Monday, November 29, 2010

Challenges Finished: Women Unbound

The Women Unbound Reading Challenge ends tomorrow  (how is that even possible?!) and I'm delighted to mark this one COMPLETED.

I really enjoyed this challenge, as I knew I would.  (I think it was my favorite challenge of the year.) My goal was the Suffragette level, which meant reading eight books (including three non-fiction books). Links take you to my reviews.  

1. The Curse of the Good Girl, by Rachel Simmons

6. Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf

7. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles Shields

I also read three other books worth mentioning that also fit the challenge requirements:

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (audiobook)

Thank you to the hosts of the Women Unbound challenge for a wonderful year of reading!

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Book Review: The Early Stories of Louisa May Alcott 1852-1860 (in honor of her birthday today)

The Early Stories of Louisa May Alcott 1852-1860
Ironweed Press Inc.
362 pages

With today being Louisa May Alcott's birthday (this spunky Philadelphia born gal would have been a mere 178 years old), I thought it would be a perfect day to talk about some of her earliest short stories.  (It is also the birthday of her father, Bronson Alcott.) 

After reading Harriet Reisen's wonderful biography Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (which I absolutely loved and which will be one of my favorite books read this year; see my review here), I realized that there was so much of Alcott's work that I never knew about, much less ever read.

For example, I really didn't know the wide range of short stories she wrote - and especially how prolific she was. (She often wrote for 12 or 14 hours a day.)  This collection of 19 stories spans only 8 years, which I suppose is reasonable, but some were churned out within weeks of each other (according to the publication dates) and many of them feel more like novellas.

What's such a treat about this is that you definitely see Alcott's growth as a writer in  these stories.  You see similar themes, characters, and plotlines as in Little Women.  There's poverty and death, estranged relationships and unrequited love.  Monika Ebert of Montclair State University writes an introduction to these stories that is very well done and informative (and more more scholarly than anything I could hope to produce here)

As with any short story collection, there are some wonderful stories in these pages and some that are just okay ("The Rival Painters: A Tale of Rome," "The Masked Marriage," "The Little Seed,") and some that I couldn't quite get through or found downright confusing ("Little Genevieve," "The Monk's Island: A Legend of the Rhine").

Rather than analyze each of them, I thought I would highlight those I especially enjoyed, along with the original publication dates.  All of them were originally published in The Saturday Evening Gazette and according to Monika Elbert's introduction, were written when Louisa was in her twenties. 

"The Rival Prima Donnas"
November 11, 1854
This is the third story in the collection and I believe might be one of the earliest examples of Louisa May Alcott's thrillers. In my opinion, is when she begins to hit her stride as a short story author. I was reminded of Flannery O'Connor with this one (or, more accurately, Flannery O'Connor's work reminds me of this). Although there is foreboding in this story about the two rival opera divas Beatrice and Theresa, the actual ending (and its aftermath) jolts the reader, taking one by surprise. This is one of my favorites among this collection.

"A New Year's Blessing" 
January 5, 1856 
I loved this story about the estranged relations of an elderly father and his daughter, and a little girl's attempts at a reconciliation between them before it is too late.  

"The Sisters Trial"
January 26, 1856
Like "A New Year's Blessing" this story takes place on a somber New Years Eve.  (Christmas and New Years make frequent appearances in Alcott's stories). This is the first story in this collection that is very autobiographical in nature and a prelude to Little Women. Four sisters gather round the fire to announce their decision on their planned vocation (or "trial") for the year ahead. Agnes plans to become an actress (to the dismay of her sisters), Meg an artist, Amy a governess, and Leonore a writer.  A year later, they gather again to share the trials and tribulations of the year just past. 

April 19 and 26, 1856
At 35 pages long, this one feels more like a novella than a short story.  And what a story it is!  "Bertha" is a love story for the ages.  I adored this romantic tale about a young girl (that would be Bertha) living with her grandmother.  A world-renowed musician, Ernest, happens to be passing by when he hears Bertha singing and asks her grandmother if he can take Bertha to live with him as his student. She agrees (sure, yeah, not a problem ...) and the two hide their real feelings for each other for years, missing chances and opportunities to know true love.  Part Gift of the Magi, part Phantom of the Opera, I read "Bertha" with my heart in my throat wanting these two to get together and fearing that the wouldn't.  One of my favorites in this collection.

"Agatha's Confession" 
March 14, 1857
My favorite of all the 19 stories and definitely one of Louisa May Alcott's "thrillers."  There are elements of Poe in this one ... and that's probably enough said about this. It's dark, it's suspenseful, and it is probably one of the best short stories I've ever read. 

"Mark Field's Mistake"  (March 12, 1859) and "Mark Field's Success" (April 16, 1859) are two connected stories about the relationship between - you guessed it - a guy named Mark Field and a woman named Milly, who cares for a passel of children all who seem to be somewhat infirm or with disabilities.  Mark needs to chose between living a life of wealth or one of charity and compassion. 

