Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Back: 2009 As Seen Through The Betty and Boo Chronicles

"It's the end of a decade, in another ten years time
Who can say what we'll find, what lies waiting down the line
In the end of eighty-nine...
Happy new year, Happy new year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbour is a friend
Happy new year, Happy new year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don't we might as well lay down and die ...
"

"Happy New Year" ~ ABBA

I just love that song (and anything ABBA, really) and isn't that so fitting for this New Year's? Before I get started with the ultimate wrap up post, did you know there's an honest-to-goodness Blue Moon tonight?! (Sing it with me, won't you ... "bluuuuuuuue moooooon ....") There is. Apparently, this is the first time this has happened on New Year's since December 31, 1990. That was, without a doubt, one of the more horrible New Year's of my life. 'Twas nearly the end of The Dean and me relationship-wise, so the blue full moon scenario certainly explains a lot.

Ahem. I digress. Sorry 'bout that.

My big New Year's resolution for 2009 was to blog every day - and I did, until Betty came home sick from school in March. That night, she needed me more than the blogging world did. Still, I'm ending the year with 415 blog posts (including this one) which I'm pleased about.

The other major accomplishment for me this year was doing NaNoWriMo. Although I didn't make it to 50,000 words, I now have 60 pages of a novel that has been floating around in my head for more than a decade! (You can read my excerpts here, here, and here.)

Back to the blog. I think this year was a pretty good one on that front. As part of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, y'all nominated me for an award or two ("Happiness, Doubled by Wonder") ... and I'm still very appreciative.

I'm also grateful for the writers that have taken time to do a guest post (Karen Harrington, who will be making an encore appearance as soon as I read her book Janeology) or just leave a comment or send an email. I'd also be remiss without mentioning author Beth Kephart, who has become a blogging friend this year (and last) and who I had the good fortune to meet in person one very special night in February. (It comes as no surprise to we Beth fans that she signed six books for me that night ... all with personal, paragraph-length messages! I'm still a little embarrassed by my groupie-like behavior.)

I started participating in The Sunday Salon, which I really enjoy. One of my Salon posts is the highest viewed post of the year ("On Literary Salons Then and Now.") It helped that author Lily Koppel linked to it on her blog (thank you, Lily!) For some reason, this post about the limited number of library books a new borrower can have ("The Sky's Not the Limit Anymore") is also pretty popular.

But perhaps the best thing to happen to the blog was finding the perfect blog header ("Stop, In the Name of ... Huh?")

Blogging events that I participated in included Bloggiesta, the 24-Hour Read-a-Thon, BBAW, the Thankfully Reading Weekend.

This incident with my minivan in the deep freeze of last January was among the catalysts for my getting a new car later in the spring. It was time ... just as it was time for our family to welcome a new feline ("Meeting Mrs. Douglas").

We remembered the famous like Eunice Kennedy and the not-quite-as-famous: author Christopher Nolan ; our beloved Phillies sportscaster Harry Kalas ("Hard to Believe, Harry"); Gary Papa, a beloved sports anchor; a pillar of the community ("For Harriet, With My Thanks"); a baby who captured the hearts of a community ("Sweet Baby Zane"); a victim of dating violence who is changing a community ("Run Life Your Way"); a mom and daughter who inspired a playground ("Remembering Lisa and Devon"); and everyday people like the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings ("Remember Their Names").

And there was that unforgettable week in June, when we lost Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett ("Farrah Fawcett's Role of Many Lifetimes") and - most shocking of all, Michael Jackson ("Remnants of a Childhood," "Remembering Anew," "Daddy's Girl, For Always")

We dreamed along with the perceived underdogs ("Susan Boyle: She Dreamed a Dream in Time Gone By")

My kids, Betty and Boo, always make good blog fodder. Boo's made several guest appearances here, sharing his favorite Presidents and favorite musicians Part of the reason I blog is to remember the little things for them, like the conundrums they present to me every Halloween ("Halloween Deja Vu") - and the big things, like how we felt the day President Obama was inaugurated.

Our family continued our long goodbye with my grandfather ("Birds on a Limb") and said our final farewell ("For the Good Times") during the same week that all the celebrities died. and muddled through the ups and downs of raising a child on the autism spectrum ("Surviving the Regression, or The Storm Before the Calm," "Funerals R Us") as well as even some humorous parts ("Keith Urban and Boo: Counselors to Brokenhearted 7 Year Olds"). And somehow, I survived turning 40.

Current events big and small were also discussed here. I'm still wondering whether Putin requested "The Visitors" when the ABBA-esque folks stopped by, and if the Special Olympians stopped by The White House yet to bowl with Obama ("Obama: Bowling for Dummies").

Even in April, we were worried about the swine flu ("It's the End of the World and I Feel Fine")- when it was still PC to call it the swine flu. I'd rather worry about that then the mentality of people who think it's a good idea to fly Air Force One at a low altitude in Manhattan. ("Next Time, try Photoshopping the Photo Op")

Local stories of interest - like Charlie Balasavage going to jail for buying a scooter from a relative ("Charlie"), Lisa Levinson's efforts to help Philadelphia's toads ("It's Not Easy Bein' Green"), and the crisis that threatened to close Philadelphia's libraries ("Yo Philly! Ben Franklin Here, Talkin' to Youse From the Grave")

And then sometimes, once in awhile, a piece of your childhood home makes the national news ("Fool on the Hill," "The Ongoing Saga of the Valley Club and Mr. Peabody's Apples," as well as locations that are right around the corner where you grew up. ("Getting a Sweetened Deal from Airport Security" - a post that takes on a little more significance now after the Christmas Day terrorism attempt.)

Some may say that I've become a little addicted to the likes of Facebook, and that's probably true, but it's been an amazing year reconnecting with people buried under the cobwebs of our lives and remembering our glory days ("Legends in Their Own Time"). As well as people who help you think differently about what seems status quo. ("Train of Thought")

Or, sometimes, it is the people who are the constants in our lives that keep us running ("Paying It Forward in the Drive-Thru")

And readers like you. Thanks for being here ... here's to another great year together under a bright blue moon.

Year 2009: One for the Books

Well, I have to say ... 2009 has been a great year on the reading front for me! My main goal was to read more than I did in 2008, which I am utterly embarrassed to admit was a measly 28 books. Yep, no typo there ... 28. That's beyond appalling, and I knew that when the clock struck midnight last year.

Total Number of Books Read in 2009: 56
(this is an all-time record for me, at least since I've been keeping track which has really only been since 2006 or so.)

