Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thursday Book Questions, Pts. 9 & 10 (Thanksgiving Edition)

Happy Thanksgiving! So, here I am, writing my usual Thursday Book Questions catch-up post. The good news, for my tardiness at least, is that I think Jenna is taking a few days off from posting, which means I have a chance to catch back up with this fun book meme. But first, a brief update seems to be in order.

Lovely, folk-style wood-carved maternity nurse

On Sunday, November 21st, on the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, my nephew John Cornelius was born. My brother and his wife have been at the hospital with baby John all week, and yesterday I got to meet the little guy for the first time. What a beautiful, precious little boy he is. We are all incredibly blessed with his presence in our lives. I am knitting a blanket for him, which I hope to have completed by Christmas, and now that I have seen and held him, my motivation to work on the blanket is renewed. Plus, each stitch is an opportunity to say a prayer for him, which is perhaps the most productive and worthwhile gift I can give my new nephew as he acclimates to the world and builds his strength.

The other bit of news worth sharing is the exciting fact that I got to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 twice in theaters this past weekend: last Thursday night at midnight, and again on Saturday morning. Put simply: I loved it. I have written up my reactions to the film, on both viewings, in two comments (here and here--some of my comments will make more sense to you if you've seen the film), left on a post by Jenna St. Hilaire over at The Hog's Head in which she reviews the movie. If you are so inclined, take a gander at my comments there for a list of all of the things I loved about this film, and while you're there give Jenna's original post a read as well. I am very much looking forward to Part 2, to be released in theaters next July.

And now, on to the past two weeks' worth of Thursday Book Questions. Jenna's original posts can be found here and here; for my previous installments, click here.

Part 9:

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
I am not counting reading that was purely for homework purposes, when considering this question. I didn't really get seriously bit by the reading bug until around age 14, if you'd believe it, so I'm sure that prior to that age stretches of time (weeks? months?) would go by without my seeking out a book for pleasure.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
I will file this in the "could" not finish, since I hope to someday give this one a go again: Les Miserables. Yes I know, this probably makes me a poor literary citizen... I first received this story by way of the musical, and I have gathered that the musical represents the heart of the story--people who have read the book and seen the musical tend to say this. When I tried reading the book, I unfortunately got a bit bogged down by the level of detail, that the actual story got lost for me at times. Hopefully I will feel differently the next time I pick this one up.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Once I have started, not much. Reading is a bit of a vortex for me... I suppose that sleepiness can distract while I am reading (assuming I have had a long day). One of the worst inner battles is between the desire to read another few pages, and the desire to sleep. Man that battle rages in me more often than I care to count. Blasted long days at work!

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
Oh this is a tough question, and controversial to boot. I may get flack for this, but I love Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy of films. I adore Tolkien's world and the story he crafted within it, and for me Peter Jackson nailed these two things in his films. Oh, come to think of it, I do have another favorite film adaption of a novel worth sharing: the 2003 version of Peter Pan. This film version of the story is very true to the book, and the script that was written for the movie draws out and highlights so many of the beautiful and rather mature themes, while still being whimsical and enchanting in all the right ways. I absolutely adore it (especially the scenes between Wendy, Peter, and Captain Hook).

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
I tend to block bad artistic experiences from my mind, so I am coming up blank on this one, though I am sure there are plenty out there I have not been enthused by.

Part 10:

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
Oh man... Although I am now a librarian, in high school I was not a library user but a bookstore junkie. I am sure at one time or another, probably around either Christmas or my birthday, I have spent close to $200 in a bookstore. *blush*

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
Quite often, particularly with books for my research. Fiction books, I almost always read the excerpt from the text at the beginning of the book, to decide if the style is one I will be able to dive into, as I love doing when I read a new book.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
Hmmm... Well, the practical answer to this is, my life getting too busy for me to finish it, but this would need to be coupled with a rather dull story (or a dull telling of an otherwise good story) to be truly effective. I rarely stop reading a book for reasons having to do with being offended by its content. I am one of those hopeful readers that, when faced with something less than moral or good in an outright way in a story, I am compelled to keep reading to see if the story will redeem itself; often, I have found, it does. I recall one time that it didn't, and that was in the third book of the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials series. I do recall, about halfway through the third and final volume, sensing all the negative and (in my mind) unnecessary conclusions the book was heading towards (I read it well before the negative hype surrounding the release of the film version of The Golden Compass), and reading on determinedly hoping my suspicions would somehow be proven wrong; they weren't, but I did finish the book hunting for a better ending. Ah, well.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Ahem. I am a librarian. The short and rather obvious answer for me is: Yes. :)

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
Generally I keep them. I usually don't opt to purchase a book (or series of books) these days unless I sense I will like them enough to want to reread them again in the future, hence keeping them instead of giving them away.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Revisiting the Deathly Hallows

I interrupt your regularly scheduled "I'm two weeks behind in Thursday Book Questions" post to offer my quick reflection about the final Harry Potter book, which I recently reread in anticipation of Part 1 of the Deathly Hallows movie, to be officially released in theaters tomorrow (which means tonight for me). At midnight I'll be seeing it in IMAX, and I am beyond excited. So, without further ado, here is another Books I've Read post. 

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Author: J.K. Rowling

Read or Reread: Reread

Impressions: I have lost count of the number of times I have read this book. It may be around four or five times now. Naturally, I reread it this time in preparation for the HP7 Part 1 film release, because I wanted to have the full version of the story in the front part of my mind going into the movie extravaganza tonight. I read this over the course of about a week, when I traveled home to NY, then to California for a business trip for a few days, then back to NY again, at the end of October. It was perfect for the 6 hour flight to and from Cali.

What struck me this time around was this book's ability to make me laugh out loud and yet burst into tears, all within the span of several pages, and then to cause this strange and beautiful phenomenon over and over again. It is brilliant in this respect. And the reasons why I laugh and cry are built upon the previous six volumes, and all I have grown to know and love about these characters and the challenge they are facing, together, as friends. The third book, Prisoner of Azkaban, was my favorite of the series until the seventh volume; now Deathly Hallows occupies that position of honor in my life. An indication of just how much this is so: when I finished this reread of the book, after I closed the back cover, my fingers itched to flip the book over, open the front cover, and start the book over again. It was 2 am at that point. I almost did too. It is that good.

As for this reread in relation to my expectations for the two-part film... Knowing where the films are split--Voldemort retrieving the Elder wand (sorry for anyone for whom that could be a spoiler)--it struck me as I read it this time that Part 1 of the movie has a lot of ground to cover. There are certain things I fully expect to be cut (Potterwatch comes to mind, alas), and I will find out if my guesses prove true or not in a few short hours. I rewatched the Half-Blood Prince movie two nights ago, and surprised myself by enjoying it far more this time around than I had when I saw it in theaters a year and a half ago at its midnight release. Upon reflection I realized the reason I enjoyed my viewing this time was because I stopped fighting the fact that I knew what was going on, and decided to embrace it instead. As soon as I let myself imbue the cinematic images and moments in the film with all that I know they mean in the fullness of the story (i.e., in the books), the moments in the movie meant so much more, which meant I fully entered into and enjoyed the story they told. So, I am going into the movie tonight with this newfound attitude of not expecting the movie to stand alone at all, but instead planning on letting my recent reread of Deathly Hallows inform everything I see and hear. I can't wait.