In addition to these stories mentioned above, this collection also includes "Mabel's May Day," "The Lady and the Woman," "Ruth's Secret," "The Cross on the Church Tower," "Marion Earle; or, Only An Actress," and "Love and Self-Love."

This is one of those books that took much longer for me to read than I expected. Partly that was because I usually don't read many classics, so the language slowed me down a bit. (I'm trying to remedy this.) I do think that this collection might be a difficult read for someone who isn't a Louisa May Alcott fan or one who just wants to become more familiar with her work.  Still, it is worth reading for the undiscovered gems it offers and for celebrating one of America's most beloved authors. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thankfully Reading Weekend Recap

This year's Thankfully Reading Weekend event is officially over for another year.  This  was such a relaxing and decadent weekend.  Before our regularly scheduled weekday chaos Monday kicks into full swing, I thought I would recap my progress over these past couple of days.  

I started and finished A Mango-Shaped Space, which is Wendy Mass's debut young adult novel.   I've been wanting to read this for awhile (and have checked it out of the library two or three times), so I'm really glad that this event allowed me to finally read this one - which I really enjoyed.  (218 pages)

I read four stories ("Fiction," "Wenlock Edge," "Deep-Holes," and "Free Radicals") in Alice Munro's latest short story collection, Too Much Happiness. When I wrote my Sunday Salon post this morning, I was a little unsure about this collection.  That was before I read "Free Radicals."  Holy cow ... now that, my friends, is a short story!  It's my favorite thus far, and if Ms. Munro has more like that one in store for me, I'm now a fan.  (105 pages read)

My current audiobook (What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures, by Malcolm Gladwell) was already in progress when the Thankfully Reading Weekend started, but I was able to listen to an hour of this today.  (The equivalent of 33 pages in the print version.)

And I'm ending the weekend with a middle-grade novel, Saving Sky by Diane Stanley. This is downright frightening, mainly because it is so damn realistic.  (It is set in a not-so-distant future where the country is under frequent terrorist attacks and things like food rationing and gas shortages are commonplace.)  Right now, I'm up to page 49.  The book jacket says this is for ages 10 and up, but there's a good chance this is going to be keeping me up at night .... assuming "Free Radicals" doesn't do me in first. (Our local police apparently have a manhunt underway for an attempted murderer, and that's hitting a bit too close to home tonight after reading that short story earlier today.)

Total pages read:  405

I also wrote a review and two additional posts, along with two updates.  (And, while it doesn't count for Thankfully Reading, I also spent part of the weekend scrapbooking 5 pages in the kids' baby album - it's only been a mere 9 years since the blessed event - and watching 4 episodes of "Rescue Me" and 3 episodes of "Mad Men.")  All in all, a fun and relaxing weekend doing the things I love most.

Many thanks to Jenn (Jenn's Bookshelves), Beth Fish Reads, and Jen (Devourer of Books) for hosting this event once again and for all the time and hard work you put into making it such a success!

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Post-Thanksgiving Reading Edition

As I write, The Husband and I are finishing up what has been quite the luxurious, decadent weekend.  No, we didn't jet-set to a fancy hotel and we didn't dine in any five-star restaurants.  None of that nonsense for us.  For the past three days, the furthest we've traveled has been to get the newspaper at the end of our driveway.  (Yes, we still get the newspaper delivered.) And the finest of dining we enjoyed was a simple Saturday brunch I made of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast.

This weekend has been a much-needed gift to our sanities from my mother-in-law, who offered to have Betty and Boo stay at her house for the long Thanksgiving weekend.   Truth be told, things have been a bit stressful 'round here recently. Everything and everyone is basically fine; there's nothing more going on than the typical life craziness and pressures and what-if's that we all have going on in our lives. 

As a result of this weekend, it has been a wonderful reading week.  I finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and I must say, this one is definitely worthy of all the acclaim it has been getting from bloggers as well as from the various best-of lists.  I thought this was incredibly fascinating and this will definitely be one of the best books I've read in 2010.  I'm pretty certain that I would not have picked this up if it wasn't for all the buzz in the blogosphere about this, so thank you for this one!

After finishing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I decided to start my Thankfully Reading Weekend a little early.

On Wednesday evening, I started and finished Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky.  This is also another one that has received much-deserved acclaim from bloggers. The plot moves quickly, Dermansky's prose is smooth, and the characters are ones who you welcome being kidnapped by for a few hours.  It was the perfect book for a read-a-thon, and another one that will make my Best of the Year list. 

As unusual as it is for me to read a book in one sitting, it is downright rare for that experience to happen twice in one week.  I chose Wendy Mass's debut novel A Mango-Shaped Space as my first (official) Thankfully Reading Weekend book, and again, I wasn't disappointed.  I usually don't read many young adult novels, but when I do, I like them to be more of the realistic type than paranormal or fantasy. Although I don't have synesthesia, I could really relate to Mia, the 13 year old narrator who does have this condition.  She sees colors in addition to words, letters, and sounds.  How she navigates this while trying to fit in among her siblings and classmates made for an enjoyable book.