Total Number of Books Reviewed: 48 (and some of the missing ones have been written, just not posted yet)

Here's the breakdown:

Fiction: 29
Nonfiction: 7

Historical Fiction: 2
Audiobooks:
10
Memoirs:
8
Young Adult (YA):
12
Short Story Collections: 5
Poetry Collections: 5

New-to-Me Authors (in terms of reading their work for the first time): 43

Female Authors: 33
Male Authors: 16

Authors Read the Most: (this is a 4-way tie, so we'll do this alphabetically):
Billy Collins (2)
Louise Erdrich (2)
Andrew Sean Greer (2)
Beth Kephart (2)

Number of Library Books I Read: 47
Number of My Own Books I Read: 9

Number of Pages Read: 13,340
Average Number of Pages per Book: 238

Books Read that Were Published in 2009: 18
In 2008: 20

Reading Challenges Joined: Dewey's Books, Just for the Love of It, 50 Books for Our Time, Fall Into Reading.

Reading Challenges Not Completed: Dewey's Books (I feel bad about this), Just for the Love of It, 50 Books for Our Times (separate post in the works about that).

Reading Challenges Completed: Fall Into Reading 2009

Best Books I Read in 2009 (in no order):
The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, by Tiffany Baker
The Alchemy of Loss, by Abigail Carter
Promises to Keep, by Joe Biden
The Story of a Marriage, by Andrew Sean Greer
There's No Place Like Here, by Cecelia Ahern
The Sugar Queen, by Sarah Addison Allen
A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri
Confessions of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean Greer
Nothing but Ghosts, by Beth Kephart
The Life You Longed For, by Maribeth Fischer
This Lovely Life, by Vicki Forman
The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister
House of Dance, by Beth Kephart
The Center of Everything (audio), by Laura Moriarty
She's Come Undone (audio), by Wally Lamb
Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Tomato Girl, by Jayne Pupek
Last Night in Montreal, by Emily St. John Mandel
Make Lemonade, by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Because I Am Furniture, by Thalia Chaltas
Anything But Typical, by Nora Raleigh Baskin
The Red Leather Diary, by Lily Koppel
Reading the OED, by Ammon Shea
Building a Home with My Husband, by Rachel Simon
The Curse of the Good Girl, by Rachel Simmons

(books beginning with "the" seem to be winners for me, huh?)

and ... without further ado ... drumroll please ...


The Complete List of the 56 Books I've Read in 2009:
(links take you to my reviews)

1. Beyond Time Out: From Chaos to Calm - by Beth Grosshans
2. The 19th Wife - by David Ebershoff
3. House of Dance - by Beth Kephart
4. Matrimony - by Joshua Henkin
5. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County - by Tiffany Baker
6. Promises to Keep - by Joe Biden
7. The Sugar Queen - by Sarah Addison Allen (audio)
8. The Alchemy of Loss - by Abigail Carter
9. The Best American Poetry 2008 - Guest Editor, Charles Wright; Series Editor, David Lehman
10. Unaccustomed Earth - by Jhumpa Lahiri (audio)
11. Patriotic Grace - by Peggy Noonan
12. The Center of Everything - by Laura Moriarty (audio)
13. Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor - by Brad Gooch
14. Nine Horses: Poems - by Billy Collins
15. Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why It Matters - by Bill Tancer
16. Under the Tuscan Sun - by Frances Mayes (audio)
17. She's Come Undone - by Wally Lamb (audio)
18. The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories, 1978-2008 - by Louise Erdrich
19. Loving Frank - by Nancy Horan (audio) (review here)
20. Without a Backward Glance - by Kate Veitch
21. Fidelity (Poems) - by Grace Paley
22. The Story of a Marriage - by Andrew Sean Greer
23. Love Comes First: A Collection of Poems - by Erica Jong
24. Reading the OED: One Year, One Man, 21,730 Pages - by Ammon Shea
25. There's No Place Like Here - by Cecilia Ahern
26. Ballistics (Poems) - by Billy Collins
27. The Bible Salesman - by Clyde Edgerton (audio)
28. The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal - by Lily Koppel (review here)
29. Nothing But Ghosts - by Beth Kephart
30. This Lovely Life - by Vicki Forman
31. Matters of Faith - by Kristy Kiernan
32. Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories - by Lauren Groff
33. Looking for Alaska - by John Green
34. Little Earthquakes (audio) - by Jennifer Weiner
35. The History of Love - by Nicole Krauss
36. Tomato Girl - by Jayne Pupek
37. The Painted Drum - by Louise Erdrich
38. Building a Home with My Husband: A Journey Through the Renovation of Love - by Rachel Simon
39. Last Night in Montreal - by Emily St. John Mandel
40. A Thousand Splendid Suns - by Khaled Hosseini (audio)
41. The Pen/ O. Henry Prize Stories 2009, edited by Laura Furman
42. The Confessions of Max Tivoli - by Andrew Sean Greer
43. Make Lemonade - by Virginia Euwer Wolff
44. The Life You Longed For - by Maribeth Fischer
45. An Egg on Three Sticks - by Jackie Moyer Fischer
46. Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's, by Tim Page
47. Linda McCartney: A Portrait (audio) - by Danny Fields
48. The Best of Philadelphia Stories, vol. 2
49. The Hunger Games - by Suzanne Collins
50. Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, by Michael Davis
51. Because I Am Furniture - by Thalia Chaltras
52. The School of Essential Ingredients - by Erica Bauermeister
53. The Curse of the Good Girl - by Rachel Simmons
54. Lark & Termite - by Jayne Anne Phillips
55. Anything But Typical - by Nora Raleigh Baskin
56. Brooklyn - by Colm Toibin

I still have a few gaps in the reviews, and I am committed to doing them. Soon. In particular, I feel very badly about not yet reviewing This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman as well as The Best of Philadelphia Stories, vol. 2. I promise to do so, but in the meantime, let me tell you that they were both very good and worth getting. (I'll also be mentioning This Lovely Life in a separate memoir-related post I'm planning ... hopefully for The Sunday Salon.)

We also read countless children's books this year. There's no way I could have captured all of them or kept track of them. (We are the ones who are always at our limit of 99 books from the library.) But, I was pleased to see that I - and in some cases, the kids - wrote 27 reviews of children's books. All of these are especially worthy, and I think all of them would make it onto a best of list for kids' books. Links take you to the reviews. (For the new readers to my blog, my kids are 8 years old, so that gives you a sense of the reading level and interest.)