Summed Up: This is a good, good book. Obviously, only read it after reading the previous six in the series. But books don't get much better than this one, to be perfectly frank.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Joits courtesy of a CC license.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thursday Book Questions, Pts. 7 & 8 (catch-up style)

My goodness, have I been busy. For me to recount in detail the past few weeks would result in far more words from me than I can reasonably expect you, reader, to endure. I traveled to California and back, spent two weekends in NY, reread Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, bought my tickets to see Part 1 of the movie-version in IMAX next week on 11/18 at midnight, fell behind and then caught up on my grad work in Theology, and more. For now though, I will proceed with Part 7 & Part 8 of Thursday Book Questions. I love the questions from these past two weeks.

For my previous installments, click here.

Part 7:

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
Doesn't faze me one bit. Though, I do generally qualify my more critical reviews with, "At least, these things didn't work for me though that isn't to say they won't work for you."

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
Koine (New Testament) Greek. Being able to read fluidly in Italian would be lovely as well; as it is, I could fumble my way through a piece in Italian as long as I have a dictionary on hand.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
I suppose when I finally tackled The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, it was rather intimidating before I finally took the plunge. The verdict: 'twas totally worth the endurance and focus required to get through it. I absolutely loved it.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
Usually it is not that I am nervous, but more that I just don't have the time and focus to commit to the really "intimidating" ones. At some point I hope to tackle Crime and Punishment, also by Dostoyevsky, though the likelihood of that happening any time soon is slim.

35. Favorite Poet?
I have two, since one I love for his plays (though they are poetry) and the other for his poems: William Shakespeare (dramatist) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (poet).

Part 8:

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
I'll answer this by saying how many I currently have checked out. :::Goes to check her account::: Answer: 10.

37. How often have you returned a book to the library unread?
Since many of the books I check out are for research, and I rarely read a research-related book cover-to-cover, I'd say my answer is pretty often.

38. Favorite fictional character?
Ohhhhh man this is a totally impossible question. Oy vey. I'll name a small handful, since even to do *that* is a challenge: Hermione Granger, Anne Shirley, Jo March, Artemis Fowl, and Hamlet.

39. Favorite fictional villain?
If we can consider Severus Snape a villain, I would say definitely him. (I suppose he isn't really though, since he is actually a hero, tortured and broken though he be... but in Harry's mind he is a villain until close to the end of the final book. Hmmmmmm.)

40. What books are you most likely to bring on vacation?
Easy-to-read fiction that has either proven itself amazing (think Harry Potter), or comes highly recommended by the right readers (meaning, those who share my taste), a good example of which was The Hunger Games trilogy before I read it, my response to which I still hope to post here sometime in the (near?) future.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thursday Book Questions, Pt. 6, NY-style

So, this post comes to you from my hometown of Elmsford, NY, where I am typing away in the house I grew up in. I am in town visiting my family, and will be calling this my home base for the next 8 days. This Tuesday I am flying to California for a business meeting with other librarians, and will be flying back on Friday--flying out of and into JFK, which made for a great excuse to spend time at my NY home. If you had told me 5 years ago that I'd travel this much as a librarian, I'd have thought you were nuts. But, clearly I would have been wrong... trip to Cali, paid for by my employer? I'll take it.

In other news, I am just coming out of one crazy busy week. It has been hard to keep my head screwed on straight, but thank God I have managed not to drop and shatter any of the plates I'm keeping in the air at the moment.

In a welcome shifting of gears (welcome because it was a shift from work to family, though for a reason that is sad and still hard to process...), today I attended a memorial Mass in honor of my grandma, Rosa, who passed away a year ago (may her memory be eternal). A good friend of hers, Phyllis, drove to the Mass with us in my mom's car, and in thanks she gave us some of her knitting, because she is kind like that. The knitting really reminds me of my grandma, because she used to knit things for us before it became too hard on her eyes. The knitting from Phyllis memorialized my grandma perfectly, for me. I also got to see and spend time with my uncles, aunts and cousins, which was a real blessing.

Leg warmers, a nifty pumpkin, a bright red scarf, a pretty multi-colored scarf and hat set, and a knitted Christmas wreath--all knitted by the lovely Phyllis. I believe I have another pumpkin like that somewhere, which my grandma knitted for me maybe 10 years ago. If I can find it, the pumpkins can be friends on my shelf, like Phyl and Rosa.

On to more bookish things, I am excited to report that on my plane rides to and from California this week, I plan to dive into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a much anticipated reread in preparation for the first Deathly Hallows movie, coming out November 19th (!!!). I also hope to post my impressions of The Hunger Games Trilogy sometime soon... I have a post in draft about it, just waiting for me to compose my thoughts!

And now, here are this week's Thursday Book Questions, Pt. 6. For previous installments, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

26. Favorite cookbook?
Oh man, I don't cook often enough to have a good answer to this. Though, I have cookbooks which, in the past, have been very helpful to me, and so they are likely to be the ones I will return to when I manage to work cooking back into my lifestyle (ha). They are, Nourishing Traditions, 30-Minute Meals by Rachael Ray, and the blue Lenten cookbook, which is a staple in Orthodox homes. There is a Lenten pumpkin bread recipe from that book which is way too delicious to be considered Lenten.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
This is a hard one, because I read a whole slew of books last spring, which I didn't keep track of. In answer to this question, I guess I would have to say The Way to Nicaea by the Very Rev. Dr. John Behr, which I read over the summer as part of my graduate studies. The reason this is inspirational, though, is perhaps not typical: in this book, Fr. John does the kind of theology--or more precisely, he close-reads primary texts of the Early Church Fathers--in a way that I aspire to emulate. It's the kind of work I want to do whenever I attempt to reflect on theological matters by way of primary texts (the best kind of reflection, when done right, in my opinion). His methodology is impeccable and yields such insight, that both the insight itself as well as the methods he uses to get there, are very inspiring, at least to this theology geek. Eventually I'll post my specific impressions of this book as well (ah, all the posts waiting patiently for me to compose them).