Finally, I've been partaking of some of the stories in Alice Munro's latest collection, Too Much Happiness.  Of these ten stories, I've read four so far.  This is the first time I've read any of Alice Munro's work, and while I like the stories I've read, they're different than what I expected.  Munro is an acclaimed short story writer and I've been wanting to read her work for a long time.  So, I don't know whether I'm not connecting as strongly with these because of high expectations or because of something else.  I think I might have to read some more Munro in order to decide on this one ... if that makes sense. 

In a few minutes, I'll drive north to pick up Betty and Boo from their weekend.  My audiobook is Malcolm Gladwell's latest What the Dog Saw (and Other Adventures) which is narrated by Gladwell himself.  I like his work, but I'm not sure about him as an audiobook narrator.  His voice is a bit monotonous and flat, so we'll see if I stick with the audio. 

How was your week and your Thanksgiving (if you celebrated such)?  And if you're participating in Thankfully Reading, how did you do?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankfully Reading Weekend: One Book Finished!

What a lazy, decadent Friday this was!  I confess that I didn't get out of my pajamas the entire day.  It was the perfect first day of the 2010 Thankfully Reading Weekend - gray and gloomy skies, kids at the grandparents' house for the weekend, dinner from the crockpot (Tamale Pie).

And believe it or not, I actually started and finished an entire book!  A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass was a great selection for this read-a-thon.  I found the writing to be well-done and well-paced,  I connected with all the characters, and the theme of feeling different from one's classmates is one that I could definitely relate to. Before reading A Mango-Shaped Space, I'd only heard of synthesia through reading reviews of this young adult novel, and in that respect the novel was incredibly interesting.   
I'm not sure what I will read next.  I have a few more young adult/coming of age novels due back to the library soon (Twenty Boy Summer, Saving Sky, Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter) but I usually don't like reading so much YA back-to-back.   Then again, knocking these books off will put me within sight of actually finishing the YA challenge this year ... and help in reducing the number of library books I have checked out. 

I've also been catching up on blogs (am loving that my Google Reader isn't as stuffed as usual!), and The Husband and I watched four episodes of "Rescue Me" this evening.  We're still on Season 5 and with 7 more episodes to go, we might have another Tommy Gavin marathon tomorrow. 

For now, I think I might curl up with some more of Alice Munro's short stories from Too Much Happiness ... which this blissful weekend is delivering ten-fold. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thanksgiving Recap and Thankfully Reading Weekend Kick Off

That's me, right there ... your Thankfully Reading turkey.  Instead of shopping, I am spending this weekend participating in the Thankfully Reading Weekend, which is being hosted by Beth Fish Reads, Jenn's Bookshelves (which has the linky for any kick off posts), and Devourer of Books.

But first, a brief recap of Thanksgiving.  For the past couple of years, we've stayed home - just a small feast for four (two of whom don't eat turkey, so that's easy), parades, and all-day football.  Complete and utter bliss for all. 

This year, we drove 2 hours to my mom's and had dinner with my mom, stepfather, brother, sister-in-law, and niece.  The Husband and I were trying to remember the last time we all sat down at the same table together for Thanksgiving, and we believe it has been at least 6 years.  (Four of those years were spent with my brother and I stubbornly not speaking and hence, not seeing each other much at family functions.) 

Conversation remained blissfully politics-free (had any of the dishes not turned out, my mother surely would have blamed President Obama), there was minimal fighting among the cousins, and I enjoyed a game of UNO with my sister-in-law and niece (who also "interviewed" me for her 2nd grade class family heritage project). 

After dessert, it was off to my in-laws where we had more dessert.  Betty and Boo are spending the weekend there with the grandparents "doing whatever we want, because Mom-Mom always lets us" (according to Boo).  The Husband and I are doing the same, and I'll pick them up on Sunday.

Since my Thanksgiving weekend is a five-day extravaganza this year, I celebrated by starting Thankfully Reading a little early, on Wednesday evening.  (Don't tell anyone.)   I sat down after dinner and started reading Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky, and was so captivated that I didn't put it down all night and promptly wrote a review.  Suffice it to say this will be one of my favorites for this year.

I'm also reading Alice Munro's latest short story collection, Too Much Happiness, and read the second story "Fiction" before collapsing into bed last night for a night of fitful and bizarre dreams. (Why is my sleep always whacked whenever the kids are not home? I must be cursed.) I liked the first story, "Dimensions" a bit better, but this is the first time I've read Munro and I'm glad to finally discover her. 

OK, so those were my unofficial Thankfully Reading selections.  Now that we're all official, I'm planning to spend some time today with A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.  I've had this out from the library several times, and have heard great things about it. 

I don't have a plan for which books I'm reading for this event.  I'm leaning more towards shorter books and YA, but there are a few chunksters awaiting their turn too. 

All right, that's enough rambling from me.  Off to read some blogs, perhaps write some blog posts to have ready for the crazy days to come in December (right now I am more in a blogging mode as opposed to reading) and whatever else this laziest of days brings.