1. The Truth About Cousin Ernie's Head - by Matthew McElligott
2. How Sweet It Is (and Was): The History of Candy - by Ruth Freeman Swain
3. Baseball Hour, by Carol Nevius and illustrated by Bill Thomson
4. Crazy Hair, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
5. Who Was Louis Armstrong? by Yona Zeldis McDonough and illustrated by John O'Brien
6. Read All About It! by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush, illustrated by Denise Brunkas
7. Tough Chicks, by Cece Meng and illustrated by Melissa Suber
8. Of Dinosaurs and Rainbows (a post with two reviews: When Dinosaurs Came With Everything, by Elise Broach and illustrated by David Small, and Once Upon a Rainbow, by Jennifer Woods Tierney)
9. Sky Magic poems compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Mariusz Stawarski
10. A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee
11. Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie by Norton Juster and illustrated by Chris Raschka
12. Growing Money: A Complete and Completely Updated Money Guide for Kids by Gail Karlitz
13. Let's Go On a Mommy Date! by Karen Kingsbury
14. Forever Young by Bob Dylan and illustrated by Paul Rogers
15. The Garden of Happiness, by Erika Tamar, illustrations by Barbara Lambase
16. Book review of three children's books (I Took the Moon for a Walk, by Carolyn Curtis and Alison Jay; Princess Grace, by Mary Hoffman; Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu; and Humpty Dumpty Climbs Again! by Dave Horowitz)
17. Happy Birthday to You! The Mystery Behind the Most Famous Song in the World, by Margot Theis Raven and paintings by Chris Soentpiet
18. Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers by Karen B. Winnick
19. Diary of a Worm, by Doreen Cronin
20. Book reviews of three children's books (Our Library, by Eve Bunting; Anna's Table, by Eve Bunting; and That Book Woman, by Heather Henson)
21. Mr. Peabody's Apples, by Madonna
22. A Gift of a Memory: A Keepsake to Commemorate the Loss of a Loved One: by Marianne Richmond

I'll have a separate post up (maybe not by the stroke of midnight, but soon) with a recap of the year in review. In the meantime, I hope you've had a great reading year (I am loving reading your wrap up posts!).

Now. Let's close the book on 2009 (or slam it shut, or throw it across the room, or whatever fits the year you've had) and get the reading party started for 2010! Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book Review: Lark & Termite, by Jayne Anne Phillips

Lark & Termite, by Jayne Anne Phillips

I have Beth Kephart to thank for many things, the least of which is being a great source of books that I might not otherwise know about. So it was when I saw Lark & Termite on my library's New Books shelf, I immediately recognized it as one of Beth's recommendations, as her post from October 2008 makes so clear.

This is a novel that is so many things, on so many levels. It is a love story set upon the backdrop of war. It's the story of maternal love, in all its forms, and the story of the special bond between siblings. It's mystical and elegant, sad and sensual, intricate and simple. It is a novel that is hard to categorize for all of these reasons.

Let's start with the characters. In the first pages of the novel, we meet Corporal Robert ("Bobby") Levitt, a soldier gravely wounded in Korea in July 1950 and far from his Philadelphia hometown. (The City of Brotherly Love is somewhat of a bit player in this novel, but any book with a Philly setting in any sense earns points with me.) Bobby is newly married to Lola, a singer who he met while playing trumpet in a club and who is pregnant with his child, who will be known as Termite. A rather unfortunate name, but one bestowed upon the boy because he is just a "mite" of a thing.

And then there is Lark. Wise beyond her 17 years, Lark spends her days devotedly and selflessly caring for Termite, who is developmentally disabled, wheelchair-bound, hardly able to talk except to repeat the last few words or a short phrase of a sentence. The siblings live in West Virginia with Lola's sister, Nonie, after Lola abandoned them. The reasons for the abandonment - as well as the identity of her father - are a mystery to Lark.

Lark & Termite takes place over the course of several days in July - albeit exactly 9 years apart. Told from the points of view of various characters, the trajectories, coincidences, and intersections of all of their lives is the substance of the novel. Consider this passage, from Lark's point of view:

"Life feels big to me, but I'm not sure it's long. I rub cereal off the hard curved lips of the breakfast bowls, and life feels broad and flat, like a sand beach rolling into desert, miles and miles. Like pictures of Australia I've seen, with a sapphire sky pressing down and water at one edge. That edge is where things change all at once. You might see the edge coming, but you can't tell how close or how far away it is, how fast it might come up. I can feel it coming. Like a sound, like a wind, like a far off train." (pg. 37-38).

The seemingly simple things - like a piece of blue plastic from a dry-cleaning bag that Termite perseverates on - are central to Termite's world, a world which seems limited on the surface and to others but in fact, is richly layered. Among the hallmarks of Jayne Anne Phillips' writing is how she delves into Termite's mind, allowing the reader to tiptoe among his thoughts, to see the kaleidoscope of details that comprise his world. While blowing on the piece of blue plastic from the dry-cleaning bag,

"[he] sees through the blue and it goes away, he sees through the blue and it goes away again. He breathes, bowing just high. The blue moves, but not too much, the blue moves and stays blue and moves. He can see into the sky where there are no shapes. The shapes that move around him are big, colliding and joining and going apart. They're the warm feel of what he hears and smells next to him, of those who hold and move and touch and lift him, saying these curls get so tangled, wipe off his hands, Lark, there's Termite. He sings back to keep them away or draw them near. That's all he'll say, he won't tell and tell .... Pictures that touch him move and change, they lift and turn, stutter their edges and blur into one another. Their colors fall apart and are never still long enough for him to see, but the pictures inside him hold still." (pg. 57)

As the mother of a child with Aspergers, and who seems to take frequent delight in the simplest things in life and who prompts wonder from us on a daily basis about his quirks and interests, I found passages like these absolutely intriguing and among the best in the book. I loved Lark's protectiveness of him coupled with her insight into his world.

"Later, when Nonie gets home, I could ask her: what about that? How can you say he doesn't know what goes on? And she'll look at me and shake her head. Lark, she'll say,what about the other ninety-nine times out of a hundred, when he sounds off strictly according to his own rhyme and reason?

She doesn't understand. That's the point: he's got a rhyme and reason. We only see the surface, like when you look at a river and all you see is a reflection of the sky." (pg. 134)

"People who don't know Termite get nervous around him. They look away, but everyone who does know him wants to give him something. The fact is, once they know he's not the emergency he might appear to be, they find an excuse to be near him. He doesn't demand anything or communicate in the usual ways, but he somehow includes them in the way he pays attention to his stillness. It's how people feel when they look at water big enough to calm them, a pond or a lake or a river. Or the ocean, of course. The first time I put my ear to a conch shell, it was as though I could finally hear the sound Termite lives in." (pg. 136)

It might seem as if I am focusing on the interactions between Lark and Termite - and indeed, they are a central part of the story - but there are other aspects to this novel, too. The reveries of Bobby as he is attacked in Korea and the similarities of those who he is trapped with to those he's left behind; the symbolism of the color blue, and oceans, and trains; the mystical quality of Shambles and who he really is.