28. Favorite reading snack?
A good cup of tea.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
This is a tough one, since I'm not exposed to a ton of book hype, except in the YA fantasy realm, mostly because of the blogs I read. And in each YA fantasy instance, the hype was spot on--Harry Potter and The Hunger Games being the two best examples of this. I hope to read the Twilight series sometime in the next year, and there is so much hype, both good and bad, surrounding those books that it will be interesting to see how my experience aligns with the various schools of Twilight hype.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
Again, don't generally read book critics. Whenever possible, I like going into an experience cold--whether it be a book, movie or piece of theatre.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Greek Yogurt Dessert, "with le-mon" (zest)

Today I was fortunate enough to get to celebrate one of my dear friends, Jamie, at a surprise birthday party that her sister Cindy threw for her. The party was Greek themed, in terms of the menu, so everyone brought their favorite Greek dish. I was at a loss as to what I would bring, not having ever cooked any Greek dishes. But then, my friend Kathy, who is Greek, told me about a dessert her mother makes, using Greek yogurt. 

Aside: I love Greek yogurt. I have been buying a tub each weekend and eating it throughout the week. I buy it plain, and then mix in honey to sweeten it. Sometimes I will add granola as well, but usually the honey is all that is necessary. It is now an essential part of the first meal of my day.

So, Kathy told me that her mom would add all sorts of yummy, sweet things to the yogurt, transforming it into a dessert dish, but a healthy one. It sounded perfect, and doable for me, so I gave it a go! Here below is the recipe, though I warn you, I am not including any measurements since all you're doing is mixing things into the yogurt. Choose the amounts that you think you will like. Also, there are many variations on this, and I will include some of the variations in parentheses. The ingredients not in parentheses are the ones I used.  


Plain Greek yogurt (I use the Fage brand)
Vanilla extract
Poppy seed filling (the moist mixture used in baked goods)
Lemon zest (you can also use orange zest, but with the poppy seeds I found the lemon zest resulted in a lemon poppy seed kind of flavor, which was fabulous)
Golden and red raspberries (this is where you can really mix it up--pun intended, ha--by using any kind of berry you choose, though be warned that blueberries will stain the yogurt; another option is peaches, either uncooked or baked with brown sugar, mmmm)
Shaved chocolate (as a topping)

Basically, all you do is mix in each ingredient. I did each one individually, and in the order listed above. I waited until I served it to add the chocolate which, by the way, was an amazing addition and worth the work of grating it. Also, another variation on the ingredients would be to add nuts. 

With chocolate added, just before serving.

A delicious helping.

Yeah, that disappeared fast. 

It came out scrumptious, and I'm so thrilled I discovered an easy-to-make, healthy dessert!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thursday Book Questions, Pt. 5 + knitting frenzy

Not surprisingly, I stated last week I would try to post more regularly...and it didn't quite happen. I still have posts in draft that I want to finish, but this week has been one of the busiest I have had this semester at the library. I will get to the draft posts soon enough, I am sure. Plus, I have begun knitting again, thanks to a knitting circle of lovely ladies which began last Sunday. Here are two images that capture where I'm at, not just with my knitting but with everything (note the haphazardness that is my beautiful, nutty life right now):

The green work-in-progress will be, I hope, a halfway decent hat. The black finished project (on the right, hard to see clearly) is also a hat, but it's a bit too big to wear, And the gray hat between the two (looking rather crumpled) is store-bought and machine made--it's in the pile as a point of reference. Even if it takes imperfect hat after imperfect hat to perfect a knitting pattern for my signature slouchy hat (and no, the person in the picture at this link is not me), I am determined. I will eventually knit for myself a hat that fits, is my style, and which is wearable--oh yes I will.

Onto Thursday Book Questions, Pt. 5. Jenna just posted this week's installment, and the questions are getting more and more interesting. For my previous answers, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Here is Part 5:

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
I will recommend a book to someone if I know their reading tastes and the book is one I know they, in particular, will love. Another situation where you will find me recommending books is when I love a book so much I can't stop talking about it--in which case, not only won't I stop talking about it, but I'll try to shut myself up (many times, though never quite successfully) by saying, "Well, you should just read it yourself so you know what I'm talking about!"

22. Favorite genre?
Fantasy, usually the YA variety, though as a teen I read "non-YA" fantasy as well. These days I find that (good; read: not trite and overly formulaic) YA fantasy tales get to the point more succinctly than their "adult" counterparts. For instance, as much as I love Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series from my teen years (a non-YA fantasy series), it is taking me literally years to finish reading the series, which will finally be completed sometime in the next few years. Why, you might ask? Because the plot is so complicated with so many characters, I don't remember the details about each character enough to just dive in where I left off and know what is going on. Some day though...

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)? [And yes, I am the grammar geek that just corrected the placement of the question mark in this question.]
Probably science fiction. Besides spending a summer reading this genre for an undergraduate course back in 2005, and my all-too-brief inhalation of Orson Scott Card's Ender Wiggin books* earlier this year, I haven't read much sci fi, but I definitely want to read more.

24. Favorite biography?
Yeaaa.... if I'm honest, I'm not a huge reader of biographies. I suppose one that really, really affected me deeply is an English translation of the biography of St. Nektarios of Aegina, called Saint Nektarios: The Saint of our Century. Talk about a life lived in complete humility and love.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
Hmmm, I don't recall ever having read one, though perhaps I have and I just don't remember.

*Okay, wow, in the Wikipedia list of Ender stories at the link I just dug up and posted here, there are a slew of stories that Card published only online. I had no idea about these! Talk about happy discoveries! I know what I'll be reading whenever I need a break from my usual Internet reading over the next few weeks. (And yes, the Ender universe Card created is so rich, any tale he tells within it is worth reading to add to the tapestry that is his sub-creation.)

Update: It turns out all of the Card short stories that were published online are behind pay walls. Drats.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thursday Book Questions, Pt. 4 (Happy Fall!)

It's Fall in NEPA (that's Northeastern PA for those who don't know), and the weather is crisp and invigorating. The changing leaves here are so beautiful--the kind of beautiful that makes me giddy and distracted, in a good way of course. This weekend is Fall Break at my school, which means the library is closed Saturday through Monday. I am looking forward to spending time enjoying the season with my friends: a dinner party on Friday evening at a friend's house, a Harvest Festival on Saturday morning (if I can wake up for it!), and hopefully a knitting circle on Sunday afternoon after church. By the end of the weekend I hope to have enjoyed some fresh apple cider and good times with good people.

On time this week, here below are my answers to Jenna's Thursday Book Questions, Pt. 4 (love the questions this week!). For previous editions, see the following links:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
Yes, I am embarrassed to say I do. Not often though! I have an arsenal of bookmarks that rotate throughout the handful of books I am reading at any given moment. But sometimes, I admit, when I need to close a book just for a moment, I will dog-ear the page I am on, knowing I will be returning very shortly. I think, being a librarian, I have become more and more aware of the wear and tear books can put up with, so I am a little less squeamish about these sorts of things.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
It's funny: I used to do this all the time. For instance, all of my Madeleine L'Engle books (including the Time Quartet) and many of my C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien books have my marginalia (in pencil of course!) preserved from late high school and early college when I first read them. I am rereading The Problem of Pain right now, and I am reading my 18 year-old commentary as I go. Which brings me to the reason I don't write in the margins anymore... As a reader, I find it distracting. The marginalia tends to guide my thought process as I read, and that limits my own/present reading of the text. It's especially interesting when my 26 year-old self is battling with my 18 year-old self over what is important in a passage and what is not. As a result, I no longer write in the margins, even when I am doing research: I use little post-it flags for every line I think is noteworthy. My books often have a rainbow of post-it flags hanging from the pages as a result, but so be it.