Happy Thankfully Reading Weekend, everyone!

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Book Review: Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays, by Joel Waldfogel

Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays
by Joel Waldfogel
Princeton University Press
169 pages

Yes, I fully realize I'm a bit of a killjoy, posting a review about a book called Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays on this, our National Day of Shopping (also known as Black Friday). 

And yes, I fully realize the irony that a good many of my readers might very well be out doing the exact thing that economist Joel Waldfogel cautions against, instead of reading my brilliant review of this intriguing book. 

To that I say, bah humbug.  Because really, it is high time that someone tells it like it is in regards to holiday gift giving.  And in this book, that someone is economist Joel Waldfogel. 

It isn't a secret that every year we spend way too much on gifts people don't want, don't need, and would never buy for themselves.

"Walk through a major department store in December. The aisles are blocked not just with panicked shoppers but also with tables covered with 'gift items.' In the aisles near the men's clothing department, you'll find lots of golf-themed knickknacks - mugs festooned with golf balls, golf club mittens, brass tees, and so on. Would anyone buy this stuff for him-or herself?  Does anybody want it? I'll hazard a 'no' on both counts. But it's there every year, along with singing fish - and it sells - because of a confluence of reasons that together make a perfect storm for wasteful giving." (pg. 6)

According to Waldfogel, we spent $66 billion dollars on this type of crap during the 2007 holiday season.  He breaks down how he came up with this $66 billion dollar figure in great detail, including examining the retail sales for November, December and January. You'll just have to read the book for those calculations, while trusting me that his math makes much more sense than mine ever could.

Where the wastefulness comes in is with an economic term called "deadweight loss," which describes "losses to one person that are not offset by gains to someone else."   The way I understand this is if you buy me a sweater for $75, that same sweater might only be worth $25 to me.  (Or, in other words, if I was to purchase said sweater for myself, $25 would be the maximum amount I would personally spend.)  Hence, the "deadweight loss" is $50.  That's the wastefulness aspect of the holidays and when you multiply this by billions of crappy cheesy sweaters and stupid singing fish, then you're talking some big bucks being wasted.

I think this is a concept that most of us kind of already knew, but seeing these numbers tossed around is kind of sobering.  It makes me want to never buy another thing again, for any holiday. 

One might think that the solution is to give gift cards, which is logical and reflects the increase in gift card sales in recent years.  But Waldfogel states that even gift cards (while a better alternative to yet another FORE THE BEST UNCLE! golf mug) have some negatives.  They expire.  They get lost.  Sometimes they are for stores that the recipient isn't interested in. 

(For the record, I personally have no problem whatsoever with getting gift cards.  I think they are quite a very, um ...NOBLE  hint, hint, ahem, ahem! gesture.)

Waldfogel presents (heh ... pun not intended) his theories in great detail, with many supporting facts.  Scroogenomics is more wonkish than whimsy, and since I'm not a mathematician, some of the numbers-crunching made my eyes glaze over a bit.  Waldfogel calculates and compares the United States' holiday spending with that of other countries and with the amount spent in decades past, as a way of stating that this overconsumption of gift-buying isn't new. It's a valid argument and one that makes much sense. (And cents.)

So, if purchasing actual gifts and giving gift cards are both wasteful, what are we elves to do?  Waldfogel gives some solutions, with charity gift cards being among them (and I am personally going to look into for the nonprofit I work for because this particular entity was new to me). 

Although Scroogenomics has a bit more high-falutin' math than I was expecting, I still enjoyed this book which I borrowed from the library (naturally).  It's an eye-opening read jam-packed with information and facts that would likely appeal to fans of Freakonomics or Malcolm Gladwell's. (Which I am.) It's the epitome of efficient (it's about the size of my palm) which makes for a fast (and sobering) read. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

All That I'm Allowed: Happy Thanksgiving!

And I've got all that I'm allowed
It'll do for me, I'm thankful now
The walls get higher every day
The barriers get in the way
But I see hope in every cloud
And I'm thankful, thankful
I'm thankful, So thankful
I'm thankful, I've got all that I'm allowed.

~ Elton John, "All That I'm Allowed"

(If this post seems vaguely familiar, then you get a gold star for being a loyal Betty and Boo Chronicles reader.  Part of this is from a post originally published on Thanksgiving Day 2008.) 

Thanksgiving officially became my favorite holiday nine years ago when, just as most people were sitting down to their dinner, Betty and Boo graced us with their presence by being born. They are, of course, at the top of my "I'm thankful for ..." list, along with The Husband and our family and friends.

We had a relaxing morning, just the four of us, watching the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day parade (it's sacrilegious in our house to watch any other) and now football.  Not soon enough for the children, we will go over the river and through the tolls to two grandmothers' houses. 

