Books


So the other day Liv plopped herself down in the desk chair in my room, gazed up at the many shelves of books which decorate the walls, and told me that I should lend her some books. We’ve been talking about this since I and my library moved in, but she’s been pretty busy until recently writing her Master’s thesis. I looked around at my collection, and asked her what kind of book she would like. “I have history, sociology and biography over here. That big shelf over the dresser is all poetry. Over the desk is sexual ethics, reference books, and foreign languages. That shelf is fiction hardbacks, and the small shelves by the bed are the fiction paperbacks, except for the science fiction, which is on the bottom shelf of that book case. And those shelves over the chair are theology and philosophy.” She processed this for a few moments, and then said that she would like about half a dozen books with a mix of fun and make-her-think. So this is what I picked out:

  • Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (one of my favorite books of all time)
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (more pure, wonderful silliness than ought to exist in one book)
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (solid entertainment all the way through)
  • The Art of Loving God by St. Francis de Sales (a book that has had a pretty big impact on my spiritual life, also easier to get through than some of the other stuff by St. Francis)
  • Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (all about the small things which change the way we live our lives)
  • The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim (another interesting book about the ways we use fairy tales to explain/understand our lives)

Liv started on Cordelia’s Honor right away, and is devouring it gleefully (“I didn’t know science fiction could be like this!”), which makes me so glad. I identify so much with that book; it would have been very hard if she didn’t like it. (I remember how anxious I was when I lent this book to Trey last spring, and how relieved and thrilled I was when he loved it.) The other books aren’t as crucial, though I would wonder what was wrong with her if Cold Comfort Farm didn’t make her laugh.

Anyway, yesterday I told my brother Larry about this, and he asked me to make a list for him of twenty or so books that he should read. It made me think of all the books I love that I wish everyone would read. Most of them aren’t the books you’d find on traditional Must Read book lists. For instance, I don’t think everyone should read War and Peace, and while Jane Austen is a supremely wonderful author, I can acknowledge that not everyone would appreciate her charms. My book would include such works as the above mentioned Cold Comfort Farm, and Gentlemen Prefer Blonds by Anita Loos, and maybe Stephen King’s Carrie.

It’s a lot to think about, and I’m not sure which books I should put on the list. Therefore, I am now officially opening the floor to suggestions. What books would you consider Must Reads, not because of some high cultural value, but simply because they make the world a better place?

Once upon a time, in a blogoverse far, far a way, I had another blog. It was my starter blog, that first taste of blogging crack that created the blogging jones I live with today. In the beginning I thought it would be a fun way to keep in touch with the girls from the junior high small group I led at my parish youth group. Then I publicized it to my friends in far off places, and it started to take on a life of its own. One day a young man suddenly showed up in the comments section. His name was Andy, and he seemed a nice enough guy. He shared an interest in C.S. Lewis, and seemed to have a similar offbeat sense of humor. We commented back and forth, getting a little flirtatious at times. It never really went anywhere. We came close to meeting each other in person once or twice, but never quite made it happen. Things petered out, and I almost forgot he existed.

In the meantime, I started wanting a somewhat different blogging experience. My previous blogging service was regrettably teeny-bopper-ish. Plus, I had too many close acquaintances reading it – people I saw regularly, but with whom I wasn’t close enough that I really wanted them knowing too much. I started self-censoring a lot, and feeling the pressure to be cute! and perky! all the time! And then, what if I wanted to blog about a guy? No way was I going to do that on my old blog except in the most oblique fashion. After all, even if the guy himself wasn’t reading the blog, I knew for sure that people who knew him and would be able to readily identify him were definitely reading it. It all got to be a lot, and so I started this blog, the blog no one knows I have, the grown-up blog on which I write about grown-up things and also crushes. (Contradiction? What contradiction?)

So… back to the story about Andy. A few months ago he found me on facebook, and we became friends there. We chatted a little, but then things dropped again, and I was happy to let them go. Then I decided to have a party, a nice, quiet party for my Catholic young adult friends. I created an event on facebook, and when it came time to invite people, I threw him in for good measure.

He accepted the invitation.

It was surreal, like some postmodern piece of fiction in which the characters come to life and start arguing with the author. This guy… actually existed? As in, the real world? Lived, breathed, walked around, and was coming to my party? How… odd. And then, why was he coming? Sure, we’d read each others blogs for a couple of years, but that didn’t mean we really knew each other. What did he want? I didn’t think he was romantically interested – I hadn’t gotten a flirtatious vibe from him in a long, long time. It was almost as if Bingley from Pride & Prejudice had announced he was coming to my party. If it had been Darcy, there would have been swooning and frenzied preparations to ensure that everything was picture perfect. But… Bingley? I wasn’t frazzled or nervous, just puzzled.