18.  Not even with text books? [Hey, wait a minute... that seems to presume a negative answer to the previous question! Stand fast against such nonsense and answer #17 any way you want.]
Haha I appreciate Jenna's bracketed comment here. ;) I suppose if I was in a course of study that actually used textbooks, I wouldn't have a problem with writing in the margins. But my courses use stand-alone books which I anticipate revisiting again and again in the future, so for that reason I avoid writing in the margins for the reasons I cited above.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?
English, as it's the only language I'm fluent in.

20. What makes you love a book?
Wow, this is a good question. If the book is a story (i.e., fiction), then understanding myself better for having read it, causes me to love it, because it means I am someone new (and hopefully better) by the end of it. In a way, even with the theological texts I read and love, I think this is the case as well--by understanding God better, I understand myself better. I should also add, really lovable characters cause me to love a book as well. For instance, I am itching to pick up the Anne of Green Gables books again because I miss Anne Shirley terribly and can't wait to spend time with her again.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thursday Book Questions on a Sunday (while sick), Pt. 3

This week I traveled to Savannah, GA for a library conference, where my research partner and I gave a presentation about Facebook and the ACRL Information Literacy Standards. I am incredibly pleased with how it went. It was well-received, and I observed that enough of our audience had what I call "light-bulb moments" during the presentation, that I feel like my goals with the presentation were achieved.

In other news, I devoured (om nom nom) Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy early last week. I really liked it. It's a complex sort of "like" though, and at some point I hope to post a detailed reflection on the complexities of why I like this story. Hint: It has something to do with my ability, as reader, to relate to the psychological and emotional journey of the main character, Katniss. More on that later.

I have been home all day today, sick with what I think is a cold, or perhaps a sinus thing. It started as a really bad allergy attack while still in Savannah, but did not go away upon returning to Scranton. As such, I am going to dive right into Jenna St. Hilarie's Thursday Book Questions, Pt. 3, this time offered up on a Sunday, so I can go back to vegetating.

Click the following links for Part 1 and Part 2 of Thursday Book Questions.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
I am not sure I know what my comfort zone is. If my comfort zone is defined by books I read effortlessly, then I read a fair amount out of my comfort zone due solely to my graduate studies. Many of the texts I read for school are very challenging and require a certain amount of discomfort (at least insofar as I struggle with their meanings not being obvious to me).

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Going with my definition above (i.e., books I read effortlessly), these tend to be books with a good and spiritually edifying story, and well-drawn characters.

13. Can you read on the bus?

14. Favorite place to read?
Sitting up in bed, in the time before I go to sleep.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
I generally lend books when asked. If the book means a lot to me and is difficult to replace, I will state as much when I lend it and ask the borrower to please take care with it. I have never really had any problems along these lines.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thursday Book Questions on a Friday, Pt. 2

As promised, I will continue to poke my head in here to answer Jenna St. Hilaire's Thursday Book Questions. I'll also use these lines in the header to offer a brief update on life as a librarian/theology grad student.

This week has been very busy--I taught three information literacy classes this week, one of which was for an English lit class, which was fun. They were doing secondary research on some aspect of a short story they read, so I showed them how to go about doing that.

On the theology front, I'm currently taking a class called The Early Church, in which we are reading primary texts from the first thousand years of the Church. This week, we're reading Athanasius's Against the Arians. In fact, I'm spending this Friday evening at the reference desk trying to get through as much of it as I can (it's a pretty long text).

And finally, I am preparing for a presentation I'll be giving next week at a librarians' conference in Savannah, GA, called the Georgia Conference on Information Literacy. It will be my first time to Georgia, so I am super excited about that. I'll be presenting with my research partna' Teresa Grettano, and our presentation is called:  "I Found it on Facebook": Social Media and the ACRL Information Literacy Standards. We'll be taking the information literacy standards for college-level students and showing how user behaviors on social media sites like Facebook actually lay the groundwork for information literacy skills. This thesis is a bit radical (ha), but something I am incredibly committed to. Teresa and I have been working on this research since last year, and will continue to do so for at least another year, maybe more. Next week will be my first conference presentation though, so I'm a little nervous, but mostly excited for the opportunity.

All of that being said... I love my job. :)

And now, on to the Thursday Book Questions. For last week's questions and answers, click here.

6. Do you have an e-reader?
No I do not. I am not opposed to owning one someday though. I am waiting for the gadgetry to evolve a bit more, so I can have more flexibility with what I use said gadget for, including reading e-books.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
Prefer? I mean, in a perfect world I would read one book at a time... and that would be my only occupation every day. But being the busy-bee that I am, I almost have no choice but to read more than one book at a time, otherwise I would never get to all the titles I'd like.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Ha, I don't blog often or regularly enough to have a valid answer to this question. Even if I did though, the answer would probably be "No," since I have always read as often as I can, given a very busy schedule. Blogging hasn't radically altered that situation much for me.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
Hmmm... This is tough, partially because I can't remember everything I tackled in Spring. I was not a huge fan of the book Theology of Wonder, which I offered my impressions about in July. It was good, but not great--for me at least.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
Definitely a difficult question considering, again, I can't remember all the books I read in Spring. I do know I read the Artemis Fowl books, which I absolutely adore. I think it was the story that surprised me most this year, in terms of just *how* much I wound up loving it. If you haven't read these books, and you're into YA stories of the fantastic type (but good ones), I highly recommend that you do.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thursday Book Questions, Pt. 1 (via Jenna St. Hilaire)

So, clearly, my semi-regular blogging of the early summer vanished in the late summer/early fall rush. For those who are still listening, this blog is not defunct--just in a bit of a slumber. I promise that I do have quite a lot to blog about, so all sorts of library/theology/research-related content will be posted soon enough.

In the meantime, though, Jenna over at A Light Inside has started a delightful series of posts that invite her readers to participate. For this, methinks, my blog will awake briefly from its ongoing slumber.

And so, without further ado, here is Part 1 of Thursday Book Questions. To see more Thursday Book Questions submissions, visit that link and scroll to the comments.