After dessert, The Husband and I will depart, leaving the kids that I am thankful for behind to enjoy a fun-filled weekend of decadence with the grandparents.  The Husband and I have a wild weekend of Thankfully Reading and Thankful-for-the-DVR-and-On-Demand planned. (We have quite a few episodes of Rescue Me, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and In Treatment to catch up on.) We don't plan to move too far from our respective perches on the couch, in a house that I am grateful for. 

This year more than ever, we as a people need Thanksgiving. It comes at a time when for so many, including us, the walls certainly seem to get higher everyday and barrier after barrier gets in the way. One day isn't going to change that.

For now, for today, I'm thankful that we have all that we're allowed.

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

(Not So) Wordless Wednesday: Pre-Thanksgiving Edition

The Husband's caption for this photo:
"So let me get this straight.  I give you three grand, and you get me out of this gawdforsaken place tonight? You've got a deal."

"Shit, what day did you say today was?! I thought today was Tuesday!"

The Husband's caption:  "Every goddamn year, the same thing. I am not going to spend my life worrying about being someone's dinner. If it happens, it happens. C'est la vie."

Mine: "In my next life, I'm comin' back as a Tofurkey."  

The Husband's caption:  "Okay, guys, dummy up.  I'm a hen.  H-E-N!  Got it?"

Mine: "Well, it's been nice knowin' you guys. We had some good times, didn't we?  See you on the other side."

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

(Photos taken by me at Milburn Orchards, Elkton, MD)

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Meeting Colin (and His Dad Brian)

I promised my new friend Brian A. Beale this post many, many weeks ago, when I was first introduced to him through the power of connection that is Facebook.  Brian and I have a mutual friend in Jen Groover, the entrepreneur extraordinaire. (To call Jen a friend of mine is admittedly stretching the truth a bit, as I only know her through chatting with her briefly after a conference and recommending her as a speaker ... but I am an admirer of her sense of style, ambition, and business savvy.)

But these are how such connections are made these days, and Brian instantly became one of mine because of our shared connection as parents of children with special needs. (And I'm betting that, because he's a suburban Philadelphia guy from Delaware County, we might have a few more six degrees of separation between us.)

So allow me to introduce you to Brian, and more importantly, to his almost 12 year old son Colin.  Both of these fine fellows are making a difference for children with disabilities and those who love them.

Colin has Down syndrome, and he is the inspiration and main character in his father's series of books (The Colin Series) about acceptance and inclusion.  Brian's first book is title Colin Gets a Chance and the second is, My Name is Colin ... and this is who I am.  Brian wrote the books "to open the lines of communication between parents and teachers with their children regarding the highly sensitive and often very delicate subject of Down syndrome and disabilities in general."

(I was thinking of Brian's books yesterday during Betty's parent-teacher conference, when it became very clear and obvious that her teacher had no idea about Boo having autism and how this affects Betty's behavior, reactions, and general sensory sensitivities that we all live with as a result.) 

With the holidays upon us, perhaps there is someone in your life who has a disability who will be sitting at your table.  Perhaps there are children in your life who might enjoy The Colin Series of books as a gift, in order to discover the gifts brought to the table by their sibling or relative or friend.  Perhaps there is a teacher you know who might like (and need) these books for his or her classroom.  In any case, these would be perfect. 

What's even more unique about The Colin Series of books is that the illustrations are by individuals with Down syndrome.  What an amazing boost of self-esteem and sense of accomplishment for these young and incredibly talented artists!

Brian has two books to his credit, a host of speaking engagements, a bevy of fans on Facebook, and a delightful website.  (What he doesn't have yet is shelf space in the likes of Barnes and Noble or Borders, which I happen to think is unacceptable and something that would be wonderful.  I'd love for Colin Gets a Chance to get a chance to be picked up by someone walking into their local bookstore and see The Colin Series on display - and not just for a special month celebrating people with disabilities.)

You can, however, order Brian's books on his website, as well as make a donation to the Lil' Bealsy Foundation which supports organizations that make a difference for people with disabilities.  You can also spread awareness of the books by liking The Colin Series of Children's Books on Facebook.

This Thanksgiving, one of the things I'm grateful for is that I've gotten to know Brian as a Facebook friend and that his work will help so many other kids and families. Thanks for allowing me to share your family's story, Brian. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

The"Too-Many-Reviews-to-Write-and-Too-Little-Time" Conundrum ... and a Solution?

Book bloggers, can I see a show of hands if any of this sounds familiar?

Back in the spring or summer of this year, you read a book that you enjoyed.  You want to tell all your readers about it, but ... well, you kind of don't remember the plot or characters too well.  The details are a bit fuzzy and you find yourself looking at Barnes and Noble or Amazon or whatever to refresh your memory - that is, when you're not staring at a blinking cursor wondering what to say about this wonderful, should-be-getting more attention book.

Meanwhile, that unwritten review or unlinked item on your sidebar continues to drive you batshit. Along with the dozen or so other reviews needing to be written.

Sound familiar yet?

At the same time, you read a gazillion blogs and you stumble across (or remember) a review that is EXACTLY what you would have said ... if you'd had gotten your act together and written said review. 