There are parts of Lark & Termite that bear a second, and sometimes a third reading. It's easy to feel confused in parts, to feel as if the action is happening in a blur. Normally, that would drive me crazy (particularly with the war scenes). In this case, however, it works beautifully. The blurry quality that Jayne Anne Phillips' writing brings to this novel is absolutely fitting, and a testament to her skill as a writer.

Lark & Termite was a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award. Here's an interview from The National Book Foundation's website with author Jayne Anne Phillips about the novel and on being nominated for the award.

In addition to Beth Kephart's blog post mentioned at the beginning of this review, here are two others:

Lingering Love and Loss in Lark & Termite (NPR book review)

In War and Floods, A Family's Leitmotif of Love, Memories and Secrets (NY Times Book Review)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

OK, Now It's Official!

We have a button! And isn't it gorgeous? Oh, I feel so official now. Like I'm a real blogger or something ... or that I actually know what the heck I'm doing by thinking that I can host a Reading Challenge.

I'm so, so grateful to my friend Florinda of The 3R's Blog (you know, the one that's all about Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness) for creating this awesome button for button-challenged me - and for signing up for the Challenge! Thank you, Florinda!

If you missed the details, I had been looking for a memoir-related challenge (because I love memoirs). I knew Vasilly had been hosting In Their Shoes, but wasn't sure if it was continuing into 2010. So, I created this one.

Here are the details:

1. The Memorable Memoir Challenge will be hosted here on The Betty and Boo Chronicles.

2. The challenge will run from January 1, 2010 - December 31, 2010. You're welcome to join anytime.

3. Memoirs, letters, diaries, and autobiographies count as reads for this challenge. (Basically, if you think it is the stuff of memoir, it counts.)

4. Overlaps with other challenges are allowed. Audiobooks and e-books are also allowed.

5. Participants are encouraged to read at least 4 memoirs/diaries/letters/autobiography books in 2010. (Of course, more are fine!) The four was kind of a random number because I was thinking about the seasons of our lives ... hence, four memoirs ... but I want this to be a fun, low-key challenge, especially for those who might be new to memoirs or haven't tried them before.

6. You're not required to make a list, but feel free to do so. You can change your list anytime. I'll do a separate post with some thoughts, and will compile yours too. (Just leave them in the comments.)

7. To join, simply sign up by using MckLinky on this post. If you want to do a special sign-up post on your blog, feel free ... but just the url of your blog is fine.

8. Feel free to grab the button that Florinda made for us!


We All Shine On

Over at his blog this week, The Dean has been doing a series of posts (including transcripts) about the last interview with John Lennon, which occurred on the ill-fated day of December 8, 1980.

A new decade is upon us now, just as it was then. There's the sense of survival and of going into an unknown future, just as it was then. And as John makes clear in this poignant quote, there was then - as it is now - all the hopes and dreams within the fragility of life.

"‘How are you? How’s your relationship goin’? Did you get through it all? Wasn’t the seventies a drag, you know? Here we are, well let’s try to make the eighties good, you know?’ ‘Cause it’s still up to us to make what we can of it. It’s not out of our control. I still believe in love, peace; I still believe in positive thinking – when I can do it. I’m not always positive, but when I am, I try to project it .... Because we survived! That’s the thing. You have to give thanks to God, or whatever it is up there, the fact that we all survived. We all survived Vietnam, or Watergate, or the tremendous upheaval of the whole world that’s changed...we...we were the hip ones in the sixties, but the world is not like the sixties. The whole map’s changed. And we’re goin’ into an unknown future, but we’re still all here. We still...while there’s life there’s hope ....”

"I always considered my work one piece, whether it be with Beatles, David Bowie, Elton John, Yoko Ono...and I consider that my work won’t be finished until I’m dead and buried, and I hope that’s a long, long time. "

John Lennon ~ December 8, 1980

Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review (Poetry): Love Comes First, by Erica Jong

Love Comes First, by Erica Jong

It's the end of the year and surprisingly, I still have a handful of book reviews to post (as well as to write and post, but we won't go there). One of them is Erica Jong's poetry collection, Love Comes First.

From the book jacket:
Here is Erica Jong's first book of all-new poems in more than a decade. Known and beloved for Fear of Flying and her many other books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, Jong expounds on the most eternal, universal topic of all: love. Using brilliant imagery and intense metaphorical insights to paint vivid pictures of love, and all that comes with it—the heights of elation, the depths of sorrow—she covers every inch of the spectrum with her vibrant and insightful words.

I'm a bit chagrined to admit this is the first of Erica Jong's work that I've read. I read this in July, so the details are a bit fuzzy now, but I remember liking the selection of poems in this collection. Here are three selections - one on a favorite food, on people who are no longer here, and on the death of a beloved horse. (Mom F., that one is included here in this blog post especially for you.)

All objects of love in their own right.

Risotto
The integrity of
the single grain of rice
sun and water
fused in a starchy cup
to be filled up
with the essences
of our lives,
the rich brown broth
infused with saffron,
garlanded by
tidbits of porcini
more precious
than platinum
or gold.

I stand here
endlessly stirring
the ingredients of our lives,
watching the rice expand,
lost its translucency
and become
a palimpsest
of fused flavors.

Oh, leftover life
in the sizzling skillet!
Stir, stir, stir
until you have concocted
that ecstatic paste,
harbinger of heaven,
manna of Milano -

risotto!

Speaking with the Dead
Speaking with the dead,

I try to hear them
instead of my perpetual monologue.

What have you learned?
I ask.
And they reply:
That we are leaves in a storm,
salt dissolved in the sea,
that a year reduces us
to our irreducible elements
which are speechless in the old way
but full of the sound
an earthworm makes, burrowing,
or a bird falling out of the sky.

No - don't mourn for us in the new form
which admits no mourning.
Mourn for yourselves
and your unlived lives,
still full of questions.

Language, while you possess it,
can heal you.
Take this salve, this balm,
this unguent
with our blessings of silence.

Elegy for Pegasus
(On the Death of Barbaro)

Swift knew about horses,
that they are
more rational than we,
that they stand
on their strong, slender legs
like a good argument,
that they are
beautiful in flight,
beautiful at rest,
beautiful of face and form,
that we grieve for them
as for our best selves,
that we love them
not as pets but as gods,
that when we race them
we are racing ourselves,
that none of our betting
and borrowing
can sully
their nobility.

They prance,
they fly
and we cannot.

Oh, winged horse
of poetry,
lift me
to the perfection
of Barbaro
with his fragile legs,
let me fly
through the clouds
on his back -
racing to that
green meadow
where horses and humans
speak like equals.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Sunday Salon: On Christmas Week Reading and The Memorable Memoir Challenge

This was a reading week unlike any other (and a reading year unlike any other, too).

