31 August 2010

Wife in the North by Judith O'Reilly

I read this in September of 2008 while living in the UK.

Another Brit "chick" book for me. I am enjoying this genre very much although previous to living in the UK I am sure I wouldn't have to the same degree.

This book strikes home because the woman's husband yearns to live in the countryside. He moves her far from her beloved London, to the norther-most parts of England. I, too, will eventually be moved away from here.

At first I was really afraid the book would just be a bunch of moaning and husband-bashing. I was surprised and happy to find that she always unfailingly supported her husband even when he caused her trouble (he had promised to always fill her car with petrol when he wasn't in London on business (often away on business) but she ran out of gas FIVE TIMES!) I read the whole book before realizing it was a true story. I love a true story! This one was a real winner for me. Hated to finish it!

Random Acts of Kindness by Danny Wallace

This is a small book that may be placed on a table so that people will hopefully pick it up and be given ideas of nice things they can do for others.

Danny Wallace is an author and tv/film personality from the UK. I am working my way through all of his projects.

Some things in this book are simply silliness. I really think he should have preserved the sense of giving with each suggestion; the suggestions that are based on kindness are still, at times, humourous. He lost me when he included suggestions that were simply silliness. I would have rated the book MUCH higher if he had stuck to his original intention of inspiring others to be a simple but real help to others, even with a bit of humor sometimes included.

Some are just offensive, as:

Compliment a lesbian couple on their haircuts.
Really? And what if they don't have nice haircuts? Do you think they won't know you're being a 'smart arse'?

Here, however, are some of my favourite ideas from the book:

Take your leftovers from a meal in a restaurant and hand them to someone who appears to need them more than you. (This would be easy to do in England as there are street people within easy access. They tend not to be very scary. London is not so cold a place that they are forced to take shelter which would put them out of site more likely. To a truly hungry person een someone else's leftovers might be welcome.)

Similar ideas are to hand out lollies (lollipops) to strangers. I think this could be easily done and probably appreciated on a train into or out from London. British people tend to keep to themselves, especially on trains, but a kindness is always acknowledged and can start up a pleasant conversation.
Play 'knock down ginger' (what we would call doorbell ditching, but is known by many names throughout the world -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knock,_Knock,_Ginger ) but leave a gift for the person who answers the door.

Buy a copy of The Big Issue and then give it back to the seller.
Somehow I always thought The Big Issue was probably Muslim propaganda. I was wrong. It is street newspaper sold in eight countries. Only homeless or vulnerably housed people may sell it. The news/mag is written by professionals. The publishers assist the sellers by putting them in touch with services which can help them move forward in life. I often saw a young woman selling The Big Issue outside of Budgens in Virginia Water. Even though I didn't think the magazine was something I would support or be interested in I often thought of speaking to her...but I neer did. I did, however, always smile at her and she always smiled back. I wish I'd supported her sales.

This is probably my favorite suggestion in the book!
Visit http://www.goodgifts.org/ for many selfless ways to be a big help to others.

Send a postcard to one of the most remote lighthouses in the world!
Lighthouse Keeper
South Solitary Lighthouse
near Coffs Harbour

My Booky Wook by Russell Brand

Now, why did I read this book? The best answer is that I enjoyed the way he played the character in the movie 'Bedtime Stories.'

This story explores, in depth, his addiction to alcohol, drugs, and sex. Don't even pick it up if you think you might find it offensice because you will. He explores his early life and then explores the situations that took him to a drug addiction center and then to a sexual addiction center.

Russell mentions toward the very end of the book that the addiction center which helped him with his sex addiction expects their clients to make amends rather than apologizing for them. Throughout the book Russell occasionally mentions how awful it was that he treated some women certain ways. However, I don't believe I ever read anything that seemed apologetic in his writings, or which mentioned apologizing to any of them or how he may have made amends. And so I wonder if he is sorry or not. There were a couple of places where he appeared to regret his actions but he never fully formed such an idea to that extent.

Do I have hope for him? Yeah, I guess so, there is always hope. The book was only written in 2007 and he isn't dead yet or back in an addiction center. I just found that he is engaged to Katy Perry; interesting.

The writing of this book shows that he is in fact an intelligent person. He expresses that the time he spent in schools offering private education must have gotten something into his head. His references to great works proves it, but then, I think that even though British's free schools are often bashed, in general their culture seems to aspire more to literature, even in the lower classes. He just doesn't make good judgments about what is acceptable risque behaviour and what is unacceptable risque behaviour. That was and is his downfall. I am glad that I didn't put money directly into his pocket by purchasing this book; I read it via our library's free ebook service.

22 August 2010

Dave Gorman's Googlewhack! Adventure by Dave Gorman

"I bet you can't get ten Googlewhhacks in a row before your 32nd birthday."