1. Favorite childhood book?
Picture book: either Heckedy Peg or Tiki Tiki Tembo
Novel: The Giver

2. What are you reading right now?
For school: Tertullian's Against Praxeas
For pleasure: Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (rereading)

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
None at this time

4. Bad book habit?
Starting books and taking quite a while to finish them (unless they are for school).

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
A lot of books for school and research:
Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age
Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology
Thinking About God in an Age of Technology
Letters from Lake Como: Explorations in Technology and the Human Race
A Broadening Conversation: Classic Readings in Theological Librarianship
Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can't Leave Behind
Theological Librarians and the Internet: Implications for Practice
Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives
The Spirit of Early Christian Thought (via ILL)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

In which I catalog what books I read...

I have decided to begin a series of posts in which I share my impressions about every book I finish reading. I realized last week that I go through a lot of books, and I thought it would be neat to see how many I get through in, say, a year. The best way to keep track of this is to document it somewhere, and this blog seems as good a place as any to do so (being a librarian's blog and all). The books I read range in genre from fiction to theology/spirituality and more. I also tend to read more than one book at a time. This series of posts will only include books I have read in their entirety, which can include books I have read for the first time, or that I have recently reread.

Title: Theology of Wonder

Author: Bishop Seraphim Sigrist

Read or Reread: Read

Impressions: I picked this book up at the St. Vladimir's Seminary Bookstore back in June when I attended a week-long Summer Institute. I spent most of my money that week on course-related titles, but saw this book and decided it would make for a less-academically-demanding, spiritual jaunt for me at some later time. Well, several weeks later I began reading it, one chapter per night (roughly). Every chapter title is a single word, ranging from "Tree" to "Theosis." I'll be honest and say that I found these sorts of stylistic juxtapositions a bit jarring. Often in a single reflection-chapter Bishop Seraphim draws from literature, sacred texts from a multitude of faiths (including many non-Christian ones), and theological scholarship, woven together by his own poetic-prose writing style, and all arranged in order to speak to the subject of that particular chapter. Despite this unique style, several of Bishop Seraphim's reflections I found poignant and helpful. The chapter I enjoyed most was the one called "Hermit." In this chapter he addresses the desire of many an Orthodox Christian to find that special and holy relationship with an elder/spiritual father/staretz/geronda. (Think Alyosha/Elder Zossima from The Brothers Karamazov.) After reflecting on this a bit, he lands somewhere surprising and refreshing:
Now it seems to me that in every aspect of our involvement with the Divine we are at risk of missing what is actually there, and what God is sending us, in looking for something else. If I look again at the person next to me in line at the supermarket, perhaps he is the Hermit, at least at this moment and at least for me. (31)
I like this. It is good, healthy and--dare I say--joyful to go through our daily life, always on the lookout for that which God is sending us. Often, the remedy for our longings does not require a long journey to elsewhere to find that which we think we do not have, but rather, a journey inward to recover our sight, so that we can see the riches God has already provided. This, I think, is what this book hopes to teach its readers.

Summed Up: Spiritual reading that is light and varied, which will probably be enjoyed most by creative types who are not put off by thoughtful but meandering prose.


Update, 2/16/2010: It's worth noting that, because my blog went into hibernation several months after this post, this series of posts never really came to fruition. Perhaps I will resurrect the "Books I've Read" label, perhaps not. We'll see how things progress.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Christology of Good Storytelling

My new blog-friend Jenna St. Hilaire, who blogs about writing and other cool stuff at A Light Inside, is in the midst of a discussion via blog posts with another writer-blogger called Mr. Pond at The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, all about, of course, writing. More specifically, their discussion tries to get at what makes good writing exactly that: good. Since I do not write fiction myself (in an alternate version of my life, I might have, but...), I do not feel able to participate in the discussion at the level of detail they are. However, Jenna's most recent post, "Rules and Real," sparked in me a bit of a theological (and geek-tastic) response. I left her a long-winded comment along these lines, and I decided to repost it here, edited a bit for clarity. I encourage you to go read her original post in full, but since I quote the bits that matter to my point in my response (below), you may also simply read on to find out what Christology might have to do with good storytelling, according to lil ol' me:

Ok, here I need to comment on the following quote from Jenna's post, particularly on the quote's the first sentence:
"And the trick, for those of us aiming at the stars, is to write a tale that is both within our time and transcendent of it.
That is a resolution of contraries if ever there was one. Our hot, passionate, fleeting time, caught up in fad after fashion after fling, disrespectful of history and therefore unable to learn from it, busy trying to immortalize itself in 140 characters or less per idea--this we must unite, somehow, to the calm, unmoving, deeply resonant truths that were true ten thousand years ago and ever shall be."
So, maybe it's because I'm a graduate theology student at the moment and so I'm immersed in early Church writings about the nature of Christ, but this passage, especially its first sentence, immediately brought to mind for me the nature of Jesus Christ, the Word of God. The Word of God is exactly as Jenna has described a good tale to be: "both within our time and transcendent of it." He is both within the time He lived on earth (2000 years ago) and transcendent of it. (He is of course also present in our current time as well--He is in all times, both before and after His earthly sojourn--but that's another theological discussion separate from this point I wish to make right now.) I included the whole of Jenna's quote above because later on she uses the word "unite" and, again, that is theological, Christological language right there, and it was awesome to see that appear in this dialogue about good storytelling, storytelling that both speaks to us today and also taps into the greatest Story of all.
I wonder if, in a way, the Christological analogy can be taken a step further: if Christ can only save what He has assumed (i.e., our fallen condition, including death itself), I wonder if this means the good writer (in synergy with God and His grace) can take that which is fleeting and nailed down in the here and now (i.e., "Our hot, passionate, fleeting time, caught up in fad after fashion after fling") and transfigure it from the inside out (as Christ does with us) by filling it with true Story (i.e., "the calm, unmoving, deeply resonant truths that were true ten thousand years ago and ever shall be").
I'm not a fiction writer myself, but as an avid fiction reader I can confidently say I've encountered this kind of transfiguration of our time, our world, and our very selves (as reflected in full, rich characters) in great stories. It is like C.S. Lewis's statement in... one of his essays about this sort of thing (lol I read it years ago, sorry I don't have the citation handy). To paraphrase Lewis, he said something like: When we eat an ordinary piece of meat, it is exactly and only that: a piece of meat. But when we imagine that someone has hunted for this meat, encountered dangers while doing so, emerged triumphant, and because of that struggle and victory this meat is now before us, waiting to be eaten... suddenly the meat tastes so much better than it would have when it was just "ordinary meat." Story makes this transformation happen.