So, I propose a simple solution.  (Which may or may not be an original idea, because in all likelihood people are already doing this and I'm just woefully unawares. Wouldn't be the first time. I'm always the last to know things.)

What if we had some sort of reciprocal agreement that would work like this: 

When we see a review of a book we've read but have yet to review, perhaps invite that blogger to "guest post" his or her review on your blog, with proper attribution, of course.  Cut, paste, and voila!  Review done!  You get the satisfaction of completing a review, and a blogger friend might get a bit of extra traffic or a new follower or two to his or her blog.  Chances are, the blogger who has already reviewed the book will be thrilled to get a little extra mileage out of a review that he or she spent time writing. 

We're crossing off a to-do on lists that are already way too long at this time of year.  I mean, I've seen posts from people who are concerned that they have 8, 10, even more than two dozen reviews that need writing.  We don't need this kind of pressure on ourselves, do we, especially during this crunch-time of the year?  No, I think not.

For example: I read The Book Thief by Markus Zuszak months ago.  Like, in March or something.  Yet for whatever reason, I never got around to writing the review.  I know life is way too short for me to be even remotely concerned about this and that nobody probably noticed or cared that I didn't review The Book Thief.  But there is something about this unwritten review that is just nagging at me.  It drives me nuts when I see it unlinked on my sidebar. You know what I'm talking about, don't you? 

Yeah, I know you do. 

I'm sure there are people who are already doing this, and who have been doing this for awhile, so this doesn't need to be a new project with its own meme or button or linky-link or what have you.  It could just be part and parcel of what we book bloggers do, in the spirit of giving and helping one another out and community and all that peace-and-goodwill-kind-of-warm-and-fuzzy stuff, y'know?

If you want, you could write a post listing your yet-to-be-written reviews and chances are, one of your readers might have a review of their own to offer up as a guest post. 

So, who is with me?  And more importantly ... who has a great review of The Book Thief that they would like to guest post here on The Betty and Boo Chronicles?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Library Loot: November 18-23

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Marg and Claire that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

Before we make our weekly trek to the library tomorrow night, it would probably be a good idea for me to get my most recent Library Loot up. 
(And yes, those are indeed my previous week's looted books in the background of this photo ... and I know that technically, these books should have been in last week's post.  The more books the merrier, right?)

What He's Poised to Do, Stories by Ben Greenman
This is apparently a Harper Perennial book.  Sold.

Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
This has been on my "want to read" list for what seems like forever, so I was thrilled to come across this while browsing the stacks.  

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
This one is supposedly hard to find, no?  Anyway, same as above ... I am really excited about this one. 

How It Ended, Stories by Jay McInerney
A re-loot, for probably the third time now.  I absolutely love me some Jay McInerney, one of my literary crushes.   

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I'm a bit of a political junkie and can't easily resist such a book.  This has been on my "want to read" list for awhile, plus I'm interested to compare it to David Plouffe's The Audacity to Win and Anne Kornblut's Notes from a Cracked Ceiling, both of which I liked (see my reviews here and here).

The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff
I really liked Groff's short story collection, Delicate Edible Birds, and have been wanting to read this novel since reading that.  (Have you detected a theme with this post yet?)

Where the God of Love hangs Out, by Amy Bloom
A fairly recent re-loot.  I'm on an Amy Bloom kick right now.

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, by Gail Collins
This is likely going back to the library unread, unless I manage to read American Women (Gail Collins's previous book) first.  I own that one, and this one is probably going to make it onto my holiday wish list. 

There was also a second, unexpected library visit during the week, where I scooped up these four books.  (I was rather impressed with myself with only getting four books, but then I remembered my previous loot ... not to mention Mt. TBR that is taking over my night table and the floor surrounding it.)

Commuters, by Emily Gray Tedrowe
Another Harper Perennial book that I've heard so much about from book bloggers.

Molly Fox's Birthday, by Deirdre Madden
I don't know much about this, aside from it being a finalist for the Orange Prize.

I Curse the River of Time, by Per Petterson
Beth Kephart praised this one, so based on her recommendation, I thought I would give this a try.

The Last Talk with Lola Faye, by Thomas H. Cook
I've been picking this up during the last few library visits and decided that it is probably time to check it out.

More to come after Tuesday night!

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

On Children, On Their Birthday

In honor of your birthday, Betty and Boo, I give you one of my favorite poems.
Love, Mommy
On Children
by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Literary Blog Hop November 18-21: On Literary Nonfiction I Have Known and Loved

Literary Blog Hop

I'm getting this week's Literary Blog Hop (hosted by The Blue Bookcase) in under the wire tonight, so I'll get right to this week's question.

We're asked this week whether there is such a thing as literary non-fiction, and if so, how do you define it? (And since we all love to know about new-to-us books, to give some examples.)

