We all enjoy being asked for our opinion. On Facebook, for example, there are the occasional polls where you can click on a radio button to register your vote for or against some current social fad, or you can amuse yourself with one of the endless quizzes that promise to help you identify everything from your selfie style to what kind of Mexican food you are. Sometimes I even take the bait and have a good laugh at myself. But then there are the pesky, persistent, and usually annoying surveys that want you to rate—usually on a scale of 1-5—your recent dining experience, or that can of hairspray you just bought and have barely had time to put away let alone use, or whether your bank teller was nice to you when you made your last withdrawal.
Ratings, ratings, ratings! Books fare no better than hairspray or bank tellers, do they? Please tell me what it means to give your last book read 4 stars as opposed to 5 stars? I struggle to be objective and fair, but really it’s an entirely subjective system. Out of frustration I’ve decided to try my own hand at creating a way to rate the books I am reading that is more useful and relatable to someone who asks for my opinion (or in this case those who read my blog). Here is my first draft followed by a few examples. I think it’s working:
☆ I started to read this but didn’t make it through the first two chapters
☆☆ I made it through the first few chapters or so but lost interest before the halfway point.
☆☆☆ I finished it or almost finished, but the book was lacking in language, plot, character or depth.
☆☆☆☆ I finished the book; it was entertaining, even well-written, just not compelling for me.
☆☆☆☆☆ I found it a sophisticated and compelling read on multiple levels—language, plot, character, etc.
Now, using my newly created rating system, here is how the last batch of books on my summer Bucket List stack up (uh-oh, sorry about that bad pun).
- The Last Days of Night, Graham Moore. Historical fiction. Tells the story of the late 19th century ‘current wars’ between Edison and Westinghouse for control of the “lightbulb” market. I admit this one sentence synopsis is a bit of oversimplification on my part. I like legal thrillers so though it was missing the thrills it made up for the deficit with good writing, good plotting, and larger than life characters determined to one up their opponents. If you think Edison was a nice guy from Menlo Park, think again! ☆☆☆☆
- Still Life and A Fatal Grace, Louise Penny. Detective fiction. Penny’s first and second Inspector Gamache novels. Set in “cozy” Three Pines, Gamache and his team eat their way through two puzzling murders in this idyllic Canadian village. Five stars for making my mouth water with each meal our protagonists have at Olivier’s Bistro and for a regular cast of empathetic and charming characters. Three stars for the plot in Grace, which shares (I feel) too many elements with another mystery by Elizabeth George. Let’s average them out at ☆☆☆☆.
- The Translation of Love, Lynne Kutsukake. A novel. An oddly benign coming-of-age story given its setting in post-WWII occupied Japan and the “mystery” surrounding a young woman who leaves home to earn extra money by entertaining lonely GI’s in a seedy nightclub. Kutsukake’s novel could pass for young adult fiction given its superficial treatment of what were excruciatingly difficult times for many Japanese citizens after the war. The book meanders, has too many loose ends, is written at about a middle school level, and lacks depth given the subject matter available. However, Kutsukake’s intimate knowledge of her protagonists’ life situations and the fascinating snippets of Japanese language and culture she peppers her story with redeemed the novel from my 2-star rating. ☆☆☆
- A Great Deliverance, Elizabeth George. Mystery fiction. George’s first Inspector Lynley novel. This is a compelling page-turner; tightly written and plotted, its detecting duo—a properly titled (eighth Earl of Asherton) Scotland Yard Inspector, Thomas Lynley, and an irascible Detective Sargent Barbara Havers—are engaging and relatable characters with a long series life ahead of them. This is no cozy mystery, however; the denouement will remind you what it means to loathe and abhor. Enough said. If you enjoy a well-crafted contemporary British mystery as much as I do, you will probably agree with my five-star rating. Sadly, not all of George’s later novels are as well edited or compelling. This one, however, nails it. ☆☆☆☆☆
Now it’s your turn to rate the rater. What criteria do you use to determine how many stars a book is worth in Goodreads or at your local reading group? Would mine work for you?
. . . enjoying the freedom that
scope eludes my grasp, that there is no
finality of vision,
that I have perceived nothing completely,
that tomorrow a new walk is a new walk.