From Wikipedia: A Googlewhack is a kind of a contest for finding a Google search query consisting of exactly two words without quotation marks, that return exactly one hit. A Googlewhack must consist of two actual words found in a dictionary. A Googlewhack is considered legitimate if both of the searched-for words appear as live links in Answers.com in the blue bar above the Google results.

Googlewhacks are shortlived because once someone publishes them to the internet as being a Googlewhack the new number of hits for the seaarch will become at least two, one to the original hit found, and one to the site that published it as being a Googlewhack.

The term and quest was invented by Gary Stock and published at UnBlinking on 8 January 2002. I gave the quests a few attempts myself. I came across this:

"Participants at Googlewhack.com discovered the sporadic "cleaner girl" bug in Google's search algorithm where "results 1-1 of thousands" were returned for two relatively common words.[3]

Googlewhack went offline in November of 2009 after Google stopped providing definition links. Gary Stock stated on the game's web page soon afterward that he was pursuing solutions for Googlewhack to remain viable. However, the game has not come back into play, and there is no word of when or if that will happen."

I wondered why it didn't seem that the searches appeared the same way the book described.
Anyway, I found a few word combinations with five or fewer hits...but if the game is not longer supported properly I won't bother further. (My best was a combo of only one hit - - nouthetic courgette/s.) The closest I came was "beatitudine icebox" with about 44 results. Besides, I think the internet is growing at such a rapid rate that it would be exponentially harder now to find a googlewhack. Right?

Gorman's adveentures took him away from home for most of two months, all over the world, to visit:
a man who collects photos of women and dogs
a man who took him on a trip into Mexico to buy Coke and pharmaceuticals
China twice
several writers of fan fiction

At the end of the adventure he had traveled through the UK, France, The US, Mexico (briefly,) Australia and China, over 71,000 miles, spending 183 hours in flight.

Okay, okay, I can't stop reading books written by Dave Gorman and Danny Wallace. I found their books and videos while living in England and am still working my way through their collections. I love the crazy stuff they get themselves into. Danny is briefly mentioned in this book but isn't an active participant in it.

There continues, for me, though, a great difference between the two men. Danny Wallace has an impish, boy-like quality about him and his adventures. (In fact I'd love to meet him!) (I've actually asked Dave Gorman a question via Facebook before and he replied to me.) Dave has fun ideas and follows them wherever they may lead but as soon as he hits a roadblocks he crumbles like a little girl. He becomes a whiney, slobbery lump of patheticness . At this point I read his books and try to imagine how long it will take for the whining to start. In all fairness, however, I still manage to enjoy them...but I enjoy Danny's more.

18 August 2010

Ereader review - the NOOK

I bought a NOOK! Okay, so it was about five weeks ago. What that means, though, is that I am finally ready to give my first review of it!

Are you familiar with ereaders? I was very familiar with them. We moved from the greater Chicago area to England in August 2007 (we are now repatriated, back to the greater Chicago area.) Moving to England meant that I had to determine a new source for my reading material. Eventually I began purchasing most of my books from amazon.co.uk. My family members also brought me books they were finished with, when they visited us. Amazon's first hardware device, the Kindle First Generation, was released only in the United States on November 19, 2007. That was the beginning of my fascination with ereaders.

Kindle, however, wasn't internationally compatible; it has to do with the type of cell hpone service provided in different countries. I found myself wondering, often, about the possibility of purchasing a Kindle and having a family member in the states load it up with purchases for me and then bringing it to me. I wasn't sure that was the way to go. I waited.

At some point I became aware of Sony's ereader. There was a Sony store near us where we often shopped. I visited the store several times. I held the Sony. I tried to imagine using the Sony. I was so close to just purchasing it. But I chose patience; ever a virtue. And I am glad I did. Many people told me that Sony is known for having good software but for not getting the hardware spot on. To this day when I see the Sony ereader I am still underwhelmed in comparison to the Kindle and the NOOK. My brother, Duffy, owns a Kindle. He visited us several times while we were living in England. When he visited I would borrow his Kindle to see how I liked it.

Just as we repatriated to the states, the international version of the Kindle 2 became available in 19 October 2009. That was just as we were officially preparing for our move. We landed in the US 12 December 2009. Again, I waited. I was hoping to receive the Kindle for Christmas.

Summer 2010 found me still without a Kindle, or any other ereader for that matter. 20 October 2009 saw the release of Barnes & Noble's ereader, the NOOK. What finally pushed me over the edge to make me purchase? My brother, Duffy, told me "Buy it. If you end up liking my Kindle better, I'm sure I'll trade you." Well, you can't beat insurance like that, can you? So I did it. I bought a NOOK!

Once I heard about the NOOK I began rigorously comparing it to the Kindle. I really thought I wanted the Kindle. I was hearing really great reviews of NOOK, however. When my brother came to visit in July 2010 we went shopping and I purchased it. We duly came home and fully charged it. After dinner we played with it and began learning how to use it. Which brings me to the point of my review of it.