Even with Christmas in the mix, I started and finished two books this week. That doesn't happen, except maybe during our week's vacation at the shore.

No, this week I had 21" of snow to thank (or curse), in a state that just spent all of its snow removal budget (and then some) on this one storm. Plowing streets became a luxury, necessitating the closure of schools for two straight days. The kids and I did not leave the house for five days. Thank God for Internet access, blogs and books. (And online shopping, and Express Shipping.) And the downpour that visited us on Christmas Day night into Saturday, washing the snow away.

Hence, the banner reading week.

I read and reviewed Lark & Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips, as well as Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin (review here). Both are very well done, with the latter being among my Best Books of 2009.

I had been listening to The Lace Reader in the car, but as it progressed, I got more and more confused. Between the unreliable narrator, the switches in point of view, the many characters, the convoluted family tree ... this one just wasn't working for me. I got the print version from the library, which didn't help. Maybe there's something about this that I am missing, because I know the majority of folks loved this one - and I really wanted to. Instead, I wound up abandoning it around page 200, which is a little more than halfway through. By then I felt somewhat invested in it, but confusion got the better of me.

Now I'm onto Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin, which will probably be my last novel for 2009. Depending on when I finish this, there might be a book of poetry to end the year with. (I'm a little nuts that I cannot end the year in the middle of a book.) I'd also like to have all my reviews posted for 2009 by the time the clock strikes midnight, but I'm not sure that will happen. I'm going to try, though. But I am thrilled with finishing 56 books in 2009, which is the most I've ever read as an adult. Book blogging has definitely increased the number of books I read, and I couldn't be happier.

And finally, I've decided to try hosting a Reading Challenge! I just announced The Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge for 2010, and I'd love for you to consider joining. All the details are here, with more to come. I've signed up for 12 challenges this year, and this will be lucky 13 for me.

It's been a very good year on the blogging and reading front. Here's to a memorable year in 2010!

Introducing The Memorable Memoir Challenge for 2010!

I know, I know ... you've already joined too many (me too!), you've just signed up for your very last challenge, but I would love for you to join one more. This one.

Allow this post to be your Official Introduction to The Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge for 2010!

Here are the details:

1. The Memorable Memoir Challenge will be hosted here on The Betty and Boo Chronicles.

2. The challenge will run from January 1, 2010 - December 31, 2010. You're welcome to join anytime.

2. Memoirs, letters, diaries, and autobiographies count as reads for this challenge. (Basically, if you think it is the stuff of memoir, it counts.)

3. Overlaps with other challenges are allowed. Audiobooks and e-books are also allowed.

4. Participants are encouraged to read at least 4 memoirs/diaries/letters/autobiography books in 2010. Of course, more are fine!

5. You're not required to make a list, but if you'd like to do so, I'd love your ideas and suggestions! I'll do a separate post with some thoughts, and will compile yours too. (Just leave them in the comments.)

6. If you'd like to join, simply sign up by using MckLinky below. If you want to do a special sign-up post on your blog, feel free ... but just the url of your blog is fine.

7. Feel free to grab the button (and join me in thanking the lovely and talented Florinda of The 3Rs Blog for making this gorgeous button for this challenge!)

Thanks for participating ... and here's to 2010 being a "memorable" reading year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Few Books Under the Tree

These are just some of the new books that were given and received for Christmas. (A few others have become scattered around the house, taken upstairs to read, etc. and I was too lazy to round them up for a photo op.)

Santa was very into book-giving this year. (Perhaps he reads this blog.) For Betty and Boo, he had these in his sack:

Several of the My Weird School books by Dan Gutman (they are very into this series, and they are among the ones upstairs right now)

Several of the books from Francesca Simon's Horrid Henry series, including
Horrid Henry's Christmas
Horrid Henry's Underpants
Horrid Henry and the Mega Mean Time Machine
Horrid Henry and the Mummy's Curse
Horrid Henry and the Stinkbomb

Two Roald Dahl books - Fantastic Mr. Fox and The BFG (Betty's class just finished reading The BFG, and she was thrilled to get her own copy.)

Santa also brought Taylor Swift: Love Story for Betty, and for Boo, a book about Duke Ellington with 21 different activities to do.

A few days ago, packages arrived from my aunt and uncle - Betty got a booklight and Meet Julie (one of the newest American Girls ... from 1974! I remember 1974, so I have a little bit of hard time accepting this particular year as historical.) For Boo, If I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis Armstrong and a booklight.

From my in-laws, I got Stephanie O'Dea's Make It Fast, Cook It Slow (based on her wonderful blog). I also gave this one to my mom (and made two recipes out of it before it was wrapped).

The Dean got Paul McCartney: A Life from his parents.

And rounding the pile out, more books from my mom. For the kids:
The Tallest of Smalls, by Max Lucado
Henry and the Paper Route, by Beverly Cleary
Socks, by Beverly Cleary
The Report Card
You Can't Eat Your Chicken Pox, Amber Brown! by Paula Danzinger

And for me, a book of short stories (Ford County, by John Grisham) and two more cookbooks, The White House Cookbook (which is really neat ... it's a re-issue of the 1894 edition of the White House cookbook from Grover Cleveland's time in the White House), and Vegetarian, which has some gorgeous photos.

Thank You, Santa


Boo's thank you letter to Santa.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

May we always believe and wonder,
for in doing so, we capture the magic of the season.

(I'm not sure if that's original or not. I think so, but it seems to fit regardless.)

Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book Review: Anything But Typical, by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Anything But Typical, by Nora Raleigh Baskin

"All we are, all we can be, are the stories we tell," he says, and he is talking as if he is talking only to me. "Long after we are gone, our words will be all that is left, and who is to say what really happened or even what reality is? Our stories, our fiction, our words will be as close to truth as can be. And no one can take that away from you." Nobody." (pg. 187)

I loved, loved, loved this book, which I read in one sitting (thank you, snow day). It's a middle grade novel, so admittedly, my 40 year old self might not be the target audience, but ... wow, if this doesn't make the grade for near perfection for middle grade fiction, I don't know what does.

Anything But Typical is the story of Jason Blake, a 12 year old with a litany of initial labels to his name. He's been diagnosed with PDD-NOS, HFA, ASD - all instantly recognizable to those of us familiar with the autism as Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified; High Functioning Autism, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Jason's incredibly self-aware - of his sensory limitations, his classmates' teasing, his own social awkwardness, his parents' struggles to put on brave faces and do everything they can for him.

And yet, Jason is a gifted writer, proficient beyond his years in the nuances of language and vocabulary. He spends hours on the computer writing stories and participating in an online community called Storyboard, which is where he "meets" Phoenixbird. E-mails are exchanged and Jason discovers that Phoenixbird is a girl ... a girl who likes him and his writing ... someone who could actually be considered a girlfriend until the opportunity presents itself for an in-person meeting and Jason becomes filled with angst that she will discover his true self, quirks and all.