I absolutely do think there is a category of written works that can legitimately be defined as literary non-fiction.  To me, literary non-fiction reads like a novel, with compelling characters and a plot that unfolds in a way that that keeps one reading.  The best literary non-fiction keeps you up at night turning the pages, much as any fiction book would.  A literary non-fiction book is one that makes the story new (even if you know what happens) and leaves you with more depth and perspective than a "just-the-facts" type of non-fiction book.  And while literary non-fiction can take many forms, I think the best books in this genre are ones that are extensively researched but where the story, the people, still shine through.

The first book I thought of for this category is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying.  But since many other bloggers have mentioned this one as a deserved example of literary non-fiction (and I agree), I will instead highlight a book that will be among my favorites this year: Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife, by Francine Prose.

Through her famous diary, Anne herself gives a reader a strong sense of the history and happenings of that time (earning her diary a literary non-fiction designation from some other bloggers) and Prose writes that this becomes even more critical as decades pass and memories fade. 

Perhaps the best example of literary non-fiction is seeing the writing in action in order to decide for oneself:

"In a few more years, no one alive will have witnessed the scene of a Nazi arresting a Jew. There have been, and will be, other arrests and executions for the crime of having been born into a particular race or religion or tribe. But the scene of Nazis hunting down Jews is unlikely to happen again, though history teaches us never to say never. This will be the arrest that future generations can visualize, like a scene in a book. They will have to remind themselves that it happened to real people, though these people have survived, and will live on, as characters in a book." (pg. 64)

There is also a section of Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife where Prose writes about the arrest of the Franks, details of which I again thought I knew but didn't. The arresting officer Karl Josef Silberbauer "was disturbed by the detail of Otto Frank's military trunk, labeled as the property of Lieutenant Otto Frank, which meant he would have been Sergeant Silberbauer's superior when both fought in the German army during World War I." (pg. 65)

Simon Wiesenthal later successfully tracked down this Silberbauer fellow, whose wartime activities were investigated and later dropped for "lack of evidence." (Is it possible to arrest someone for being an asshole? Because if so, Silberbauer would have been pretty high on my list for his whining. See if you agree.)

"The suddenly notorious [after his whereabouts and wartime history became known] Silberbauer complained to a Dutch reporter that his temporary suspension from the [Vienna] police force [after his whereabouts and wartime history became known] was making it hard to pay for the new furniture he'd bought on the installment plan, and that he could no longer use the pass that let him ride the streetcar for free. Asked if he had read Anne Frank's diary, Silberbauer replied that he had bought it to see if he was in it." (pg. 66)

"Why did he think he might be? He knew what happened to Anne after he flushed her out of the attic. Did he imagine that, ill and starving, she could have kept up her diary in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, pausing from her labors to record her impressions of Silberbauer?" (pg. 66-67)

(I commend Prose for taking a more restrained response to this than I would have, because really ... worrying about his furniture payments and losing his privileges of riding the streetcar for free? Call me callous, but those hardships don't seem to be on par with dying of typhus at age 15 in a concentration camp.)

You can read the rest of my review here

Some other books that I would consider as literary non-fiction are listed below (with links taking you to my reviews).   

by Lily Koppel

by Ammon Shea

by Michael Davis
by Steve Lopez

by Harriet Reisen

This Lovely Life: A Memoir of Premature Motherhood, by Vicki Forman

by Paulette Bates Alden

The Literary Blog Hop is hosted by The Blue Bookcase and "is open to blogs that primarily feature book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion. If your blog does not fit this description, it may be removed from the Linky List.

How do I know if my blog qualifies as "literary"? Literature has many definitions, but for our purposes your blog qualifies as "literary" if it focuses primarily on texts with aesthetic merit. In other words, texts that show quality not only in narrative but also in the effect of their language and structure. YA literature may fit into this category, but if your blog focuses primarily on non-literary YA, fantasy, romance, paranormal romance, or chick lit, you may prefer to join the blog hop at Crazy-for-books that is open to book blogs of all genres.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Guest Post from The Husband: Fall On Your Knees

Forty-two years apart, Jose Romero kneels at Robert Kennedy's side. The now-60-year old Romero is the famed busboy captured in one of the most iconic photos of the late 1960s.

"What we need in the United States is not division … not hatred … not violence or unlawfulness, but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.... Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to take the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world...." - Robert Francis Kennedy

It is, perhaps, one of the most iconic photos of the 1960s: a skinny and obviously stunned and confused teenage busboy is kneeling over a mortally wounded Robert F. Kennedy, vainly trying to lift up the New York senator, momentarily - and, obviously, mistakenly - believing RFK had been pushed and knocked to the ground. After Romero's story became known, that one snapshot held great irony: Kennedy, who spent the last three years of his life trying to lift up for the poor, the migrant workers, the African Americans and the Chicanos, was now being lifted by one of those same underprivileged and forgotten members of American society.

The teenager, Juan Romero, is now 60 years old. In the intervening 42 years, Romero has been traumatized by that June night at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California. And, in all of those ensuing years, Romero has been walking around with tremendous guilt, feeling that he could have prevented Sirhan Sirhan from assassinating the man Romero said had finally made him feel like an American.