Let's see. The main feature for which I was looking was the ability to highlight text and make notes about it. Both Kindle and nook have that ability.

Kindle has the little keyboard at the bottom. I thought that would be the best for me but then when my brother visited again and I used it I realized that the keys are positioned sort of oddly. With my current phone the keys are very close together and I can type with my thumbs. Seeing the Kindle keyboard configuration made me think it would be clumsy unless redesigned more similarly to today's texting phones.

Nook has a touchscreen. I wasn't any kind of fan of touchscreens until we were given a GPS. Our Garmin Nuvi touchscreen works brilliantly. I can touch it with my fingernail tips and it works perfectly. The Nook doesn't work that way. It is heat triggered. So one must touch it with skin. And I have long nails. After I bought it I was still afraid it might be a long-term issue for me. It only took me about 24 hours, though, to get used to it. I see the potentional that for someone with very big hands, (men in particular) having such tiny keys on the touchscreen could really be an issue. My brother thinks they should make an after-market accessory that is a heated stylus!! I think that would work really well and would probably lead to faster typing by users. Now that I am five weeks out I feel that I have mastered the keyboard as much as I am going to. And it still isn't perfect, but I can manage. Given an updated version my interest will be piqued enough for me to go to the store and try it out.

I continue to use my usual book light with my nook. My book light is a LightWedge, paperback size. I use it the same way that I use it with traditional books. Often my batteries provide me with so much light from my LightWedge that I don't even have to hold the LW against the book/NOOK. I often just keep it nearby to illuminate my reading. I have found that the NOOK works even better with the LW as there is no bother with turning actual pages. Brilliant! No fuss.

Overall I had expected the Kindle's hardware configuration to please me more than the Nook. I have been pleasantly surprised so far! Overwhelmingly I feel that the Nook has a much more streamlined appearance; slicker. Important? Not if you already own a Kindle and aren't going to be replacing it anytime soon. Trust me, it's a big purchase and I wouldn't replace it just for that. But I have found that the Nook's design is pleasant and attractive. The toggle-button on the Kindle (for lack of a better term) now seems a bit obtrusive to me. It just looks as if it is in the way. I like the smooth sides of the Nook and the page-turn buttons are easy to push when you mean to but are not easily pushed by accident (something that could be quite annoying.)

As a true Bibliovore I am still embarrassingly and hopelessly drawn to the pretty cover photos on the Nook's lighted touchscreen. Yes, they are just images of the covers in color. But they're attractive. And sometimes it really is okay to judge a book by its cover. In this day and age, with technology being what it is, I feel that if a publisher isn't dedicated enough to design a cover that will attract the attention of potential readers then they are going to be taking a risk. The book has to have a cover...why not make it appealing! As a matter of fact I just chose a book in May2010 based first upon the cover. The reason I stopped to look at it was because the cover caught my eye! And then I noticed the author's name. I read the blurb. I bought the book. If the cover hadn't drawn my attention from the others hundreds of books I wouldn't have bought it. Case justified.

The lend/borrow feature, currently only on the NOOK, has me intrigued right now! There exists a Facebook group through which one may lend or borrow NOOK ebooks from complete strangers with ease. I haven't had the opportunity to use it yet, or to otherwise loan any of my NOOK ebooks. I have researched it and believe that a book may be lent to any owner of a NOOK ereader once. Only once. I believe you may not then lend the book out to anyone else in the future. With this appearing to be the case I have not agressively pursued loaning my NOOK books. If my brother or another family member ends up owning a NOOK I would prefer to loan to them. If there are multiple owners of NOOKs living in the same household they may all use the same account so that they are able to all share purchases. I think Kindle operates in the same manner. It's a great and, I believe, necessary feature.

Okay a big MISTAKE on the part of the designers of Nook, in my opinion, is with regard to the highlights and notes which one may add. The ability to highlight text and make notes was the second feature that appealed to me in ebooks. I added highlights and notes in the first book I read on my NOOK. I didn't know I would not be able to go to them with ease after finishing the book. You have to go through each and every page to find if you highlighted anything. I found a simpler way to locate my highlights and notes though. You must use the bookmark feature first to mark every page on which you are going to place a highlight or note, then you may use the bookmark feature to easily return to them. Going forward I will be placing an electronic bookmark and THEN highlighting and adding each note. Users are able to find all bookmarks after they are placed. I bet highlighting and notes are more direct and functional with the Kindle. I hope so. This really should be an easy update for B&N I would think. I eagerly await a software update that will delete the bookmark step from this process. I hope I am not disappointed.

I have now read eight books on my NOOK. So far I have had one error occur with regard to the device. Fortunately it was not a serious one since my education or career are not yet relying on the device although I see that as a true possibility. All the highlights and notes in one of the ebooks I was reading were lost. I called B&N to discuss this. They made a note of it but confirmed that there was no way for them to retrieve them. It would be great if there were a way to do a master-save of such things, at least occasionally. Even if it involved plugging into the computer to do it I would find it worthwhile. That was so disappointing.