One follow-up: I just spent about twenty minutes skimming Lewis's essay "Of Other Worlds," from which I am sure I first encountered the idea about story transforming meat to the point where it tastes delicious because of the sense of story that accompanies it... But, I could not find exactly the image I thought was in that essay. I must have extrapolated the above (I guess I was in the mood for meat when I first read that essay years ago, ha) from the following quote of Lewis's, which is the closest I could find:
"The happiness which [a story where the characters are animals who talk and live like us] presents to us is in fact full of the simplest and most attainable things--food, sleep, exercise, friendship, the face of nature, even (in a sense) religion. That 'simple but sustaining meal' of 'bacon and broad beans and a macaroni pudding' which Rat gave to his friends has, I doubt not, helped down many a real nursery dinner. And in the same way the whole story, paradoxically enough, strengthens our relish for real life. This excursion into the preposterous sends us back with renewed pleasure to the actual." (pp. 14-15 of the Harcourt edition of Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories by C.S. Lewis)
I think, since his essay begins by addressing the sense of danger often found in good stories, I must have combined the danger-discussion with this little snippet about food tasting better for having passed through story (with a little of Gary Paulsen's Hatchet thrown in). Regardless, both discussions are talking about the same thing: at the beginning of his essay Lewis discusses a sense of danger (think Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans), and in this quote above his discussion has moved to a sense of preposterousness and absurdity, where he uses a story where animals talk and share fellowship as an example. (Since I'm currently reading as my de-stress reading Martin the Warrior, a novel of Redwall by Brian Jacques, I can relate to this about talking animals even now.) Each of these qualities (danger or absurdity) is what the essay's title refers to as, simply, "other." It is this otherness, or as Jenna puts it, this transcendence, which makes the ordinary meat (or Lewis's "real nursery dinner") taste better.


To conclude, the crux of my above response to Jenna's post is this: a good story has the ability to transfigure, by God's grace, the fallenness of our world and our selves, from the inside out--made possible because of Christ having done this very same thing for us on the cross. I think this, for me, is the measure of a truly "good" story--one that achieves this great feat.

Is this a tall order for the writers and storytellers out there? Perhaps. But, it's what I'm seeking when I devour book after book after book--a reader's quest, if you will. And of course I have found it (Thank God!), time and time again, and these are the books and stories that get at the core of me. They tell my story of brokenness and redemption back to me. A story that can do this, without of course preaching or "teaching a lesson" (none of my above discussion has anything remotely to do with didactic, moralistic writing), is what I would call good storytelling.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Revisiting Stories

I learned something remarkable this week. Or rather, I have been learning it, and will continue to learn it, but this week it crystallized for me.

It is about ingesting stories through art... As a person's time on this earth lengthens, and more and more life experiences accumulate, such stories only deepen.

This may seem obvious, and if you had told me this as an 18 year-old, I would have said, "Well of course, that only makes sense." But there is a big difference between knowing it superficially, and experiencing it in a way that takes one's breath away, as this 26 year-old recently did.

This happened to me twice within the past week. And both times, the experience drew upon the same moment -- from my past, but also in my present and future, since it will forever be a part of me and make me who I am at any given time since it happened. The moment is the death of my father.

Without dwelling too much on the moment itself, for the purposes of the remarkable thing I learned and experienced this week, I will just say this: My father's death was very hard, for myriad reasons, all very complex. It happened two and a half years ago, and involved three very difficult weeks in which my dad was in and out of the ICU. He is the closest person to me who has died, thus far in my life. Who I am, and the life I live, has not been the same since.

That being said, I now want to share about two bits of artistic storytelling which, for extended periods of my life during my teen years, were stories that worked on me. They are completely unrelated to each other, and they are also both stories I had not revisited since my dad died -- not for any noteworthy reason in particular, but simply because there are new and different stories (as told through art) that fill my days today. But both of these stories, I had cause to revisit within this past week.

The first is the HBO series Six Feet Under. I grew up in a home that, for better or worse, had HBO. When this show started, created by the writer of American Beauty (one of my favorite films as a teen), I knew this would be something I would like. And it was, for the first few years at least. The premise was quirky, the characters real. The story, as told every week in each new episode, did to me what it did to millions of viewers: it let me relate to characters who struggled with the hardness of life. And it told their stories in strange and wonderful ways. I confess, though, that after several years, and once my schedule in college became very full, I fell out of touch with the Fisher family. In the interim, I became aware that the series ended, but I did not participate in this in any meaningful way, other than nostalgic thoughts of the years of my life spent watching it.

The second is the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods. Being both a theatre and fairy tale junkie, it is no surprise this show was incredibly important to me as a teen. I owned the VHS recording of the original Broadway production, as well as the cast recordings for both the Broadway and London productions. I knew the musical score inside and out. During my musical theatre days, I sang songs from the show. All of the stories told in it, and the bigger story they all unite to become, beat out a rhythm in my life for many years. But, as is wont to happen, my musical tastes expanded after college, and between folk music and Orthodox Christian chant, in recent years I have not found much time for the music of shows like Into the Woods. By not listening to the recordings any more, the stories drifted from the front of my mind and settled like a dusting of snow into the back recesses of who I am. I may not have been consciously aware they were still there, gently lingering, but they were, and thank God for it. They just needed to be woken up.

And so, I bring us to this past week. Last week my friend and colleague Teresa posted on her Facebook wall a link to the final scene and montage of the series finale of Six Feet Under. I thought, "Oh, yes, I remember really liking that show for several years. Let me give this a watch." (It is a 9:51 minute video clip.) And boy, as I watched the final montage, in which we are shown how each of these characters ends his or her life here on earth, and particularly how those who had gone before are waiting to greet each one as he or she passed... I felt like the breath had been knocked out of me. The images and sounds I was seeing and hearing penetrated a depth in me that did not exist when I watched the first episode of the series almost ten years ago. I know, of course, that this depth in me was created by suffering, and grace. But the entire thing was remarkable, that these characters and this storytelling, about death and loss, could have such an effect on me now, when nine years ago my experience can only have been superficial in comparison.

Then, yesterday, my other friend Beth began "Showtunes Week" on Facebook, where she will post a video with a fabulous showtune each day this week. I thought this was fun and decided to join her, and chose as my first video Bernadette Peters singing "No One is Alone" from Into the Woods. I watched the video of Miss Peters sing the song, which I have heard and seen many times (having owned the CD and VHS of the live performance in question; did I mention I was a big fan of hers?). She paints pictures with her voice, and it was lovely (and, of course, nostalgic) to behold. It caused me to decide to dig up the CD that had this recording on it, and I am currently revisiting it in my car. "No One is Alone" is the second song on the CD. So, on my way to work today I listened to the song again in the private world I enter when I am alone in my car. And a curious thing occurred: instead of stretching my voice in order to sing along with Miss Peters, as I would have done and always did as a younger person, I decided to simply listen. When she reached the words, "Sometimes people leave you halfway through the wood," again this deep, deep place inside of me was pierced -- a place that did not, could not have existed the last time I listened closely to this song. (And I'm not counting having watched the video the evening before, because I did not listen closely but encountered only nostalgia at that point.) This song, about forgiving people you love for their mistakes, and also about recognizing that they are still with you and love you as best they can amidst those mistakes... Again, it took my breath away. And again, there is no way I could have truly understood this meaning in the song all those years ago, when I would listen to it on repeat and attempt to let it work on me as deeply as it could. It is clear that, whatever depth it may have reached in me as a teen, was nothing compared to what happened this week.