This is a book that I will be giving to Boo when he is a little older, for Anything But Typical is a true gift, one that allows kids on the autism spectrum to see themselves (or glimpses of themselves) in Jason, to realize that there is someone else like them, who needs to remember the mental cues from therapists, who knows what it means to be in an inclusionary classroom, who struggles with even the most simplistic (but nuanced) social dynamics.

Nora Raleigh Baskin has also given parents of kids with autism a gift with this exquisite novel, for it is in reading about Jason that we gain a better insight into our own children and a reminder and appreciation of their strengths and special gifts.

Jason is an amazingly likeable character, someone that you find yourself rooting for and hoping for success. You want to read his stories, you want to be his friend.

For middle grade readers, you have that chance. Because most likely, Jason sits a few seats over in class or sits by himself at lunch. He's the klutzy kid who knocks over stuff, who isn't very good in gym class, who is a little bit weird, who the other kids make fun of.


And who - make no mistake about it - has a story very much worth hearing.

Nora Raleigh Baskin's website is here

What Other Bloggers Had to Say:
Becky's Book Reviews
Book Nut
Maw Books Blog
Semicolon

For My Cousin, On Her 30th Birthday

You would have been 30 years old today.

It's hard to imagine what your life would have been like now. How things would have been different.

Or not.

You came to us at Christmastime and left 16 months later, on Easter Monday.

It was hard not to miss the symbolism you brought. A Christmas angel, perfect in your imperfections.

You were blind, but you allowed us to see things in ourselves and others that we never would have otherwise.

You were deaf, but you gave us the gift of hearing the voices inside saying to be true to ourselves, our own melody of who we really were.

You were missing part of your heart, but you took a piece of ours.

You are in a better place, surrounded by those who loved you so very much.

And yet, still very much right here.



(I took this photo on October 25, 2009, in the Garden of Hope, a remembrance garden at my former church.)


copyright 2009 by Melissa. If you are reading this on other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or in a feedreader, please be advised that this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Twas the Night Before Christmas and Santa's a Wreck

I have no idea of the origin of this, but one of my friends just posted this on Facebook. Enjoy!

'Twas the Night Before Christmas and Santa's a Wreck

Twas the night before Christmas and Santa's a wreck.
How to live in a world that's politically correct?
His workers no longer would answer to "Elves".
"Vertically Challenged" they were calling themselves.
And labour conditions at the North Pole
were alleged by the union to stifle the soul.

Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,
Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.
And equal employment had made it quite clear
That Santa had better not use just reindeer.
So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid
Were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!
The runners had been removed from his sleigh;
The ruts were termed dangerous by the E.P.A.

And people had started to call for the cops
When they heard sled noises on their rooftops.
Second-hand smoke from his pipe had his workers quite frightened.
His fur trimmed red suit was called "Unenlightened."
And to show you the strangeness of life's ebbs and flows,
Rudolf was suing over unauthorised use of his nose
And had gone on Geraldo, in front of the nation,
Demanding millions in over-due compensation.

So, half of the reindeer were gone; and his wife,
Who suddenly said she'd enough of this life,
Joined a self-help group, packed, and left in a whiz,
Demanding from now on her title was Ms.
And as for the gifts, why, he'd never had a notion
That making a choice could cause so much commotion.

Nothing of leather, nothing of fur,
Which meant nothing for him. And nothing for her.
Nothing that might be construed to pollute.
Nothing to aim, Nothing to shoot.
Nothing that clamoured or made lots of noise.
Nothing for just girls, or just for the boys.
Nothing that claimed to be gender specific.
Nothing that's warlike or non-pacifistic.
No candy or sweets, they were bad for the tooth.
Nothing that seemed to embellish a truth.
And fairy tales, while not yet forbidden,
Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden.
For they raised the hackles of those psychological
Who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.
No baseball, no football.someone could get hurt;
Besides, playing sports exposed kids to dirt.
Dolls were said to be sexist, and should be passe;
And Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.

So Santa just stood there, dishevelled, perplexed;
He just could not figure out what to do next.¦
He tried to be merry, tried to be gay,
But you've got to be careful with that word today.
His sack was quite empty, limp to the ground;
Nothing fully acceptable was to be found.
Something special was needed, a gift that he might
Give to all without angering the left or the right.
A gift that would satisfy, with no indecision,
Each group of people, every religion;
Every ethnicity, every hue,
Everyone, everywhere, even you.

So here is that gift, it's price beyond worth.
May you and your loved ones, enjoy peace on Earth.

Fall Into Reading Challenge - The Official Wrap Up Post

Remember September? Seems like it was light years ago now, doesn't it? Now that we're officially into winter, the Fall Into Reading Challenge is over and it's time to wrap this one up.

All in all, I did much better than I thought. I had 17 books on my list I'd hoped to read during these three months and I read a total of 14. Not too shabby, especially when you consider that I was also NaNoWriMo-ing in November. (Not like I finished that, but still ....)

Without further ado (because I know you're just waiting with bated breath to see what I read), here's how my Fall Into Reading Challenge broke down:

Books Completed That Were on My Original Fall Into Reading List (links take you to my reviews):

1. A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (audio)
2. The Pen/O.Henry Prize Stories
3. The Confessions of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean Greer
4. Linda McCartney: A Portrait, by Danny Fields (audio)
5. The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister

On My Original Fall Into Reading List, Started, but Alas ... Abandoned:

Secrets of a Fire King (stories) (audio), by Kim Edwards
Dear Husband (stories), by Joyce Carol Oates
Falling Man, by Don DeLillo
Paper Towns, by John Green

So Instead, I Read These:
6. Make Lemonade - by Virginia Euwer Wolff
7. The Life You Longed For - by Maribeth Fischer
8. An Egg on Three Sticks - by Jackie Moyer Fischer
9. Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's, by Tim Page
10. The Best of Philadelphia Stories, vol. 2
11.The Hunger Games - by Suzanne Collins
12. Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, by Michael Davis
13. Because I Am Furniture - by Thalia Chaltras
14. The Curse of the Good Girl - by Rachel Simmons (also read for Women Unbound).

Katrina over at Callapidder Days, and host of this challenge, posed some questions.

1. What was your favorite book that you read this fall? Least favorite? Why?
That's hard to answer, because there were so many. I especially liked A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Confessions of Max Tivoli, and The School of Essential Ingredients. I also really liked each one on the "So Instead, I Read These" list.

Least favorite was probably The PEN/O.Henry Prize Stories. I love short stories and was looking forward to reading this collection, but only a few stories grabbed my attention.