The party was last night, and about fifteen minutes in, he walked through the door. A slight, reasonably attractive young man, just like his facebook pictures. He was shyer than I had expected, but very nice. He laughed at my jokes, and helped carry things. He seemed to have a good time, hanging out with lots of different people. He didn’t pay me much particular attention, though he seemed to generally drift to the part of the downstairs where I was. He stayed until close to the end, and said he had a good time. My sister was encouraging him to come to our Catholic young adult group, and I seconded the invitation. I hadn’t thought to invite him before since he’s pretty Methodist, and we’re pretty Catholic. But maybe he would like it after all.

I just don’t quite know what to make of it.

People who read my blog are actually real?

Lately, in the odd moments between writing feminist research papers and studying for Aquinas exams (or, rather, avoiding those things through mad procrastination and science-fiction reading, mostly a lot of Mercedes Lackey and Neal Stephenson), I’ve been musing about why it is that I enjoy ballet so much. It’s not that I’m particularly good at it, my “nice, straight back” aside. I have yet to execute anything like a passable pirouette in class. And there’s no real social interaction as an excuse. After all, you have to admit that half the charm of any social dance is that you get to do it with real, live members of the opposite sex. While in ballet you may dance alongside and, perhaps ideally, in unison with other people, you’re not really dancing with them but next to them. You don’t get to dance with someone else until you’ve gotten higher than I’ll ever go, assuming an obliging member of the opposite sex can be found. Actual men tend to be rather scarce in ballet. So… what is it about ballet that sends me hunting online bargains of cute dance warmups instead slavering over the expensive-but-exquisite goods on the tango shoe websites (ever so nice for Balboa)? What makes me willing to shell out extra money for an adult ballet class, and actually miss part of my university swing club night so I can attend?

So far what I’ve come up with is that ballet is one of the few dance forms where it’s ok for women to look serious. Most dances don’t go well with serious looks. Weekend before last I took a Westie workshop that challenged me in a number of ways, so I was concentrating hard. Towards the end the instructor reproached me a couple of times with, “You’re so serious! Smile!” See, in most dance forms you’re supposed to be happy all the time. “Big smiles, girls!” After all, a bright smile covers a multitude of dancing sins. And if you don’t look like you’re having fun, then, well, you must be doing something wrong. Lindy is very like this. I think of it being a little like Tigger in Winnie-the-Pooh: “Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!”

If you’re not being happy, then you’re being sexy. Think Blues. Or Tango. Tango is a very serious dance, but it’s in a we’re-barely-restraining-ourselves-from- ripping-each-other’s-clothes-off sort of way. You can be angry with Hip Hop, but otherwise it’s all looking languidly bored or playing up the sex. There’s very few dances where you get to be just plain serious. Or sad. It’s like sadness is the unacceptable emotion. Women can be happy, sexy, or (rarely) angry, but they can’t be serious or sad.

Not in ballet. This is a dance form in which one of the definitive performances is Anna Pavlova performing The Dying Swan. Death, sorrow, revenge – it’s all there along with the lighter, more acceptable emotions. You don’t have to be happy or sexy all the time, although ballet can definitely be both. When I dance ballet I can be myself, concentrating hard on the muscles I’m using, the line I’m reaching for, not worrying whether I’m looking happy or cute. When it comes time to let the emotions through I can mourn my friend’s rapidly approaching death from liver cancer. I can express how much I miss Joe. I can be myself, my whole self, not just the fun parts of me. And that, I think, is why I love ballet.

My sister Judy, who is one of the most organized women I’ve ever known, just contacted me for my Christmas Wish List for this year. Every year she collects all the wish lists from everyone in the family and compiles them into one big spreadsheet of wish lists, then distributes that list far and wide to whoever might want to give one of us a gift. Sometimes it’s fun seeing how things have changed over the course of a year. Last year my wish list was:

  • A swarm of bees or rabbit from Heifer International, http://www.heifer.org
  • Coffee grinder
  • Small weather radio.
  • Blue or periwinkle moonbeam clock from L.L. Bean
  • Vintage rhinestones (get Leila’s opinion if needed)
  • Train tickets between Dayton and Milwaukee
  • Silly Disney Princess stuff – esp. Snow White
  • Gift cards for Target, Meijer, Cafepress.com, spreadshirt.com, zappos.com
  • Books:
    • Naomi Novik
    • Any volume of the Navarre Study Bible
    • A Chicago Style Manual
    • W.T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist
    • Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being
    • Berkman, Contemplating Edith Stein
    • A. McKendrick, On Film Making
    • Wendy Shalit, A Return To Modesty
    • Kerouac, A Book of Sketches
    • A good dictionary