And so, this week I learned:

There is beauty and depth in stories told in artistic media. If the story is well-told, that will be evident the moment one encounters it. However: Never, ever think you have completely mined the depths of a story, even if you ingest it over and over and over again in a short space of time. (I was an obsessive kid, in case you didn't pick up on this yet.)

And also, and more importantly: Never, ever think that story has finished mining the depths of you. If it is a story worth telling, there is always something new and surprising (sometimes breathtaking) to encounter in it and in yourself.

And I suppose a third thing I learned is this: There is joy to be found in suffering. This joy comes when an encountered story manages to absorb your suffering into itself and tell it back to you. In this encounter, healing and grace are to be found.


Here are the two videos described above:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Farewell Aroma Cafe: Until We Meet Again

Today was the last day of business operations for one of my favorite local (and locally owned) haunts, Aroma Cafe. Located directly across the street from my place of work, this charming, friendly and creative coffee-panini-salad shop was the first place at which I ate lunch when I started at my job two years ago. I didn't really know anyone in the U of Scranton community, and so, when it was time for my first lunch break, I stepped out of the library, and scanned the nearest street (Mulberry) for possible places I might grab a bite. And there was Aroma, with its eye-catching sign that set it apart from the chain restaurant (i.e. Subway) next door.

I walked across the pedestrian crosswalk at Mulberry and Monroe, and made my way inside, where a sleeping fireplace, full bookshelf, comfy couch, and scattered tables invited me to come on in and make myself at home.

I don't remember what I ordered that day. But I know it was tasty, because I went back again and again, to eat the unique (and cleverly named!) sandwiches and salads that make up the menu. And to see Patty and Logan, the mother-son team who own and run the shop.

I've had business meetings over lunch at Aroma. I've eaten quietly with a book at Aroma. Two years later, Patty and Logan know me by name, and I count them as two familiar faces I have come to warmly associate with the Scranton community. You cannot enter Aroma without being greeted with a smile, and not a "trained" smile but one that truly recognizes you and draws you in. The best customer service is the kind where those giving it know and care about their customers as individuals. And that's what I experienced at Aroma these past two years.

The University of Scranton is building a new dormitory, which will meet a need for our students. Patty was renting the space on Mulberry from the U, and now must close it down. Today was a bittersweet day as my co-workers and friends and I dined at Aroma on Mulberry for the last time.

Luckily for Scranton, they plan to reopen in the downtown area, which is maybe four blocks away from the main part of the U campus. Downtown has a different vibe than the stretch of Mulberry they formerly served. While Mulberry was mostly the student crowd, their downtown location will cater to the lunch crowd who are working professionals. I often make the four-block (10-minute -- they are long blocks!) walk into downtown proper to take my meals while at work.

As such, I look forward to when Aroma reopens and Patty and Logan can yet again become a part of the tapestry that is my local community here in Scranton.

(Photo courtesy of the Aroma Cafe Facebook Page -- a Page which, in less than 24 hours since being created, already has 85 people who "Like" it. There's a lot of love in Scranton, and I'm grateful to be a part of it.)



It is worth mentioning, if you are someone who values these sorts of encounters in your local community, or thinks you would value them if given the chance, I have two tips for you:

1) Shop local. There is something about a locally owned business that, somehow, makes you feel more like yourself, by its being completely itself and nothing else. This is just one of many reasons why shopping local, whenever possible, is the way to go.

2) Talk to the people who own and run the local businesses you visit, and let them talk to you. Though shy types might balk at this suggestion, the benefits really do outweigh the risks. Certainly it's important to trust your instincts about a place and its people, but if you get a sense that the place and its people are woven into your community, and you love your community, being open to knowing them and being known by them is a gift you don't want to pass up.


Update, 2/14/2012: Unfortunately due to various circumstances out of Patty and Logan's control, they've had to put off reopening Aroma Cafe for the time being. I hope they know how much their delicious food and warm hospitality are missed in the local restaurant scene in Scranton.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Anatomy of a Paper Topic

What follows is more of a step-by-step guide than an anatomy:
  1. Pay attention and engage your mind in class
  2. Pay attention and engage your mind as you do the assigned readings.
  3. Wait for an "Ah ha!" moment to occur, then note it. (An "Ah ha!" moment is a moment where certain ideas and insights coalesce in your mind in such a way where you suddenly know something you didn't know before -- or, you understand something you already knew but in a different way. It's a light bulb moment, a moment that causes you to say "Ah ha! Now I get it!" The only way you will have an "Ah ha!" moment is if you do Steps 1 and 2.)
  4. Figure out how the "Ah ha!" moment occurred for you. What made you say "Ah ha!"? Why did that thing or those things cause you to say "Ah ha!"? What is interesting about the text you were reading/discussing, to cause this "Ah ha!" moment to occur? These sorts of questions would be your research questions (and would contain more specifics than my generic examples, of course).
  5. Using the tools of your discipline (this is largely where your professor/teacher comes in, although he/she will certainly play a role in the above steps as well), close-read the text in question in order to understand where the "Ah ha!" moment came from, i.e. how it (the "Ah ha!" moment) is constructed or built within the text.
  6. Your thesis becomes something like: "Here is an 'Ah ha!' moment that occurs in [insert text here], and this 'Ah ha!' moment is caused by X, Y and Z." You need to do the work in Step 5 to identify X, Y and Z. Furthermore, the length of the X-Y-Z list should be determined by your page length, meaning, only cover the number of points necessary to fill the number of pages for the paper. You won't be able to know in advance how many points this will be, unless you are hyper-aware of your writing and research style, so it's better to come up with a longer list, prioritize it, and then write the paper illustrating how X contributes to the "Ah ha!" moment, how Y does the same (and builds on X, ideally), so on and so forth until you see you need to wrap it up. 

So, if I were to turn the above into more of an anatomy, or at least an equation, it would be:
"Ah ha!" Moment + (How the "Ah ha!" Moment Occurs/tools and methods in your discipline) = Paper Topic or Thesis
...or something like that.

I like writing papers in this manner because it guarantees that the work I'll be doing is, to a certain extent, original. How do I know this? Because it was my "Ah ha!" moment. Could others have had the same "Ah ha!" moment before me? Sure. But will the same X, Y and Z be the combined cause of that shared "Ah ha!" moment? Probably not. And usually, the X, Y and Z of your study affects how the "Ah ha!" moment is articulated, thus your articulated "Ah ha!" moment is in many ways unique to you. 