2. Did you discover a new author or genre this fall? Did you love them? Not love them?
Every author that I read - with the exception of Andrew Sean Greer - was new to me. And even he could be considered new, as I just discovered him this year after reading A Story of a Marriage.

I also read 4 young adult novels this fall, and I'll admit I rather enjoyed them. I was a YA snob not all that long ago; I refused to read any YA because I thought I'd outgrown such fare. Not so. Not even close.

3. Did you learn something new because of Fall Into Reading 2009 – something about reading, about yourself, or about a topic you read about?
It's a cliche, but I learned not to judge a book by its cover (The Hunger Games) and assume by such that it isn't for me. I also learned (also in connection with The Hunger Games) that it's OK to jump on the bandwagon when everyone is raving about a book ... a million book bloggers can't be wrong!

Thanks so much, Katrina, for hosting such a fun challenge and allowing me to play along!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hibernatin' Away Another Vacation Day


This would be my front walkway, with a mere 21" of snow barricading us in the house for the third consecutive day (going on four).

And this would be my son, who thought it would be great fun to swim in the snow. After all, it is water and thus, should be possible, right?

And this would also be not too far off from what my driveway still looks like, as Day 3 of this storm continues to hold its grip on us. Our snow plow guy is clearly not coming anytime this year. (As of 10 a.m., he was "working his way down south" of our state. It's now 12 hours later. State ain't that big, folks.)

We also don't have the types of neighbors who are of the inclination to help dig a fellow human out. That was obvious this morning, when the owner of the SUV in the photo watched The Dean spin his tires while trying to no avail to get down the driveway.

(This would be the same individual who, you may recall, I was interviewed about by the FBI . Believe you me, I'll be remembering this next time the Feds come knockin'. "Yes, sir, I can tell you he's very much the type of individual who stares at a neighbor with three herniated disks as he tries to get his car out of the driveway.")

So, we're in hibernation and vacation mode here. That includes the kids, who had an early start to their winter vacation. School was closed today and will be closed tomorrow because our secondary roads reportedly resemble my driveway.

I'm not the only one inconvenienced by the blizzard. I've heard that Santa's a bit stressed, too, and if there's anything the Big Guy doesn't need with two days before Christmas, it's additional stress. He's hoping for one hell of a miracle in the form of UPS and extended shipping deadlines, because otherwise, it's truly going to be The Year Without a Santa Claus. 'Nuff said about that.

In the meantime, I'm spending my Hibernatin' Vacation with a good book (I'll probably finish Lark & Termite sometime tomorrow), doing some digital scrapbooking (all of December completed today - 10 pages!), and oh yes, celebrating the solstice and its very welcome longer days.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Snowbound

Now this is the proper way of doing a snowstorm.

If one is to get 21" of snow - which is what our ruler says is piled up outside our door - then 'tis best to get it on a weekend when you don't have anyplace to be and a pile of books just waiting to be read.

We were slammed by the nor'easter of a blizzard that pounded the East Coast this weekend, and we've already gotten The Call that the kids' schools will be closed tomorrow.

Suffice it to say that I have not moved much from the sofa this weekend, nor do I plan to for the rest of today or tomorrow. Being snowbound for these couple days is a gift, believe me.

Yesterday I finished The Curse of the Good Girl and found it to be very well done and informative. I'd definitely recommend this for all women, and especially for those who have daughters. I read this as my first book for the Women Unbound challenge.

Now I've moved onto Jayne Anne Phillips' Lark and Termite, which is due back to the library on Saturday. I'm too early into it to have many thoughts thus far, except that I am loving the fact that there's a little Philly element to this! I didn't know that when I picked it up, so that was a nice treat.

I've also been catching up on my blog reading, writing year end posts, and making challenge lists. That's probably the only downside of the snowstorm. Because I'm catching up on my blog reading, I'm finding all kinds of reading challenges to participate in. (Not to mention, my Google Reader is exploding because I keep finding new blogs to read!) I'm currently up to 11. Eleven challenges ... that's absurd. A year ago I eschewed the thought of challenges; now, there's a good chance that I'll have an even dozen by the time today is over.

As of this writing, I'm participating in Women Unbound, Shelf Discovery, Unlock Worlds, Colorful Reading, 100 Shots of Short, the Support Your Library Challenge, Essay Reading Challenge, 2010 YA Reading Challenge, Woolf in Winter, The Debutante Ball, and The Beth Kephart Reading Challenge.

Now, will someone come and plow my driveway before I sign up for another reading challenge or add another blog to my reader?! :)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Book Review: The Curse of the Good Girl, by Rachel Simmons


The Curse of the Good Girl, by Rachel Simmons

I got turned down for a job this week.

One that was oh-so-close within my grasp, that I would have liked, that I would have been damn good at, and one that would have cut my commute to 40 minutes each way instead of an hour and 40 minutes each way. I even had a dream, several weeks before I saw the position announcement, where I had to change offices ... and the office in my dream was literally, exactly, the office I would have had. It was meant to be. This job was mine.

Or ...not. As a result, this week I've grown a little older, grown a little sadder, and grown a little colder. And because I am my own worst critic, the running monologue in my head has sounded something like this:

"I'll never get a job in this state. I'm obviously doing something wrong. I should probably consider a career change, because I clearly know nothing about this profession [the same one that I've spent 18 years in]. They probably picked someone younger, with better teeth, who remembered to paint their fucking nails before the interview, who was better connected, who isn't so obviously cursed."

Cursed. In a sense, that I am.

I don't normally have such mental beratings (or, as author Rachel Simmons calls it in The Curse of the Good Girl, the CFOV - the "Crazy Freak Out Voice") in my head. I'm usually a very confident, self-assured type of person. I know that I am good at what I do. (I'm not perfect, I don't know everything, but I do know this profession.) I know I did my best in all three interviews for this job.

But reading Rachel Simmons' The Curse of the Good Girl this week, with this experience as a backdrop, has given me a different perspective. Is it possible that that former Good Girl still lurks dormant? That even though we may have overcome the middle school mentalities of old it doesn't take much for self-bashing monologues like mine to bubble to the surface and overflow within, selling our accomplishments and abilities short?

That would be a yes.

