Sunday, August 3, 2008

Shelley's Top Ten List of Books Recently Read

Or in other words, a way to get several procrastinated reviews out of the way. I'm way behind, I think because my kids have been out of school and they tend to hog the computer. I would say it was because I haven't had much time--things have been rather busy, but I had time to read the books, didn't I?
Here they are, counting down from worst to best:

10. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Never have I been so relieved to hear the words, "This audio book has been a production of. . ."
This story about a hunt for Dracula spanning a few generations dragged on and on.

9. The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket
This is the fourth in the Series of Unfortunate Events, and it is the first that I didn't really like. The Baudelaire Orphans end up as workers in a lumber mill, with the usual despicable characters and tragic events, but the misery was not tempered with enough of the usual wit.

8. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
My Antonia is one of my favorite books, so I was excited to finally read this one by Cather. It first caught my attention when we went on a road trip to Albuquerque, NM, and we visited many places that are mentioned in this historical novel about two priests and their efforts to teach the native population of the Southwest. I think if I hadn't had my memories of visiting Santa Fe, Acoma, and other sites in the area, I would have been completely and utterly bored. I would only suggest it to someone to read as they are visiting the area to give them a feel for the history of the area.

7. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
Oedipal. Depressing. Ho-hum writing style. Plot: Man loves mother, relationships with other women don't work, even when mother dies. (This is so much easier to just write words rather than sentences. Maybe I have a new format for my blog!) I don't regret reading it though--I like to have a least a taste of any author's work.

6. Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks
I am a fan of Brooks, and plan to read all of his books, but under any other circumstances I would have passed this book by based on the title and cover. It just doesn't sound like my kind of thing. But the book was okay. Brooks brings his usual themes of good and evil to present-day Illinois, with a fourteen-year-old heroine named Nest.

5. The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket
The Baudelaire orphans meet new friends in this one! Of course something bad happens to them, but I was still so happy for Violet, Klaus and Sonny!

4. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
I have heard such glowing reviews of Picoult's books I was excited to read this one by her for our church book club. While I found some of the language distracting, it was a powerful story about a girl who was conceived to be a donor match for her older sister, who has a rare and deadly form of leukemia. All in all I enjoyed it, but there were parts that I found unbelievable or too coincidental.

3. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Creepy but fascinating. This creative-non-fiction novel alternately describes the planning and construction of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the life of the serial killer H. H. Holmes who took advantage of the events to commit fraud and murder.

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
I loved this book. It has bad language, references to sex, crude humor (imagine what a candid fourteen-year-old boy would write about). But it was so entertaining and uplifting for me. I laughed, I cried, it moved me.

And the number one book I read is:

1. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
There was so much in this novel to discuss I wouldn't know where to begin (or more likely, where to end.) This was the selection for a book club I hosted, and there was so much to talk about. The story in and of itself is good (Grace Marks is accused of helping to murder her employer and housekeeper, and spends years in jail. Dr. Simon Jordan spends time with her, trying to get her to remember the events of the murder, which she seems to have forgotten) , but looking deeper it is rich in symbolism and Freudian psychology. I lover her writing, she could probably write a paragraph describing this desk that I'm sitting at and I would read and reread it just enjoying the way she arranges the words.

I have more busy times coming up, so I'm going to start doing just one post at the end of each month of the books I've read that month. So check back at the end of August! Happy blogging!

Friday, August 1, 2008

When Organizing Isn't Enough by Julie Morgenstern

When I was offered a copy of When Organizing Isn't Enough to review, my first thought was, "What??!! Organizing is not enough?? What about my visions of a zen-like existence in my perfectly categorized home? My dream of an uber-efficient schedule of chores, meals, and self-enrichment??" But, alas, there is no need to reject my revered organizing tomes--this self-help book goes into a deeper, different direction rather than chucking all aims at organization.

The book is geared towards people who are at a transition in their life, and advises them how to "SHED" the physical and mental vestiges of their "old" life, so that all of their energies can be devoted to their new life direction. This applies a bit to me right now as I will have my youngest in first grade, and for the first time in 14 years, will have substantial blocks of time on some days of the week during some months of the year (I have four kids going to four different schools, and they will be on three different tracks--one traditional, two on a regular year-round, and one on a crazy single track. Oh, the joys of my SoCal school district!) How do I decide what I will do with my time? Morgenstern encourages readers to pick a "theme" as a guide to navigating new territory (Covey's "mission statement" meets Ally McBeal's "theme song" is what my mind conjures up). I must confess that I have not come up with a theme yet, but I have been thinking a lot about it, and the author give many examples of possible themes (embracing my power, discovery, creating nurturing home, etc.)

Once you pick your theme, you move on the the SHED fase. I am a little wary of acronyms--worried that content is sacrificed or embelished for the sake of fitting into a clever abbreviation. But Morgenstern does a good job of making each letter of SHED valid. The bulk of the book is devoted to the process of SHEDding:

S-Separate the treasures--What is truly worth hanging on to?
H-Heave the trash--What's weighing you down?
E-Embrace your identity--Who are you without all your stuff?
D-Drive yourself forward--Which direction connnects you to your genuine self?

I have not yet done all of the exercises recommended--I've gotta pick that darn theme!--but I suspect that when I do, if nothing else, I will be more aware of what makes me tick, and what direction I want to take as my kids get older (other than in the direction of the lunatic asylum as the teenage years come upon me). And hopefully, whatever new roads I decide to take, that uber-organized home will be there to return to!

Here's a video of the author explaining the idea of the process of SHED, and how it has applied to her life: