Hmm, sorry, did not intend to write a whole post on THAT. Oops! I still have The Feelings, apparently. (And I should say, I don't blame my nurse or the doctor, it just wasn't... you know. With Jack and Molly the hospital was a massive and comforting relief; with Emma it was... like the hospital ITSELF was the unnecessary intervention almost.)

BLARGH. DONE. OKAY, WHAT ELSE.

Kill These [TV] Characters At Your Own Risk (New York Times) I wasn't surprised with Downton (I'd read casting news), but The Walking Dead and Mad Men? Game of Thrones? ARGH!

2024 Olympics in Seattle? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

And this isn't a Reads or Recommends, but I just have to tell you: DUDES. I hung out downtown this weekend and stood on a corner, across the street from the tallest building in Seattle, waiting for Phillip to pay for parking. And that whole time I was standing there LOOKING UP, just LOOKING UP AT THIS HUGE BUILDING and it took me a whole minute to realize I WAS LOOKING UP and I WASN'T FREAKING OUT. Because my ENTIRE LIFE I've had a phobia of Looking Up [Usually At Tall Things, But Also High Ceilings] (THIS IS REAL). When I was little I couldn't walk through the mall without squeezing my dad's hand and keeping my eyes on the floor. I literally needed to hold on to something. Whenever I visited my aunt in Seattle, I couldn't ever look up lest I feel paralyzed and terrified. Not that the building would FALL OVER - it wasn't like that. I don't know WHAT it was. I just couldn't look up! When we moved overseas I HAAAAAAATED going inside giant cathedrals because I could NOT STAND THE HIGH CEILINGS. It's hard to describe. But anyway, I've noticed I'm not half as tense about it as I used to be. But this weekend was seriously the first time in my WHOLE LIFE that I looked up at something massive for longer than ten seconds, without forcing myself, and almost enjoying the view. IT WAS AMAZING. Freedom! Ha! 

All right, I have to put some beasties to bed. Night night.

P.S. I am NOT afraid to look DOWN. Interesting! 

 

 


More books, different war

I think it was at least a month ago that I went to see Lincoln. It was such a good movie, you guys. I think I would have liked it even more if I'd had even the slightest idea what was going on. I know mortifyingly little about the Civil War or the Emancipation Proclamation or anything beyond kindergarten facts about Abraham Lincoln. I thought it was kind of Spielberg, though, that he allowed me to enjoy his movie without - apparently - ever having taken eleventh grade American History. 

Anyway, I went home that night and downloaded Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the book on which the movie is supposedly based. Although I will tell you straight out that the entirety of the movie happens within, say, three or four pages of the book, and I'm still not sure what was true and what was movie. Doesn't matter - the book was SO GOOD. It had a bit of a slow start, reviewing as it does the biographies of Lincoln and his four rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. But then Lincoln gets elected and history starts happening super fast and WHOA. For a while there you think DKG is telling the story of the Second Coming. 

And I don't mean that snarkily... I've seen DKG on The Daily Show enough times to decide that she's a Nice Lady, in addition to being Super Smart, and I have no reason to believe her portrait of Lincoln isn't excellent. Everyone's heard of "Honest Abe" and he did free the slaves and save the country, but reading this book you're sort of entranced by the almost superhuman kindness and magnanimity of this not-famous "prairie lawyer". Or maybe it's just the fact that I spent much of the last year reading about his polar opposite, Adolf Hitler. 

I know that sounds utterly ridiculous, to be talking about those two men in the same breath, but I couldn't help myself! They were both these obscure small town men with fierce ambition who rose to the top of their respective countries - one just happened to be evil and the other downright saintly. How does that happen? I suppose there are all kinds of "great" men. It just struck me as unfortunate. Unfair? Throughout Team of Rivals DKG is quoting someone or other saying it was the hand of God that put Lincoln in the White House - whose hand was responsible for Hitler? 

This is very silly, I know. Dumb comparison, dumb to think about. I was just so accustomed to reading about derelicts and criminals in power that Lincoln and his cabinet was a mind-altering practically jaw-dropping switch. Not only were they working for what they thought was in the best interests of the country, those interests actually were the best! How often does that happen?!

So I'm saying that I learned a lot. I now feel like I know a thing or two about the Civil War without having to trudge through the Ken Burns documentary or reading a history of each battle. Which is good. I think my main bias against the Civil War as Something To Learn About has been the amount of horror and gore and misery, but DKG found a way to write about the terrible things without dwelling on them. 