B&N has an in-store feature which allows anyone visiting the store with their NOOK to read ebooks for up to an hour a day for free. I have visited the store and tried this. My first disapointment was with ATT who provides the internet service which allows for the functionality (or not) of this feature. The store's internet was down. I returned another day and it was either still down or down again. Frustrating. It could actually make some customers pretty upset as I know some people have bought the NOOK because of that feature. I have to say that I was disappointed also to find that my first few choices of titles were ones that were not available for this feature. I had not been made aware that some books allow this feature and some don't. I found that disappointing. I did eventually find a book that allowed for the free reading and after visiting with some new acquaintances I had met at the library recently I did sit and read for a bit. I even returned later that week and was able to use the feature from the parking lot, in my vehicle.

Battery life. The Kindle can be returned to Amazon for the battery to be changed. The NOOK's battery is replaceable by the owner. And the batteries are quite affordable. The Kindle battery last longer with each charge but that has been due to the fact that earlier versions of the Kindle did not operate with the ability to use the internet, as the NOOK does. Use of the internet really decreases the available charge very quickly. While enjoying use of the internet I am not in love with it via my NOOK. I am glad it has the ability but really don't care for it as the functionality of it is just difficult in my opinion. If I need the internet and have a hot-spot then I can use it. If I don't really need the internet I'll be waiting to go online at home.

The purchase of ebooks with a NOOK is so simple it's scary. Add a credit card to your online account with B&N and that's really all there is to it. You can search B&N online using your computer or via your NOOK. Once you've found the book you want you may choose to download only a sample. Often the sample is 20 pages but recently I've come across a few that are a shockingly brief seven pages! If you wish you may purchase it without downloading a sample. If you download a sample you are given a chance to purchase it at any time you wish. The process of actually receiving the book after selecting it is amazingly quick. I think it could take up to one or two minutes but at times it has been only a matter of a very few seconds and the ebook is in my NOOK, ready for my enjoyment!

When there is any risk of it getting wet I place it inside a gallon-size zip baggy. Doesn't bother me a bit. Kindle makes a cover that they only claim is water resistant but not waterproof. I hear that it is not attractive and seems expensive since it appears to be just a fancy baggy. For now I'll stick with my baggy. I did purchase a two-year warranty for something like $69. We do not generally purchase warranties as we don't often feel they are worth the cost. Since I purchased my NOOK for its portability there was no way a warranty wasn't going to be worth saving me the fear of something happening to it.

I stumbled upon an additional feature without realizing it existed. While reading, occasionally I would move or reach for something and my hand would glance across the touchscreen and my page would change. Hmmm...I was determined to get to the bottom of that. It didn't appear to be a glitch; it seemed too intuitive. I even visited our local B&N. There I was told that it is a feature but not one that is touted. Why? Maybe they just don't have the settings perfected yet. The manager of the B&N could not get the feature to work. I was determined to figure it out. A few more hours of attention as I read and I nailed it! The secret is to only glance the touchscreen with your thumb or finger and not to linger. Too firm a touch or too long, and it won't work. Even though the touch has to be just right I love the feature. Sure it is easy enough to push the page-turn but this just feels so much more natural to me. If I touch the screen too firmly and "wake" it I just use the push button to turn that page. I use the touchscreen to turn my page now about 95% of the time I guess.

Yes, I have linked the Amazon Kindle here in case anyone wants to purchase it even though my review leans toward the NOOK. We all have different preferences and that is good.

The Nook can store about 1500 ebooks with the 2 GB storage. Up to a 16 GB memory card may be added to it as well, so it can hold a lot of books. It can also hold music if you want to use it for that. It will also hold photos. I have put a few photos on mine as screensavers/wallpaper just because it is going to take a long time for me to get enough ebooks on it to start chewing up the available memory. I figured I may as well use the memory I have available.
For now, even with the issues I have explored above, I am very pleased with my nook. Actually, I am sold on ereaders as a whole. I am as much a book-lover as the next person is...but the convenience of carrying around ONE item and of that one item being able to become nearly ANY book I want it to be is PRICELESS. I take it everywhere with me. I will look at future releases of ereaders. When such an advance is made to ereader technology that I can't do without it I will be looking to purchase a new one. I love mine that much.


Edited to add:

I just found out that B&N has placed their business up for sale. Seems their financial numbers were down due to fewer people visiting actual bookstores, along with the cost of creating a new ereader and marketing it.


This could end up working for them eventually as the loss could be recovered through sales of the NOOK. If, however, people are scared of B&N folding and no longer supporting the NOOK, then things could become ugly for them as well as for we owners of NOOK.

