The Story of My Life

When I was growing up, Helen Keller was known to me as a little girl who was dealt the worst card imaginable–no sight and no hearing. I had seen the movie at school and it’s brevity made me intensely grateful for my abilities. I’m sure we watched it in an effort to promote our knowledge of diversity–in a small school without a lot of variety, such help was important. But I don’t remember the movie showing much about Keller’s life other than her horrible fits and the triumphant moment at the water pump.

I can’t be alone in that impression, because today Helen Keller has become a horribly offensive meme. Even before memes were a thing, there were crude jokes about her disability–similar to Chuck Norris jokes only cruel instead of badass. The movie meant to show a girl’s victory instead highlighted too much of the bad, not enough of the good. And unfortunately, we are too immature to handle that kind of strength.

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Those were the thoughts I had when I picked up The Story of My Life. I wanted to know what actually happened to the little girl at the water pump. There had to of been more, or we wouldn’t still be talking about her.

She wrote the first of her memoirs at 21, while at college. College! School was hard enough for me with all of my faculties, I couldn’t imagine going with two major senses gone–and she does describe the struggles she had. She also goes into as much detail as she remembers of the time before Anne Sullivan arrives on scene (no mention of the water pump), and many other moments in her life.

Her writing is beautiful and insightful. She discusses the importance of education quite a bit, and the beauty of the world from her perspective. It’s a lovely little book–only 100 pages, plus another 100 pages of letters. Definitely worth the read for those interested in memoirs and history in general, or anyone wanting to get to know this amazing figure.

WWW Wednesday 7/1/2015

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What are you currently reading?

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

For Study:  The Ramayana by Ramesh Menon

 

What did you just finish reading?

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Review up tomorrow)

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E Reichert

The Flying Circus by Susan Crandall

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Trust No One by Paul Cleave

Tess of the D’Urbevilles by Thomas Hardy

 

My Stroke of Insight

The brain fascinates me. Everybody’s neurons fire in such different ways and it’s amazing to me how it all works. When things go wrong, the brain reacts in some seriously interesting ways to compensate and heal.

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Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor was a successful neurological expert at Harvard, with a focus in schizophrenia (and some other things that were far above my intellectual level). One morning, she was getting ready for work when she was struck with crazy waves of euphoria and pain. Her left brain, where our analytical side (and thus, all her neurological study knowledge) resides, was screaming at her that something was wrong. Unfortunately, that side was quickly becoming overwhelmed with a hemorrhage due to stroke. And so, her right side was taking over to compensate. She could see the “bigger picture” but mostly she was overcome with an inner peace, hence the euphoria feeling.

Thankfully, she was able to get help, and thus began an 8 year period of recovery, from a unique perspective of someone who understood the brain. Taylor has written a book of her journey, My Stroke of Insight. She shares the terrifying moments of the day of her stroke, her struggle to regain control of her mind and body, and what life is like now. She also gives a lot of advice for caregivers of stroke patients, since most of us know someone who has had a stroke–but it’s so hard for us to reach them to know what they need or want.

My favorite part about this book is the last few chapters where she talks about how the right brain functions, and how it affected her perspective on life. Because the stroke was in her left side, she spent a great deal of time functioning in her right brain–the “big picture” side. This is the side that gives us meditation, creativity, beauty. She talks a great deal about finding your deep inner peace. For someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, these sections were extremely inspiring to me.

Dr. Bolte Taylor is an extremely courageous woman. I can’t imagine the amount of pain she’s gone through to get to where she is today. My Stroke of Insight is so inspiring, and I would recommend it to anyone who needs to be moved. This will be my meditation for the week, for sure.

She also gave a Ted Talk about her stroke, you can watch it HERE. It’s a really great addition to the book, hear her up close and personal about her experience through her stroke. It’s very emotional, and really shows just how strong and courageous she is.

Oscar Wilde

June is Pride Month, and so to celebrate, I added some specific books to my TBR. The Empty Family had several gay narrators. I’m listening to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe on audiobook on my walks, so I’ll review that one when I am finished. And Under the Lights was a bit of a surprise that I’m not revealing, but that one turned out perfect for the theme too!

I wish there were more books out there with LGBT characters, and my library has been posting a lot of recommendations, many of which I have added to my TBR. If you have some good ones, shoot them my way!

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The book I was most excited to read for Pride was about one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde. Written as part of a series called Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians, Jeff Nunokawa gives us a short but informative piece on Wilde’s struggle to be a prominent gentleman in 19th century England, while living his life the way he needed to.

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed. Obviously, you can’t fit that much life into 100 pages. The information was there, it just wasn’t that grandeur you expect when reading about Oscar Wilde. It was very “This happened on this date.”

And ok, I can live with that. What really got to me though was that here we have a book about a gay man in the 19th century, at the height of Victorian censorship. His very name stood for persecution.

And then in the book written ABOUT this man…this happens:

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Now, I am sure it was a publishing error, but still. There was about 10 pages missing, randomly in the middle of the book. And in a 100 page book, that’s a lot of information.