This year my list is:

Just in case, you know, you wanted to know…

DorothyLast year I wanted to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz for Halloween.  I saw this awesomely cute 1950s sundress pattern from Vintage Vogue that would have been perfect.  Just wear a little white blouse underneath, tuck a stuffed dog in a basket, find some red shoes, and I’d be set as the cutest swing dancing Dorothy you ever saw.  Unfortunately I didn’t really have the money to buy the fabric, and then I ended up not going to any Halloween parties because of a conflicting commitment.  Since then, however, I have managed to acquire the pattern, the fabric, and the red shoes.  All I’m missing is the stuffed dog and the basket, and I’m good to go.  Well, and the time to actually make the dress.  But I have hopes!  High hopes.

This weekend my ambition was to cut the fabric for the dress.  Then life intervened.   First, on Wednesday I broke the news to Trey that Robert Jordan, his absolute favorite author, had died.  Trey was upset, and I gave him a little crap about not being able to share his grief because he hadn’t lent me his copies of Jordan’s books.  When I arrived at swing that night, Trey greeted me with an entire shopping bag full of books, not only the first eight in Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, but a few others Trey thought I might enjoy.  Trey knows me a little too well.  I did enjoy the books, very much.  So much that all I’ve done with my free time since then is read.  Not a single shred of homework has been done.  I did manage to get the fabric, pins, and sewing shears out, but they’ve sat abandoned on the dining room table ever since.

Then on Saturday I decided to go up to Columbus for the swing dance.  I’ve been wanting to get up there for some time.   I know that traveling a little more is one of the things I need to do to take my dancing to the next level.  Plus there are lots of good dancers up there who make it down for our dances on a regular basis.  Still, I’ve been dragging my feet about it.  The thing that finally got me up there was that Trey was teaching a West Coast for Lindyhoppers workshop before the dance.  I do love West Coast, and the chance that there might be enough Westie leads to actually get some good dances was a powerful incentive.  So I went, and had a great time.  But it pretty much killed any chance of getting anything done on Saturday.

Here I am Sunday night, with a paper to write on Judaism and an obscene amount of Aquinas to read.  I know that I have no business doing anything but homework at this point.  But every time I walk past the dining room, I see that pile of fabric with the scissors and the pincushion perched on top.  Surely it wouldn’t take all that long to cut out a dress, right?

This funny thing has been happening lately.  I’ll be going along, maybe driving somewhere, maybe working on German, whatever, and without realizing it, I start humming.  It’s usually classical music, most often a snatch of Pachebel’s Canon.  Historically, I have not been much of a hummer.  (I may be a humdinger, but not really a hummer…)  I have been known to break out into random bits of song on occasion (usually swing songs), but that’s a trait I share with my whole family.  So this humming thing is new.  When it happens, though, it’s accompanied by a deep feeling of peace and well-being.  I feel happy.  I think Pachebel’s Canon may be my Happy Song.

What’s making me so happy these days?  Well, happiness is always a mystery, but I think it’s a combination of a number of things.  I’m about to move, which is huge.  I haven’t been happy with my current living situation for some time, but my current roommate is suffering from liver cancer, and I didn’t feel like I could leave her.  Then maybe a week and a half ago we had a talk, in which she told me that she doesn’t think she needs me there, which frees me up to leave.  So I am.  I’m moving in with Liv, one of my best friends, who owns a house on the other side of campus.  I’m all excited.  I’ve started my garden there already, and have started moving things in.  It’s been a long time since I was able to be really domestic in a place that felt like home.  It’s just good.

And then, there’s being all done with school papers.  I wrote two for this last semester, one 20 pages long with 71 footnotes, and the other 30 pages long with 110 footnotes.  The second one got way overdue, and became such a millstone around my neck.  It was so good to just finish the thing, and send it off to my eagerly waiting professor.

In other news, it looks like I’m going to be able to strike one more thing off my list of Things To Do Before I Die.  I’ve always wanted to ride a motorcycle, but never knew a motorcycle owner well enough to have the chance.  Then I met Zeke: tall, blonde and handsome in the high-cheekbones sort of way.  Also snarky as all get out, and not a bad swing dancer.  Also funny enough to make me laugh until I (on one occasion) wet my pants.  Also completely not interested in theology.  (sigh)  And eight years younger than I am.  But he has a thing for motorcylces and owns three.  This winter he promised me that he would take me for a ride when the weather got warmer.  It’s warm now, and we’re making arrangements for this ride.  It will be at night, on smaller roads (not the interstate), and we will go fast.  That’s all I know so far.  I’ll let you know how it goes…