Long-term my prediction would be that even if a decision is made to sell the store sites, someone should be able to come along and make the ereader/ebook business portion profitable; perhaps very profitable. Of course it is my hope that B&N will be purchased and some things will be changed up so that both parts of the business can again return a profit. We are in a time of change though. I do feel that B&N was on to something when they developed their ereader with the ability to read in-store for free, loan books, etc.

However, I was dissappointed by their actual coffee shop, the place where a lot of this could occur. Living in England, the coffee and tea shops there are places people flock to for such activities. Here in the US and in England I have seen even McDonald's restaurants with more of that sort of character than my local B&N store possesses. It wouldn't even be a difficult revamp in my opinion. Make it cozier. Change up the boring and pricey menut. Make the readers of NOOK want to visit your store, buy a muffin and a drink, and possibly chat with some other well-read people.

10 August 2010

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

I am a fan of Jasper Fforde's writing. My brother, Duffy, and I have read all of his other books and were eagerly awaiting the appearance of this book on bookseller's tables.

The first thing I have to say about Shades of Grey is that while being as imaginative as his usual writing,
it feels very dis-similar to his other works. It is fortunate that I was expecting that.

Shades of Grey is set in a world that has experienced some form of major catastrophe that is never explained. It is a world controlled by a strict set of rules which are imposed by the use of heavy fines and the fear of "reboot".

This world is a world that is fading fast. Its color is fading fast. There is no explanation for why this is the case. Color is mined from other areas and brought to towns which have the money to support the artificial coloring of their environs.

Shades of Grey: A Novel

The first half of the book follows Eddie Russet and his dad, a Swatchman (doctor,) as they move to a different town. It gives the reader an impression of how things work in this world, setting the stage for the rest of the story. Color is used for many things in this world; even as medicine. Abuse of color (in our world, drug abuse) has its own terminology. Going for the ultimate high, vieiwing a particular shade of green, is known as "chasing the frog."

The poeple in this world are only able to see certain colors. There family names originate in the world of color. Their social status is based upon their color perception. Social status is everything. Yellows are typecast as not-so-nice people. Purple is the desired color, the color of the ruling class. This world is ruled by a Colortocracy.

Greys are disrespected and are relegated to servitude, the lowest of the classes. The motto of this world's civilization is "Apart we are together." A person can not, in good conscience, or legally, marry a complementary color. That would be wrong, very wrong.

By the end of the book Eddie has learned many secrets about the town he's been living in; secrets that are hard to believe and which lead to obvious trouble. Eddie ends up finding himself on a treck to High Saffron...a deadly quest. He is in search of whether it is possible to mine color from this region. And of course, love creeps into the story during this dangerous quest.

Encoded zebras, the last rabbit, death by Mildew, and a dearth of spoons. Is that enough intrigue for you?

Jasper Fforde is Welsh. His other book series are set in the UK. This book strikes me as feeling British even in its other-worldliness. The wording of the text isn't that heavily British. The strict adherence to societal rules, however, does feel very British and proper. Shades of Grey is the first in a three-book series.

Always Looking Up The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist by Michael J. Fox

Fox wrote his first book, Lucky Man, in 2001. This is another refletive look at his life, a decade later. The title is a bit of a joke and also a personal statement. It declares that fact that he feels he is an uncurable optimist but also pokes fun at the fact that his stature tends to make it a necessity for him to do so!

Fox's writing style is friendly. Reading it is like listening to him thoughtfully consider his life's experiences. He is open and honest. He doesn't appear to believe he has all the answers but he does attempt to work with what he has to make life all that it can be.

Diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1991, his story can't be written without considering how it affects him and his family. This book is set up in four separate chronologically ordered parts:

Work, Politics, Faith, Family

In "Work" he explores the experiences of his career over the past decade or so. He made a conscious decision to retire before he allowed his health to ruin his career. By choosing to step into an early retirement he was able to do it on his terms and is still able to choose to step back into acting for isolated periods of time, again, on his own terms. Choosing retirement has allowed him to focus on life and living well. Parkinson's has insinuated itself into his life in such a way that it has not only caused him to step away from acting, it has, in a way, become his career. Parkinson's affects not only a person's ability to move or not move, it also affects a person's ability to show emotion. Being an actor with Parkinson's Disease means having to work with and around his medications to find the moments which will allow him to do what he has always done best, entertain.

In "Politics" he explores the impact that politics and policy have had in his life. In an effort to raise funds and inspire further research toward a cure for Parkinson's Disease he created the Michael J. Fox Foundation in 2000. This portion of the book explores his role in the foundation; it also does a good job of explaining his well-thought-out support of stem cell research. In fact, I believe it spoke to me more clearly and thoughtfully than anything on the subject has.

Fox hopes to be clearly understood. He is no expert on Parkinson's Disease; he has been afflicted with it but has also been blessed with many resources which may be used to find a cure more quickly than otherwise. He appears to believe that "to whom much is given, much is expected."