I came across these provocative lines of poetry in an old issue of Harper’s Magazine. Immediately I connected with the poet; I’ve been on that walk too, not in A. R. Ammons’s neck of the woods, but in my own little piece of Eden—North Creek Trail—which is about three miles from my suburban apartment, which is about three blocks from Interstate 5, the main concrete artery that transports people and goods between the Pacific Northwest, Canada and southern California. I am never so aware of the constant din from the perpetual ebb and flow of its trucks, buses, autos, and the occasional passel of Harley hogs as I am in its absence, whenever I walk along this Trail, shaded by old growth trees and scented with wild roses, apple blossoms, lilacs and cedar pine.
If you are a walker like I was, living in a hot desert climate where the shopping mall was your best bet for chalking up those 10,000 steps and still avoiding heatstroke, then you will understand how easily that kind of walking venue breeds boredom. On the trails here, every walk can be a new walk, a unique sensory, or even social experience.
Mill Creek Pond
This week’s workshop was a winner. Finally, someone was able to explain and demonstrate how in the heck art journalers create those fabulous layered pages I have always admired but never been able to create on my own. Thank you to Karen Dawn for putting together this Visual Journal Meetup group in Edmonds, WA. If you are curious, the technique depends on using very thin, tissue paper like layers, stencils, spray bottles of ink and acrylic paint, patience, and, at least in my case, that reckless (lol) spontaneity that young people seem to have in spades.
The finishing touch on my collage paper is the white drippy stuff that runs from one corner all the way to the focal point. Across from me at the table this week was a young lady (maybe 12? or so); when I tried (oh so carefully) to add a couple of drips of white acrylic liquid to the paper project, she said, “Here, let me show you how this works,” and proceeded to make three LARGE drips of pure white paint onto one corner of the paper. Then we quickly held it up so it ran down in rivulets, and I was left to figure out how to “make it work!”
I think it ended up pretty well for a first attempt at collage. But, more importantly, I was gently reminded how easy it is to take your work too seriously, to forget what it means to play, and that the often the best art comes from working out those ‘happy’ accidents. You should only be so lucky as I was to share your workspace with a child who so effortlessly shatters your pretensions of “making” art.
Well worth reading this NYT piece by Kenan Malik on the political correctness (or not) of cultural appropriation, even when it involves an artist of one culture or race depicting a politically or culturally important event from another culture or racial minority’s experience. The comments are equally as enlightening as the essay itself.
Source: Cultural Appropriation and Secular Blasphemy
We are more than halfway through the so-called authentic letters (ca. 50-66 CE) of the New Testament Paul. This past week our reading group discussed the first half of his first letter to the ekklesia at Corinth. This is the first of these seven epistles to provide something Jews might refer to as halakhic details for a distinctive set of two ecclesial practices—baptism into “the Lord” and the “Lord’s Supper” or eucharist, a Greek word that means thanksgiving. These practices, together with the unique nature and requirements for belonging to the ekklesia (at least as the Paul of this letter imagines it), are sufficient to establish a social and metaphysical communal identity that is deliberately distinct and separated from both the contemporaneous Jewish and Greek worlds in which it exists. It is definitely not Judaism, but it is also not the Christianity of the third and fourth centuries CE. The ekklesia communities and their member ekklesians neither refer to themselves as Christians, nor do they call their movement Christianity. In fact both terms, as they are commonly understood today, would be anachronisms. What these earliest New Testament texts attributed to Paul preserve and describe is what students of religious movements once would easily have labeled a cult. Today the more politically correct term is New Religious Movement, but I think this neutralizes the alienating, insular, and dangerous elements of this first century messianic movement, at least as it is laid out in the letters of Paul we have read thus far. Continue reading
A shoutout to the Visual Journaling Meetup in Edmonds, Washington for hosting such a supportive environment. I spent the better part of two hours this morning trying to tap into something these artsy people call the inner self. Evidently it is a process of self discovery and self expression that even psychologists think may a worthwhile means of increasing emotional wellbeing. Well, I am all for that!