Just kind of makes you wonder, huh? It IS a library copy.

Anyway. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I skipped to the end, past the snow white pages, and read about the trial and sad end to this brilliant man’s career.

Time to read something a little less sad.

What are you reading for Pride? I hope all my LGBT friends are having a fantastic month!

 

Airplane Rides: Observations from Above

I have a fear of flying. More accurately, I have a fear of falling.

The take offs and descents, that’s what gets me. Oh, and turbulence. I HATE turbulence. That feeling that the plane is going to drop out of the air at any second…it is torture. Once we are at cruising altitude, I’m generally ok (You know…except for turbulence. Did I mention that I hate turbulence?) But until then, it is white knuckles and my husband telling me to breathe. Same on the way down. Oh god.

I’ve been travelling a lot more since meeting R. Until then, the last time I had flown was as a young teenager, before most of my anxieties kicked in. I was totally not prepared for how much flying would scare me that first time up. Now, at least I’m ready for it, I guess.

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Jake Alexander (a pseudonym) has written down 10 stories that were told to him by fellow frequent flyers. Interestingly enough, none were quite as panicked as I am about flying. I guess that would make for a less interesting story (I hate talking on planes). Anyway, somehow all 10 people seriously open up about some pretty real stuff.

This is one of those books that I’m juuuuuust not sure about. There’s some of the stories I liked. Pastor Daniel, flying to New York to take a break from his faith. The goth kid running away from home, so tough, but really she just wants to be loved by her parents.

However, most of the stories had a very real theme running through them. This is very much a MAN’S book. Ladies, don’t look for many feminist themes here. Jake hits on every single female he comes across (except maybe the underage goth girl), including two gay women who clearly have absolutely no interest in him. He is completely wasted nearly every single sentence of this book. Stoli on the rocks. Seriously. There’s only one reason to drink vodka straight. *shudder* He even allegedly convinces a women to masturbate under one of those blankets in a bag while he watches. Ew.

Oh, did I mention that he ALWAYS flies first class? As in, at one point he says he had not flown coach in 10 years. Snooty patooty. He’s also one of those people who bitches out the desk workers, and talks about them as if they were the dirt under their feet. The worker who is a “nineteen-year-old overweight, underpaid child” and “her fate had already been sealed by a fatherless child, an abusive parent, an absent education or maybe all of the above.” You know what, I am sure about this book. Very sure.

I think the moral of this book, if there is one hidden in the liquor and sex, is that slowly through this journey of constant drunken plane travel, he realizes that maybe there’s some greater life out there than this. He has this great epiphany, decides he’s going to change everything. And then at the end of the book (Yeah I know, SPOILER. Trust me, it’s huge, I promise.) he’s had a four day affair with an actress, and he makes her breakfast. WHOA. MINDBLOWING CHANGE. I AM SO IMPRESSED.

I feel like maybe I shouldn’t write reviews at ten o’clock at night. Or maybe I should, this is probably pretty entertaining. At least it is honest. I’ll never be anything but!

Guys, I didn’t love this book, obviously. It did make me outrageously thirsty. But, I’m a gin girl. Sorry Jake.

 

NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. (This was technically from NetGalley, but it has been out since December 2014. I’m not sure if they consider this an ARC anymore or not.)

WWW Wednesday 6/10/2015

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What are you currently reading?

Hannibal by Thomas Harris (Reread since it is Fannibal Season!)

For Study:  The Ramayana by Ramesh Menon

 

What did you just finish reading?

 

Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding (Review Tomorrow!)

Fanchon the Cricket by George Sand

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

Airplane Rides by Jake Alexander

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Desperation by Stephen King

 

WWW Wednesday 5/27/2015

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What are you currently reading?

The Turn of the Screw, The Aspern Papers and Two Stories by Henry James

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

 

 

What did you just finish reading?

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont (Review tomorrow)

 

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne (groaaaaaan…we’ll see if I get all the way through this one)

Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly

Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

The Hogwarts Library

I touched a bit on my excitement for expanded series when I reviewed Four recently. JK Rowling is the master of pleasing her fandom with Pottermore. She also put out The Hogwarts Library, as a nod to Hermoine. These three short books raise proceeds for Comic Relief and Lumos. None of the books take long to read, but are a marvelous edition to the original series. For us die hard fans–they definitely tickle our need for everything magical.

Quidditch Through the Ages

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To be honest…Quidditch was my least favorite part of Harry Potter. I think it is mostly because no matter what happened Griffindor ALWAYS won (or almost always). Kind of takes the fun out of the sport, doesn’t it? I mean, high school sports are always full of drama, but there was always so much nastiness in it.

Still, reading about the history of Quidditch was pretty interesting. I have a better grasp on the teams now, when they go to the big cup game, and I am firmly against baskets! My favorite part was reading about the cranky old witch who wrote the first game down in her diary. Damn idiot boys throwing leather balls into her garden!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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The middle book in the set is pretty much just an encyclopedia of the different creatures in the wizarding world. While the descriptions of some of the beasts are interesting, there’s really not much to it. (Although someone’s been up to some mischief with a quill…) I am curious to see how they will turn this A-Z reference guide into a movie, and how many of the critters will make it!