He says "I acknowledge the fact that my own views are subjective. I have a stake in this argument that some may fairly say disqualifies me from giving both sides of the argument equal weight. You yourself may have thoughtfully considered the issue and arrived at the conclusion that embryonic stem cell research is wrong and that, at the very least, it is not something you want the government to support. As frustrated as we in the patient community are with impediments to progress put in place by George W. Bush, so too are you frustrated that we, the proponents, just don't get it, that we're missing the bigger picture. In that way, we two can empathize with each other, while not agreeing. This is why I brought into the political arena my concerns and my hopes that this work can produce cures and treatments, not to shame or ridicule those who disagree with me, and not to use the bully pulpit of celebrity to drown out anyone elsee's voice. The opposite is true. What we want is a conversation."

To sum up Fox's view regarding the use of stem cells in researach I will let him speak for himself, as he does in this book:

"Mr. Bush favors a ban on stem cell research, one aide said, 'because of his pro-life views.' Yet stem cell research has nothing to do with abortion... (It) uses undifferentiated cells extracted from embryos just a few days old - embryos produced during in vitro fertilization... Currently, more than 100,000 embryos are frozen in storage. Most of these microscopic clumps of cells are destined to be destroyed - ending any potential for life... Support for stem-cell research comes not just from pro-choice Democrats like Al Gore but also from Republicans who have concluded, in the words of former Senator Bob Dole, that supporting such researc is 'the pro-life position to take.' ... One hopes that between now and next Tuesday, Mr. Bush will explain to those of us with debilitating diseases - indeed, to all of us - why it is more pro-life to throw away stem cells than to put them to work saving lives."

Being presented with the argument in that form gives me pause. Previously I have expressed that I felt the use of stem cells from embryos was wrong. I don't feel it is any less wrong, however, to discard the cells in denial of the fact that they were created and do, indeed, exist, with the potential of becoming human beings if placed into a woman's uterus. Has science done us a dis-service? In the effort to provide childless couples with babies, an abundance of embryos are being created, in numbers too great for use. When these embryos are adopted or used by their natural parents for in vitro fertilization, the babies are known as "Snowflake Babies." Destroying those embryos does not seem a morally acceptable choice. But it is right to sacrifice them to possibly improve the health and lives of innumerable people?

I just don't know. I do not, though, think the issue is as simple as I did before reading this book. It isn't a simple issue. It warrants further debate and consideration I believe.

Later in the book Fox notes that eventually "the President would allow the research to continue. While certainly good news on its surface, key elements of the new policy were troubling and raised yellow flags, if not red ones quite yet. Qualifications limited all researchers to only sixty existing self-replicating colonies of stem cells, known as 'cell lines.'" This sounds like good news for those promoting stem cell research. Actually, the number of cell lines is disputable. Some have been tainted by non-human proteins used in other research, typically those of mice. Many of the cell lines are also privately owned and the owners may be reticent to share that which they may claim as their property. Fox does not delve much deeper into the science or terminology than this. It is my recommendation that anyone who wishes to learn even more about the science of cells in the laboratory read the well written book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" which I recently reviewed.

Fox goes on to note that "Commonly overshadowed by the dispute over embryonic stem cells is the near-consensus on the fundamentals. We agree on the ethical guidelines; we are against egg farming, against human reproductive cloning, and emphatically for Snowflake Babies. Our sole dissagreement hinges on our opposition to destroying frozen embroys that could be used in research to save lives."

"Faith" explains his belief that faith is synonymous with hope, directly related to the optimism that he carries throughout life. With regard to formal religion though, Fox hasn't quite found one that suits him. While choosing to raise their children in Tracy's faith, as Jews, he fits in there but is not a "consistent and obedient disciple of any one big 'F' Faith." He describes himself as "too blessed to be strictly agnostic, I have come to adhere to an ethical code informed by the major monotheistic disciplines: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,' 'Judge not lest ye yourself be judged,' and at least a half dozen of the Commandments. "

In "Family" Fox describes events that have affected his nuclear and extended family over the recent decade. He and his wife, Tracy, even decided to have a fourth child, knowing that he would be more present for this baby's young life than he was when their three odler children were born. Ultimately, he explains that he and his wife "give more to each other than Parkinson's could ever take away." His book explores his family's loss of his oldest sister, Karen, to whom this book is dediated, and who for years struggled with epilepsy. He speaks of strong and lasting friendships with Robin Williams, Lance Armstrong and Muhammad Ali, among others. His love of each of their four children runs deep. He devotes a small section of his writing to describe each of the kids and their natural inclinations and talents. The description of their youngest daughter, Esme, brought to mind, for me, the young girl Anna about whom the book Mr. God This is Anna was written as well as our own free-spirited daughter who is currently four years old.

Fox uses this quote in his book: "A short actor stands on a box, but a short movie star has everyone else stand in a ditch." Fox may be short but he is not the type of man who needs to make others smaller than himself in order to stand tall. Ultimately, he has earned my respect and maintains it through his thoughtfulness in his actions.