The day did not begin on a particularly auspicious note–I managed to drive off with my morning coffee still perched on the top of the car. So uncaffeinated and a bit nervous I joined a handful of journalers for what turned out to be a feel good morning of playtime with paint, paper, and a pleasant exchange of personal stories. Thank you Karen Dawn and company for making me feel at home, and for giving my overwrought journal page the ultimate compliment, “That’s very . . . creative“. It may not be good art, but finding that creative zone was really my goal.
Remember, Agatha Christie, J. K. Rowling, and Dr. Seuss . . .
Source: 25 Rejection Letters to Famous Authors
The New Testament book of Philippians is the third “authentic” Pauline letter our small study group has worked through. Let me preface my comments by remarking on the position taken by Paul Nanos, who describes himself as a New Testament scholar with an alternative approach to understanding the apostle Paul. Nanos wants to read the Pauline corpus as though Paul were a Torah-observant Jew. Now, I am having a difficult time with this approach on two counts. First, doesn’t this beg the question of what the first century Paul’s attitude might have been toward Jewish law? Second, I am left to wonder whether Nanos and I are reading the same texts. I cannot fathom how he finds support for a Torah-observant author (whatever that might mean given the first century CE context). Philippians is a case in point for my argument that the Paul who wrote this letter, and the previous two letters we have read, has no interest in upholding even the rudimentary requirements of Jewish law let alone presenting himself as “Torah-observant”. Continue reading
Dave Goulson is a gifted storyteller. He is also a scientist. In my experience there are only a handful of people who can effectively sync both sides of their brains well enough to write something that a non-scientist could read and (possibly) enjoy. Stephen Hawking is one, and Dave Goulson is, thankfully, another. Although the subtitle to A Buzz in the Meadow invites you to learn about the natural history of a French farm, it is more a series of vignettes about the secret (and surprisingly seductive) world of some of our planet’s tiniest, most plenteous, and seriously at risk denizens—insects. Who wouldn’t find the life cycle and mating rituals of the death-watch beetle en-GROSS-ing? Seriously, you will like this book and you will learn things your mother couldn’t possibly have told you.
Imagine a timber-framed cottage, grandad lying in bed . . . slowly dying from . . . some indeterminate (at the time) disease, the family gathered around his bed in respectful silence. A faint drumming can be heard coming from the walls, from the ceiling. Five or six beats in quick succession, like someone drumming their fingers, or the tip of a pencil being tapped on a wooden table. Legend had it that this faint sound was the Devil, impatiently drumming his fingers as he waited for his chance to snatch the soul when it departed from the body. . . Of course it was not the Devil—at least not most of the time. As you might have guessed, it is actually the mating call of the death-watch beetle.
A Buzz in the Meadow, p. 110
Each of the chapters in this book stands on its own, and each is introduced by a diary entry from the author that takes you along on his morning run through the meadow he has recreated in rural France. “9 May 2008. Run 39 minutes 6 seconds.” People spotted: 2, dogs 4, butterfly species 11. I compared this to my Saturday morning walk in the Edmonds, Washington farmers’ market. People spotted: too numerous to count; dogs: also too many to enumerate—mostly friendly; butterfly species: conspicuous now by their absence entirely. I did see 1 tiny fly and 1 fuzzy bumble bee nuzzling in a flower. This leads me to the author’s point, which you will find in the last section of Buzz. The insect world is at risk, and it is critical that human beings learn about these fascinating creatures and appreciate their invaluable contribution to our common ecosystem. All of them, dung beetles to dragonflies.
I have only one caveat to the potential reader. If, like me, you are in the habit of multitasking by catching up on your reading while you munch on your lunch, you might want think twice about picking up Goulson’s Buzz lest you risk sharing your turkey sandwich with the Filthy Flies of Chapter Five. I found it to be just a bit too much to digest.
If anyone could be expected to play well with the murder mystery genre, it would be Anthony Horowitz, novelist and screenwriter for the likes of Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders, not to mention (though of course I am doing just that) eleven episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. And play with the genre is precisely what Horowitz does with the Magpie Murders. In The Elements of Mystery Fiction, William Tapply provides budding mystery writers with a list of no-nos—the not so obvious pitfalls of poor detective fiction. Horowitz might have read and certainly must have enjoyed tinkering with nearly each of Tapply’s taboos. Continue reading