Paper-writing, Spring 2010 

Disclaimer: This is not the only way to decide on a paper topic (or put more broadly, a research topic). This is simply what works for me, particularly in the humanities. And, it guarantees that you'll be interested in your research topic. There's nothing worse than writing a paper about something that doesn't interest you. You shouldn't have to, so don't.

Monday, June 14, 2010

First encounter with The Glass Menagerie

There once was a girl who thought she knew a lot. Her mind was quick. She reveled in learning, and was not shy about expressing her thoughts and ideas as they came to her.

One day she was sitting at the front of her high school English class, watching her teacher as he prepared to start the lesson. That day they were beginning The Glass Menagerie, a play by Tennessee Williams. The girl was in her element. The teacher only had a small handful of copies of the play, stating they would rotate who would read parts during each class period, while the rest of the class listened. This meant there would be many opportunities to volunteer to read, which was one of the girl's favorite things to do.

There were three characters in the first scene of the play: Amanda, and her two children, Tom and Laura. Amanda had the most lines, followed closely by Tom. Laura did not have many lines at all. To begin the lesson, the teacher asked who would like to read, and assigned three readers to the three parts. The girl was selected to read Amanda.

The scene began, and the readers read with clarity and enthusiasm, even as they were encountering this story for the first time. The rest of the class listened politely. The teacher alone would notice the glazed stares of most of his students during this exercise as they tried in vain to grasp the meaning of the text, being recited enthusiastically but somewhat robotically as the readers sat at their desks and read.

The scene ended, and the teacher thanked the readers. He asked the class who they thought the main character of the scene was. Someone answered, "Amanda," owing to the fact that she talked the most. The teacher nodded, accepting the answer and its explanation without comment.

The teacher then arranged the front of the room into a makeshift dinner table using three desks. He asked the readers, including the girl, to take their places around the table, with Amanda and Tom sitting across from each other, and Laura between her mother and brother, facing the audience. They then read the scene again.

After the scene ended for the second time, the teacher asked the class again who they thought the main character of the scene was. The students considered the previous answer given -- Amanda -- and the brighter members of the class assumed this meant the correct answer was someone else. The girl was enthralled, and held her tongue, curious to see how this would play out.

One student tentatively answered into the silence, "Laura?"

The teacher asked, "Why do you think the scene is about Laura?"

"Well... she seemed to be pretty affected by her brother and mother and how they were bickering. She's also really quiet. Probably because her family is so talkative. So, that's why I thought maybe she was the main character of the scene. Plus, she was sitting between the other two, kind of in the line of fire, ya know?"

And then the teacher played his trump card: "And you would never have noticed that if we hadn't have seen the scene played in front of us, with simple blocking. This is why, whenever we read plays in my class, we will only have enough copies for the characters in the scene, and we will 'perform' the scene in front of the class. The point is not to 'act' the scene, but to see how the story is told through more than just the spoken lines. There is nothing that kills a good play more than reading it from our seats and following along in the book."

The girl was blown away by this revelation. The teacher went on to say that, in fact, the scene told us a lot about all three characters, so there really wasn't a wrong answer to his original question. But the girl disagreed. He was right. The scene was Laura's. The girl had learned something new, and was quietly humbled in the process. She had thought she knew a lot. Maybe she didn't know quite as much as she thought. And rather than be annoyed by this, she was very excited at the prospect of the new knowledge this teacher had to offer them.

The girl was sure of one thing: this would be a great year in English.


This is a true story. The girl was me, and the teacher was my greatest mentor during my high school years, Mr. MacLean. He was my director for four wonderful years of shows (four musicals and two plays), and he was my teacher for two rigorous years of English (English 11 and AP English).

I found out this week that Mr. MacLean will be retiring from my high school alma mater at the end of next year. He changed the way I ingest stories and texts, allowing them to change me as I read them. The above anecdote is one example of how he did this, but there were so many more. I can only imagine that he will be sorely missed at Woodlands High School.

(Photo courtesy of Tojosan under a Creative Commons license.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Road to Good Health

About a month ago, I was at work one evening, trying to ignore a pretty bad headache. In the midst of my work, I suddenly was overcome with nausea, making my headache worse and causing me to wonder if I'd even be able to drive home. Needless to say, I went home early that night, and put myself right to bed.

I thought over all the possible causes of this sudden illness, which thankfully passed by the morning. I pinpointed several likely culprits, allergies and my diet being the two main ones. Scranton is one of the worst areas in the country for spring allergies. Other than get an air purifier for my office (which I quickly acquired), there wasn't a lot I could do regarding my allergies. I try to avoid over-the-counter meds whenever possible, so I focused my energy on the second area I identified as likely to have caused the illness: my diet.

(An aside: you'll notice I didn't consider it was a flu bug. It came and went too fast for that, less than 24 hours. That particular day, I'm sure it was a combination of the dust at my library, and the mug of coffee I drank that morning.)

I made the very difficult decision to cut coffee from my diet. I had been drinking up to 2 mugs per day, which to some may not sound like much, but for me it was pushing the limit of how much caffeine and acid my body could handle. I have since taken several other steps toward a healthier diet:

Juicer: I decided to buy a juicer, in hopes that I could drink fresh fruit and veggie juice in the mornings as an energizing alternative to coffee. Although the clean-up is a little cumbersome, I am trying to juice at least 3 times per week. I have had my juicer for several weeks now, and I love it. So far, my favorite juice has been carrot-apple-ginger (pictured right). Wow, talk about satisfying!

Whole Grains: After seeing the name of a certain cookbook turn up over and over again, in trusted sources, as I sought ways to improve my diet, I finally decided to obtain the book Nourishing Traditions. This book makes the very good case for returning to a diet modeled after traditional communities and cultures, all of whom tend to enjoy great health. One characteristic of this sort of diet is to eat whole grains, which you want to soak before cooking. Soaking them in warm water plus a bit of a fermenting agent (such as whey, vinegar or lemon juice) causes the grains to actually begin to break down, making digestion easier and also enacting all sorts of proteins that are good for you. This weekend I soaked and covered with a dish towel 1 cup of quinoa for just under 24 hours in 2 cups of warm water and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. At the end of soaking, I drained the grains, and then cooked them in 1 cup of water for 10-15 minutes like I would cook rice (pictured above-left). And they came out great! I plan to do more of this moving forward.
    There are other little things I've been doing as well, including cleaning out my fridge and pantry of things that were either expired or clearly not very good for me.

    All of this is because I want to feel better. It's that simple. And, so far, it seems to be working. For me, it's a bit of an adventure though, since I have never been discriminating about what I ate until now. And it's going to be a slow process... There's no way I can go cold turkey on certain things that have been staples in my diet until now (ex. things made with white flour). I do plan to slowly cut down on unhealthy things though, and certainly being in the midst of the Apostles Fast is helping. So, we'll see where this all leads for me -- God willing, to better health!