06 August 2010

The Prize Winner of Defiance, OH: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less by Terry Ryan

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or LessThis is an excellent book. It is moving and inspiring. And it isn't about boxing, which is what came to mind when I first heard the title.

Originally my mother-in-law first recommended the book to me. I believe she must have come across it at their local library. She knew I would enjoy it.

The book, written by their daughter, explores Evelyn and Kelly Ryan's journey to set ten kids on the straight and narrow. Money was nothing if not tight. Kelly's path in life had been changed by a bad accident which fortunately didn't also take his life...only his dream. This threw him suddenly into the same old 9-5 routine as most other men in the town. It was depressing and uninspiring. Truly, he really only wanted to be a man and provide properly for his very large family. Ultimately, in the mire of the hand he'd been dealt, he squandered a lot of his income on booze to deaden the pain of it all.

And so how was Evelyn to make ends meet? Make them meet? It was constantly a struggle just to hold onto the pieces! The 60s was the pinnacle of advertising, in my opinion. Instead of today's ad agencies creating a jingle or catch-phrase, a company's advertising budget was used as prize money for whomever came up with the most creative submission to the slogan contests they created! The gist was to Mine the vast resources of a broad country filled with users of your product!

Evelyn was brilliant. She won prize after prize after prize; often just in the nick of time. Her money was what made those elusive ends meet.

Years after their deaths, their daughter Terry used the scraps of memories stored in Evelyn's desk to piece together the tale of their life. The book (and film) are peppered with so many delightful submissions that Evelyn wrote and won prizes for.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

Yes, it is also a film. One that I truly enjoy being lost in. The book and film really take a step inside the 1960s, as well as a family of 12. Julianne Moore stars as Evelyn and Woody Harrelson as Kelly Ryan.
It was released in the US in September of 2005. I think it was a bit of a sleeper at the box office but did meet with critical acclaim. I recently saw it on a list of something like "100 films you won't hear about but should". I was happy to see it included in the list since it is a favorite of mine.

As always, I heartily suggest reading the book first and then watching the film.

05 August 2010

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

This is a re-read for me, which is a big deal! In fact, it just came to my attention that I've actually read it 3 times!

I loved this book! It is a very creative story told in letters. The letters are missives sent amongst the citizens  of the island of Nollop. Nollop was named for Nevin Nollop, the man who created the pangram sentence "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog."

The latest news is that letters have begun to fall off of the commemorative statue. The town council determines this to be evidence that Nollop, from the grave, is declaring that those letters should no longer be used by his people.

Ella is one of the central characters in the story. Epistles eventually become the only safe way to communicate with one another as the town council declares severe legal action against anyone who uses the forbidden letters. And so, as letters drop from the statue, so do they drop from the novel.

Dunn's choice to tell his story in this manner is a fresh and humorous way to look at the very serious subject of censorship.

*pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet '

03 August 2010

Do you track your reading?

I have been tracking my reading since 2004. Originally, I was keeping a hand-witten list of each book as I read it. Then I advanced to using a spreadsheet. In January 2007 I found a site which made it a relatively easy and enjoyable task.

http://www.librarthing.com/  (but more about that later, in detail below)

Why track your reading? Being able to see what you've read is useful in many ways. One can feel a sense of accomplishment when observing what they read, especially if it includes setting goals for your reading. Tracking your reading allows you to give better book recommendations. It allows you to join discussions about books, as well as reading groups. Books are a great way to relate to others. Tracking your reading also allows you to better see the types of books to which you gravitate and might inspire you to stretch yourself to attempt genres you previously ignored.

Using LibraryThing is really very easy. And I'll give you some tips here that will make it even easier. You may use the site to enter up to 200 books for free. Once you determine you wish to enter more than 200 books you may enter as many as you like for $10 a year or simply pay $25 for a lifetime membership to the site. That's what I did, and right away. I also bought a lifetime membership for one of my brothers.

The easiest way to learn about the use and functionality of the site is to follow this tour:
just keep clicking "next" as it goes from tip to tip.

The sit allows users to "tag" or label their books any way they wish. Doing so allows you to sort the books in various ways. Examples of tags include bot are not limited to: fictio, non fiction, mystery, intimacy, juvenile, series, movie tie-ins, month and year read, etc.

Even obscure titles may be added. If the book is not to be found in the 690 libraries associated with the site, you may add it on your own, using the information you have at hand.

The site will display all sorts of facts pertaining directly to the books you log. I find it interesting to look at these every once and a while.

If you join, let me know, and I'll befriend you on the site so we can see each other's bookshelves.

02 August 2010

An Innocent, A Broad by Ann Leary

Travel during pregnancy is generally thought to be okay. But what happens if you dare to leave the US
 for a quick trip to England and then go into really early labor? That's just what happened to Ann and
Denis Leary. A trip that was meant to last for a weekend ended up lasting five and a half months.
(Denis Leary is a comedian and you may be familiar with his voice as Diego in the Ice Age films.)