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

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Being the great lover of fairy tales that I am, this book was my favorite of the three. How amusing to read stories where the witches are the protagonist, instead of the evil ones like in the fable we grew up with! Of course, The Tale of the Three Brothers was familiar, but The Fountain of Fair Fortune was the one I loved the most. It was such an uplifting story.

The commentary by Dumbledore added so much more to the book too. Like all the others in The Hogwarts Library–it’s sometimes easy to forget that these aren’t genuine nonfiction. More than once, out of habit, I started to add one of the notated books to my Goodreads, only to blink into reality and facepalm myself. Those aren’t real reference books! For hardcore Harry Potter fans like myself, the Library only extends our world just a bit further…and our madness too. It just can’t be helped.

I would encourage any fan of the original series to pick these up. They are cute, look great on a shelf, and support great charities for kids in need. And that’s something Dumbledore would have been pretty proud of.

 

HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hilary Clinton

When you read as much as I do, you start to know a little bit about a lot of things. I might know and read more about some subjects than others, but I have a pretty wide range of random knowledge.

However, I have always stayed blissfully uneducated when it comes to politics. For 25, 26 years, I could give less than two shits about public policy or the elections or any of that stuff. It all seemed like absolute crap to me–no one was every happy with any decisions that were made, we were all just fighting each other anyway, so what was the point? I absolutely HATE salesmen, and that’s really all politics is.

But, maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, I don’t know. I married a man who is obsessed with Fox News (I know…right? He had to have a flaw or two, I guess), so I’m always hearing about current issues, and not always from a slant I agree with. Ok. It’s almost NEVER from a slant I agree with. It’s also impossible to be on Tumblr for 5 seconds without seeing some kind of social activist rant of the day.

And so my eyes are opening and I’m learning. More accurately, I am sucking information in like water through a straw after running a marathon in a desert. I haven’t figured out where I stand exactly on all the issues, but I definitely care what is going on now. Welcome to Adulthood.

Anyway. I was offered a free copy of HRC to read and review, and since Hilary had just announced her candidacy for president, it was great timing. People are so polarized on Secretary Clinton, and I wanted to read more about her work.

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I wasn’t sure going into this that I would understand everything the book discussed. However, the authors are extremely detailed, and it was really interesting to see the nitty gritty goings on. Richard got me hooked on West Wing shortly after we started dating, and maybe that’s why reading HRC felt so familiar. Even though I wasn’t paying super close attention to the current events during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, I do remember some of what the book refers to, and now I understand much more of what happened–the details, the faces, and the controversies.

This book makes me wish I had one for every single candidate in every election from now on. This is exactly what I need–a 400 page account detailing each person’s work in the field, and an epilogue at the end with their platform. The book was serious, but human, and while yes, it has a political bias, I didn’t feel like it was trying to shove Hilary down my throat like “PICK ME PICK ME.” It showed her flaws as well as her strengths. It wasn’t a used car salesman book. I’m sure not everyone researches presidential candidates by reading that much…but sure was helpful to me!

The next election is going to be an interesting one. It’s the first one I am really paying attention to. I have a lot more research to do, but at least now I know what to look for.

 

Blogging for Books provided a copy of this book for an unbiased review.

Washington

Every once in awhile, I have a book that I know is going to be a beast to read. It is long, it is dull. It is more like a text book than entertainment.

But…I make myself read those kinds of books every now and then. I feel they are important. And I don’t mean that to sound pretentious. They are important for me. I could care less if you read them. But my brain craves expansion–so even while I yawn and scan and swear that I’m going to quit…I force myself to read one more chapter, until I reach the end.

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Washington was such a book for me. A massive biography on our first president. 900+ pages kind of massive. It was a lot of Washington to take in. I was sure ready to be done by the end.

Ok. For the sake of review, I should stop and say this:  Chernow clearly did a great deal of research. And for fans of political/historical figure bios–they are probably going to find this fascinating. It would take my husband a year (or more) to read this ,but he would like it.

There’s a reason I stuck with it for all 900 pages. The information was interesting. Washington is kind of a ghost figure in our history–he’s there, and we know he’s important, but we don’t learn that much about him. Not like we do Lincoln or FDR or JFK.

Chernow covers everything in his book–childhood, his courting days, the entire scope of Washington’s military career, and of course–the founding of country and his resulting presidency. There’s a lot to read and learn about here, and while yes, it was long, I’m better for it.

I did find it dull and dragging, but I think that is more because I prefer books with plots than because the actual writing was bad. There was just so much information to take in. I’m also taking into consideration that I was reading this during a pretty crappy family moment, and I was trying to get it done before I had to go home to Indiana. I will say that it was a great book to absorb while not being able to devote myself entirely to a storyline, so there’s that.

If you enjoy this sort of book, and/or are interested in our country’s beginnings, I would say pick this one up. It definitely has merit.