Some other things I thought while I was reading - 

Every time I hit upon the word 'slavery', which was A LOT obvs, I experienced a mental jolt. Just the word, the LETTERS looked... I don't know. Like each time I read it I had to remind myself all over again what it meant. The reality of it, I suppose. I realized that as a white person living in the Pacific Northwest in 2013 I haven't had much occasion to think much about our country's history of slavery, beyond what I learned in school. But as I read I found myself thinking: how is it possible that we can ever heal from that? How can reconciliation ever be possible? 

Mary Lincoln could have CLEARLY benefited from some SSRIs. And I felt HORRIBLE for her. I thought DKG did well with Mary, not hiding any of her flaws and errors, but explaining why she might have acted the way she did. I liked the treatment of Mary in the movie too. Sort of a "yes, this woman is bat&%$# crazy, but you can see how that might have happened, yes?" 

The "villain" of the story, at least as far as Lincoln's position within the Republican party went, is Salmon Chase, the future Secretary of the Treasury. He's a Pharisee - pious yet odious and horribly un-self aware. But he was the most radical of all the rivals in his indictment of slavery, never wanted to compromise, tireless in his pursuit, matter-of-fact. It made me like him enough to feel sorry for him. 

And you guys, I like politics. I like reading about it, I get hooked on cable news shows, I like to think about all that stuff. I've never been sold on a politician, but I've also never thought all politicians were dirtbags. Some of them are, some of them are just trying to do a good job, some of them actually are doing a good job. But reading this book... I kept thinking, if ABRAHAM LINCOLN had to manipulate people and occasionally "hide the truth" and all that, then DEAR GOD what is the hope for the rest of us! I just hated thinking of myself as part of the Unwashed Masses, part of Public Opinion which must be molded and formed, by a politician, to achieve a goal. I want more credit than that? Except that IS where I fall in the Hierarchy Of People Who Make Decisions and I just have to trust them? When even ABRAHAM LINCOLN skirts the truth? (EVEN IF I AGREE WITH WHY HE IS DOING IT?!) Ugh. Hate it. Very down on Government now. 

Oh, and along with that it was hard to swallow the heaps of lawmakers who thought slavery was a bad thing, but didn't think it was THAT big a deal, or thought freed slaves would be happier if they were shipped back to Africa, or thinking that the Union should compensate Southerners for their lost laborers, or saying they were free in the North, but if they were escaped slaves the North was duty bound to send them back... I don't know. All this honoring the constitution. Which I SUPPOSE is a good thing? EXCEPT NOT IN THIS CASE? From my perspective, of course, it seems OUTLANDISH and WILD and WHAAAAT?! I tried very hard to put myself in 1860 something - and failed. Blargh. 

My favorite parts might be reading about the women and family lives of all these important men. They were no wallflowers, these ladies. 

These are all elementary observations to you, Internet, I know. Reading war books is not making me SMART, only removing me from The Place Of Complete And Total Ignorance. 

AAAAAAAAAAANYWAY. You guys are so nice. Humoring me. *bats eyelashes*

So now I'm reading The Guns of August, which is the book recommended for Learning About World War 1. It's written by a very smart lady, Barbara Tuchman, and won the Pulitzer Prize, and I had to slog through about 25% (according to my Kindle) before it started to get interesting. Or at least something I didn't have to read five times to understand. The beginning is all a mess of French colonels and German field marshals and talk about offensive vs. defensive strategies and it starts to feel like you are reading the "begat who begat who begat" part of the Bible. The war has started and I am STILL not sure why. Well, besides "some damn foolish thing in the Balkans", of course. This means I'm going to have to call my dad and profess ignorance I HATE DOING THAT. 

But now that the book is in the thick of things? SUPER INTERESTING. I feel like I can keep track of what's happening, at least. That's always good. It's also contributing to my current politics revulsion. (See, when you're reading about Hitler, you EXPECT everyone involved to be horrible self-serving liars.)

Okay, it's been a long afternoon/evening, I totally bombed at Weight Watchers today, and I'm thinking I might just go to bed at (yes) 8pm. Shut up. THE END.

 


Reads & Recommends, Urbana-ish Edition

All I have to say about this gun control article is that Megan McArdle always makes me think: There's Little We Can Do To Prevent Another Massacre.

Dear God, Dar Williams is FORTY-FIVE? Sheesh. I looked high and low for a review of the show she did with Loudon Wainwright III in Seattle last weekend, which I attended with a former Long Lost Yet Much Beloved Friend, but all I could find was a review of a DIFFERENT Dar/Loudon show. I suppose Seattle is too cool for fangirl swooning (I am not). Loudon and Dar in Iowa. (Iowa! Oooooooh ooooh, ooooh, Iowa.)

Make your teenage nieces and nephews read this: 

It was an embarrassing few minutes. The exposure was regrettable. The angle was bad. The dialogue was unrealistic. And it’s going to be on the Internet forever.