In The Curse of the Good Girl, which I found incredibly well-written, informative and enlightening, Rachel Simmons draws from her experience as founder of the Girls Leadership Institute and her extensive work with tween and teenage girls. In explaining this phenomenon, she writes that

"The Curse of the Good Girl erodes girls' ability to know, say, and manage a complete range of feelings. It urges girls to be perfect, giving them a troubled relationship to integrity and failure. It expects girls to be selfless, limiting the expression of their needs. It demands modesty, depriving girls of permission to commit to their strengths and goals. It diminishes assertive body language, quieting voices and weakening handshakes. It reaches across all areas of girls' lives: in their interactions with boys and other girls, at school, at home, and in extracurricular life. The Curse of the Good Girl cuts to the core of authentic selfhood, demanding that girls curb the strongest feelings and desires that form the patchwork of a person." (pg. 3)
It begins with society's perception of what a good girl is - a little blue eyed girl who is quiet, has no opinions on things (but speaks well), does everything right, is popular and wealthy, organized and intelligent, has a boyfriend and tons of friends, a Barbie with natural hair who doesn't show any skin. (This is from a list of qualities of a Good Girl, as listed on pg. 2.)

By striving for these impossible and unrealistic qualities, girls fall into life-long patterns of behavior where they begin to do things like end their sentences with questions? Because they aren't confident of their thoughts and ideas?

The first part of The Curse of the Good Girl examines how these thought patterns come to fruition and how they impact girls in school, with their relationships among peers, and their interactions with teachers and coaches.

"It's a story that needs telling: when girls can't handle criticism, it affects how teachers and coaches talk to them. Fragile girls get less specific feedback, and more sugarcoating, so they get fewer chances to improve their performance. Skin stays thin. Discomfort with criticism is, by extension, discomfort with being wrong, which can lead girls to play it safe, avoiding situations where risk is required and failure is possible. Girls may shy away from situations that aren't a sure thing, hewing carefully to the areas where they know they can do well." (pg. 76)
As parents, we want to make things perfect for our kids, to fix their problems. We see this with parents who have their kids' teachers on speed dial, and don't hesitate to come to the defense whenever a child has, in their perception, been wronged. But in doing so, Simmons states that we are doing our children a disservice, and in fact, changing our responses can be the best gift we can give our girls. On page 90, she writes:

"You have a tough choice when it comes to helping your child deal with misfortune. You can solve the problem of hard-to-hear feedback by fighting with the teacher or undermining the coach, giving you the immediate, short-term satisfaction of alleviating your child's pain. But you risk paying a long-term cost - raising a child who can't cope with criticism on her own. I won't make any bones about it: the alternative is much harder. Remaining compassionate while letting a child's pain run its course can be excruciating, especially if you're worried that a coach's benching her or a low grade will endanger her eligibility for a reward. But you collect your reward later in the form of a daughter who knows her limits and therfore understands, in a real, lived way, that mistakes do not define her potential or her self. Success is built on a paradox: the more concerned about failing we become, the less we are able to achieve." (pg. 90)
At first, I thought the second part of The Curse of the Good Girl - where Simmons discusses mothers' roles in all this - would be yet another mom-bashing diatribe, a slap in the face to us for causing our daughters to have such a complex. Refreshingly, it's not that at all. Instead, Simmons tells us that
"[m]others are constrained by rules similar to the ones that bind their daughters. Just as the terms of being a Good Girl undermine a girl's potential, the pressure to be a Good Mother can limit a woman's ability to set the right example for her daughter." (pg. 109)
Amen to that. Ever been in a conversation - at school, at a birthday party, during a playdate - with one of those Good Mothers? I sure as hell have, and it's probably (in fact, it is) the reason why I am always somewhat uncomfortable in social situations with other moms. I'm always feeling like the Misfit Toy, either because I work full-time and can't relate to the uber-volunteering school moms or because I refuse to shuffle and chauffeur my kids to sports and dance and karate and whatever else. Most likely, I'm failing my kids in some critical regard by not doing these things.
"Nearly every mother I meet want to know what she can do to empower her daughter. Almost all expect suggestions for their girls: join a team, volunteer, pursue a cause. But the best thing a mother can do for her daughter is be herself, with all the challenges that being real entails. Being real means taking up space and having needs; it means drawing the line and saying no. Being real means walking into every room as the same woman, whether you're in a conference room or a family room ..... Any kind of authenticity begins with self-awareness: to be yourself you have to know who that is. At the end of the day, the best gift a mother can give is to take - that is, take the time to find herself, set a new example, and shatter the vise grip of the Good Wife/Bad Wife and Good Mother/Bad Mother labels. When a mother's behavior breaks the rules, she gives her daughter the authority to live by her own." (pg. 123-124).
It begins with us, and our own emotional intelligence. I thought of this as I talked with Betty about my not getting the much-hoped for job. (Her Girl Scout troop is actually doing a project with the organization that didn't hire me, so she knew I was talking with them about working there.)

"You know, I didn't get that job," I told her.

In her characteristic dramatic way, she gasped.

"They didn't want you to work for them?"

"No, I guess not. But it's OK because I have a job, and I'm lucky that I have a job. I'll try again someplace else. It's a disappointment, but you know, Betty, you can't always get what you want."

She looked at me.

"Not everybody is always going to like you, and you know what? That's OK."

And you know what? It is.

Take that, Good Girl.

I read this book, which I got from the library, as part of my participation in the Women Unbound reading challenge. (Yay! My first book completed for that challenge!)

What Other Bloggers Had to Say:

A Striped Armchair
She is Too Fond of Books (which is where I first learned of this book ... thanks, Dawn!)

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like ... July?

Anyone up for a swim during what is being hailed as one of the biggest snowstorms ever to hit the East Coast? (OK, maybe I'm exaggerating ... or, by the time this is over, maybe not.)

This would be my neighbor's pool, which they NEVER cover regardless of the weather (obviously) and which never freezes, because they keep it heated 24/7. Can you imagine what this must cost?

Yep, in all kinds of weather, this pool taunts and mocks me from every window in the house that faces their backyard. This is what I'm staring at during a blizzard.

Blizzard, schmizzard ... everyone into the pool!

Anticipation

"Anticipation is making me wait...."
"Anticipation" ~ Carly Simon

We are awaiting, anticipating the first major snowstorm of the season. (Nope ... just checked the midnight sky. Still all clear, nary a flake in sight.)

I am not a fan of snow and its penchant for ruining plans, yet I find myself giddy with excitement over this nor'easter blowing in and the inches of baggage that it will bring along.

For this has been a season filled with a few weeks of stress on several storm fronts. Nothing unmanageable, nothing earth-shattering or changing, just mostly the stuff that life is made of coupled with the most busy-ful time of the year. My cards aren't done, my shopping isn't finished, my house is a mess.

And yet. The snow will freeze us in our tracks tomorrow, and bring with it a day different from most others. A day that doesn't involve going anywhere, a day of doing nothing, of resting and shaking the blecks out of my system. Of reading and writing, of baking, of cooking soup for dinner. A mandated slow down, a furlough to take stock of the season.

I have been wanting and needing to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" this season, as is tradition for The Dean and me.

Tomorrow, I anticipate getting that chance.