Baby Jack is ultimately born in England, three months early and weighing 2# 6oz.

I loved this book. I could really relate to it because of the fact that during our first pregnancy I traveled
to London with my husband on one of his business trips. Our trip was in 1995. I read this book in 2006.
We later moved our family to Surrey, England from Aug 2007 - December 2009.

I have great compassion for Ann and Denis. We chose to move to England. They chose to visit but ended
up having to stay, while facing an emergency situation. Ann relates their story with candor and much humor.

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin

It was a milder than usual morning on the 12th of January 1888. North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska...the people are happy for a break from the winter weather. They begin to go about their day with little care.

Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20. The weather to come later that day brought utter disaster. The storm that is the subject of this book is the same storm written about by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in her books.

This book gets a bit heavy with weather terminology in a couple of chapters. But the author also weaves MANY stories of various immigrants lives throughout the book...don't try to keep them straight, just keep reading. Actually, the second time I read this book I read it aloud to two of our children, ages 11 and 10 at the time. Skip the weather terminology if you must, don't let it stop you from hearing the events of the blizzard and how it affected the people it struck. This is a piece of unpredictable, fascinating, American history.

01 August 2010

Mister God, This is Anna by Fynn 1974

London's dockland, outside a baker's shop, night-time two to three years before the start of World War II, is where it all began. Fynn, a young man of age 19, stepped out of the shop and saw what appeared to be a stray four-year old girl sitting near a heating vent. He sat down and shared the silence with her and then shared his hot dogs with her...and so began the biggest adventure of his life.

He enquired and found her name to be "Anna". She came to be known to him variously as Mouse, Hum, Joy, or Tich. Finding that no one loved or cared for her he did what any loving person would do and took her home where she lived with him and his family until her death shortly before she reached the age of 8 years old. In that short time they experienced a lifetime of learning, together.

Fynn had an insatiable thirst for mathematics which he quenched in his spare time. She would request that he read passages of his studies aloud and they would discuss them together; and this was extremely advanced mathematics which lead to the exploration of tengential subjects at whim. Words, numbers, ideas, mirrors, colored glasses all became things...ways to understand God better.

From this Anna determined, and explained to Fynn that:

God has an infinite number of viewing points.

Mister God (her name for him) is empty because he accepted everything as opposed to reflecting it back as light does.

She was never willing to put God in a box because she realized he was bigger than any of our meaningless labels of him.

Examples of a conversations between Anna and Fynn follow:

"Fynn," she said quietly, "compare two with three."
"One less," I murmured in a fug of contentment.
"Um. Now compare three with two."
"One more."
"That's right, one les is the same as one more."
"Uh-huh," I grunted, "one less is the same as... ~~HEY!"
pg. 47

"Mister God goes right through my middle and I go right through Mister God's middle." This was discovered as she played with two brass rings which were inherently linked.
pg. 50

"Ain't it funny, Fynn: Every number is the answer to squillions of questions?"
pg. 65

"It's all pretty obvious, so obvious that it would take an idiot not to see it! We all know that Mister God made man in his own image and images are found in mirrors. Mirrors turned you back to front or left to right. Images were take-away things. So putting it all together, Mister God was and Mister God is on one side of the mirror, Mister God was on the add side. We were on the other side of the mirror so we were on the take-away side. We ought to have known that. When Mum puts the toddler down and backs off a few paces she does so in order to encourage the toddler to walk to her. So did Mister God. Mister God puts you down on the take-away side of the mirror and then asks you to find your way to the add side of the mirror. You see he wants you to be like him." pg. 102

The bigger the difference between God and his creation, the more God-like God becomes. But Sunday school teachers have it wrong because they emphasize God's God-ness by keeping God the same size...and making people smaller. 105

"Two kinds of light: a pretend one and a real one. Lucifer and Mister God. " 120

"Being safe meant not doing things at all; being saved meant trusting in another." 131

God's biggest miracle was the seventh day because that is when He created rest. Rest could only be created when all the "muddle" was organized (by Him). 133

Ultimately, their world became a world of questions and anwers; one in which the questions were the more important of the two, because they led to more and better questions and deeper understanding, along with a greater sense of how little we really know.

People go to church to understand God less because it is only as we come to understand how little we know that we can truly fathom God's true being. 106

In writing of their story, Fynn never set out to dwell on the hurt that the loss of Anna brought. Anna taught him how to really live and eventually he carried on in that which would make her very happy, indeed. Anna's life was so well-lived and she was so wise that the end of her life didn't really mark the end of something; it definitely marked the beginning of the rest of her adventure.

And so I will end my review of this book on this note:

Once when asked by someone "You're a bit young for this, aren't you, little one?"
...he got his answer, "I'm old enough to live, mister," said Anna quietly.
pg. 150
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