As Steve Lopez brilliantly captures in the Los Angeles Times, Romero's story and his journey yesterday morning to the graveside of Robert Francis Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery has been a long one. Never, in all of these years, had Romero visited the grave. It was with great poignancy, then, that there was Romero yesterday morning - more than 42 years after the assassination - keeling once again, this time beside Kennedy's grave on what would have been RFK's 85th birthday.

Romero, a construction worker, told Lopez that he was wearing a suit for the first time in his life. He said it was only proper that he should do so, to show his respect for a man whose life has been forever intertwined with his own.

It was only after the encouragement of a friend who told him he had to go to Arlington to finally come to terms with his demons that Romero decided to make the journey from his home in San Jose, California. That it took incredible strength and courage to visit Kennedy's grave was obvious. Indeed, before kneeling at the grave, Romero walked off to be alone and have one last good cry before approaching the final resting place. "Sorry," he apologized to his daughter, Elda, and the friend - Rigo Chacon - both of whom had made the trip with him from California. "If I can get it out of the way now...." Maybe a good cry would help him keep his composure, he said.

Then, Romero approached the grave.

Romero's family story was one not dissimilar to a few million others who had moved to California from Mexico by the late 1960s. Romero was 10 years old when his family made the migration. From there, he lived in projects for a while and believes would have gotten caught up in the gang life except for the fact that his stepfather intervened and helped get him a job at the Ambassador Hotel.

That moment when Romero knelt at RFK's side was not, in fact, the first time Romero had met Kennedy. That had occurred a few nights before, when Senator Kennedy called for room service. Romero paid off another busboy for the privilege of delivering Kennedy's food. Even though he was just 17-years old, Romero felt that Kennedy made him feel more accepted as an immigrant - more importantly, as an American. And, just knowing that Kennedy might become President of the United States had electrified him.

Romero arrived at Kennedy's hotel room door and the Senator himself opened it, startling the young busboy. Immediately after putting the tray down, Romero turned around to see the extended hand of Robert Kennedy coming toward him. At that moment, Romero says, he was transformed. As he'd imagined from watching Kennedy, physically grasping Kennedy's hand made him feel appreciated. He felt whole, he felt like a man. Two nights later, when Kennedy won the primary, Romero raced to the Ambassador pantry and shook RFK's hand again as the candidate went to deliver his victory speech.

After the speech, Romero broke through the crowd again, wanting to say goodbye and wish Kennedy well. Once more, he shook Kennedy's hand. One of the lesser-known facts is that it was while shaking Romero's hand that Kennedy was shot. Literally, he was shot while holding Romero's hand. Romero never did wash off Kennedy's blood from that hand. It eventually faded and disappeared on its own.

It was with that dried blood on his hand that Romero sat on a bus heading to school the day after the assassination. A few seats away, a woman, reading the Los Angeles Times, looked at a picture in the paper of a young busboy in a crisp white uniform, a mask of disbelief on his face as he tried to help Kennedy up off the floor. "This is you!" the woman said to him, and Romero looked away in horror. It would not be the last time that happened in the first few years after the murder.

As I mentioned earlier, Romero holds himself at least partly responsible for Kennedy's death. Indeed, he later told Lopez that in the first few moments at Kennedy's grave his first act was to ask forgiveness from RFK. In Romero's mind, had he not been so intent on shaking Kennedy's hand, he would have seen Sirhan and been able to stop him. Romero adamantly says he would have taken the bullet himself if it meant Kennedy would have lived and gone on to become President.

Over the years Chacon, Romero's friend, has tried to remind Romero that, in fact, the 17-year old had reacted remarkably humanely for one so young. After the shots, Romero didn't run, he didn't take cover. Instead, he tried to help. Thinking that Kennedy had merely been pushed out of harm's way and hit his head on the concrete, Romero knelt down to try to lift Kennedy back up onto his feet. Immediately, though, the young busboy realized the situation was grave. Instinctively, Romero took his own rosary beads out of his shirt pocket, and twisted them around Kennedy's hand while praying for him.

Forty-two years later, Romero stood silently in front of the lone cross at Kennedy's grave. Quietly, Romero began telling Kennedy how much he loved his country and that he has tried to honor the ideals Kennedy preached ever since that day at the Ambassador Hotel. Then, Romero knelt at the grave and broke down once more.

Prior to the trip from San Jose, Chacon contacted his Congressman, Rep. Mike Honda [D, Calif] to see if he could assist with the visit. So it was that, after visiting RFK's grave, Romero was given a tour of the graves of John Kennedy and Ted Kennedy by Honda and Ted Kennedy's son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy [D, RI].

Romero later said that having an opportunity to talk to RFK's nephew about Robert Kennedy's commitment to social justice had helped him to find some peace. "It's hard to say goodbye," to Robert Kennedy, Romero said before leaving Arlington.

"I want him to know he's remembered."

And that's my wish for Jose Romero. He, too, should never be forgotten.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.