Although perhaps it doesn't mean as much coming from someone who's been blogging since 2004.

Did you know that if you get 25,000 signatures on an online petition, the White House promises to respond? Except now that they've had to respond about building a Death Star, they've bumped that number to 100,000. The Empire Won't Strike Back. (And the response: Galactic Empire Responds.)

Those last two are from Phillip, by the way. So is the next one: 

A developer outsourced his own job to China. THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED. 

In honor of two whole days without eating carbs (SOB!) I present: Consider the Cheeto

...perhaps junk food does offer a sort of self-effacement or understandable reprieve from thoughtful, engaged eating.

I, of course, think Cheetos are vile.

I am reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. YES I downloaded this the day after I saw 'Lincoln'. I recommend both. Except I sort of wish I'd read SOMETHING about Lincoln before I went and saw the movie because I spent at least half of it asking my history major sister what was going on (shame) and she had no idea either (double shame!) But yeah. Excellent movie, super interesting book (which is way more about character and politics than it is about gory Civil War details, at least so far, if you are the sort of person who is concerned about those things.)

I WANT to be reading A Heart for Freedom by Chai Ling, but this Lincoln book is going to take me forever. Chai Ling was the leader of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 AND she was a speaker at Urbana! I didn't actually get to see her talk because I had a prayer shift that night, but you can see it here. She now runs an organization that works against the effects of the one-child policy in China. 

Other Urbana talks, if you're into that: 

THIS DUDE IS A CATHOLIC. I KNOW.

I saw this student speak and everyone in my little group was in awe. 

All right, I'm spending the weekend celebrating my almost-youngest-sibling's 30th birthday. THIRTY! WOO! I intend to eat ALL THE CARBS!


Tuesday Reads & Recommends

Recommend: Have you ever played, or ever heard of, Hashi? I was looking for a nerdy logicky iPad game for the occasional zone out purpose and stumbled on this app. AND NOW I AM OBSESSED. It was super easy to pick up and each game is harder than the last. I used to finish them in two minutes, now I'm constantly getting stuck and having to start over. 

Also, if anyone is EXTRA nerdy like me and has a few of those Nancy Drew computer games in a drawer somewhere, the Dana Knightstone iPad apps are pretty cool. Same developer, same sort of set ups and puzzles, less annoying dialogue. 

Read: Where'd You Go, Bernadette? I read this on the planes to and from the Blathering. I loved it. It is a quirky little book, but its a good one, especially if you are from or familiar with Seattle. Then you will find it hilarious. AND TRUE!

Read: A few weeks back this guy was on the news - a neurosurgeon who went into a coma and miraculously woke up claiming he'd seen? visited? journeyed to? heaven. I KNOW. Obvs I read this article ASAP and discussed it at length with everyone who would listen, as fascinated-by-the-supernatural types such as myself are wont to do. Even if you're not that type it's pretty interesting, if only for the exquisite description!

Read: In the same religiousy wackjobby vein, read this article Phillip forwarded to me (from a TECH site!) about the issues a student is having with her student ID, which happens to be "the mark of the beast". Just so you know, everything I learned about the Rapture and the End Times I learned from my friend's parents who have been preparing for these events for years. Truly. I get all my good conspiracy theories from them, also my information on how long how many pounds of flour will last and where to invest. Anyway, what Phillip and I both liked about this article is how it examined the question without making the believers into ridiculous cartoon characters. My friend's parents were positive that UN troops were holed up in Montana to declare martial law when Obama won the election, but they're very kind people. 

Read: one of my best friends has a child with Down Syndrome and if my dad reads something about Down Syndrome he will send me the link to forward to her. Usually these are George Will articles. This time it was 6 Things Down Syndrome Parents Wish You Would Stop Saying. When he sent the link he added, "maybe number seven is: "Hey, I read this great article on Down Syndrome, I'll send you the link!" But I liked this writer's candor. 

Read: This is... I guess I'd say it's one of the most powerful and honest blog posts I've read in a long time, from Barefoot and Pregnant

Intellectually, I believe the Church. I understand the arguments against birth control. I agree with them, even. I just no longer think I’m a good enough person to follow the rules.

That spike your interest? 

Recommend: Believe it or not, when I've been looking for dresses and skirts and tops of the sparkly holiday variety, JCPenney has been my best bet. BY FAR. I am in absolute love with the dress I bought to wear to our party this weekend - not online for some reason, but it's this silvery lace thing with FRINGE and OMG I LOVE IT. I mean, for something I'm going to wear once or twice a year, I don't want to spend heaps of money, but I want SOMETHING awesome. I found several awesome things at my local mall department store. WOO!