Monday, April 21, 2014

Do you know your English Lit? "My Life in Middlemarch"

I've stumbled onto a brilliant book for English Lit lovers -- only half way through it, but I am enjoying it enough that I want you to know about it.  I read George Elliott's Middlemarch several years ago and just had to shrug at it, I had a hard time understanding what was so wonderful about it, or what in the world Virginia Woolf meant when she said:  "the magnificent book that, with all its imperfections, is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people."   

 This book is helping me get there, plus it is a very good exploration of the Elliott's amazing life.  She was definitely her very own person.  If that sounds intriguing, then by all means order your copy today.  (Click the Highlighted Title).

Friday, April 18, 2014

Life Choices: To Hope or Not to Hope?

Today is Good Friday.  It is good, because even though this is the Friday that we Christians annually remember Christ on the cross, we also know that Sunday is coming.

I began writing my review on Things I've Learned From Dying  before the recent accident that left us all so heart broken and rebroken.  Up until that time, in the space of 3 1/2 months, my small circle of treasured girlfriends and I have grieved the passing of a cherished husband and pastor (Paul), and through our tears, we have praised God for the life of one of us (Lisa).  Both  had cancer.  Paul attempted radical treatment (the only choice really) for several years then discontinued treatment.  For almost seven years, Lisa fought for and received treatment until her body just could not take it any more.  They made completely different choices, but we respected both of their choices and loved them through their journeys.  For nearly seven years, this close circle of friends stayed in constant contact with text messages at any time, consisting mostly of:  How do you feel, What do you need, Pray for me, I love you, I need help! Praying for you!  We made it a priority to have what we called "Facetime" -- hard when you are busy working moms raising families, but we did it. Even our families are pulled into our friendship.  We made every birthday a big deal (even when we were a month late), and we prayed and cried together, but most of all we laughed and loved each other (and still do).  We lamented that we couldn't have Facetime everyday, and why oh why didn't we take more pictures?  So we were surprised at Lisa's memorial service just how often we did get together and remember to take pictures.  

We longed for "How to" books and never really found any, so we made our own path. That is what I want to share with you soon, what we did and what you can do when it isn't you and you want to help.

But even while this was happening to us, and while we have finally come to the end of this part of our journey, the same thing was happening in our community.  Many many leaders and loved ones have also passed away.  This is the way of life but it seems to have struck our community particularly hard lately.  

Then our world was rocked last weekend with the loss of more dear teenagers.  Lamar County is 50,000 plus strong, but I can't go anywhere without people needing to talk through our sadness and questions.    This review will not deal with all of that.  But at least maybe you'll understand what is going on behind the scene.  And maybe it will be of help to you in some way. 

Every life is different, but every death is the same. We live with others. We die alone. And what is important to this story is that the moment we die is not the same as the moment we are perceived as dead. Our lives end before others notice, and the time that spans the difference is the inverse of the grief your loved ones will suffer when you leave them behind.” 

 I have a signed edition first copy that I picked up during my visit to BookPeople earlier this year (click the highlighted bookname link above for your copy).  I also had the pleasure of hearing author David Dow speak about his book.  

When I was finally brave enough to read it, when I could finally face it, I couldn't put it down. The book is based on David Dow's journey through the representation of several of his death row clients, particularly one who really got to him, during a time that his father-in-law was going through his own cancer/ death journey and while his dog began dying from a mysterious debilitating condition. This book did what I love books to do:  it invoked many deep thoughts.

I felt drawn to read this because of my experience as an appellate lawyer, because cancer is one of  my (our?) holocausts with no answer, because I'm currently going through a season of great loss, and I know there will be other such seasons, and because I've also loved and lost pets, and while this is far different from the loss of a beloved homosapien, it still really hurts. 

Dow says:

 "Time does not heal all wounds.  Some pain becomes a part of who you are."

So true.

No matter how it comes, death is painful, ugly, impossible to "deal" with in anyway but the way through. I was one of those people who saw a good deal of death and dying from an early age.  Maybe that is why I am comfortable talking with many people about life and death.  But all of this experience does not make me special, nor did it give me super powers to deal with my own grief when the time came.  It just makes me pragmatic and open about it.  I don't see the point in hiding from it, because it is coming, one way or another.  I must look at it from every possible angle, over and over, even knowing I won't ever be fully satisfied with the answers.  That is part of why I have read the Bible, over and over.  It is why I have read so many books on the holocaust.  It is why I am starting to read many books on cancer.  It is why I will continue to read books about life and death.  I'm glad I added Dow's book to the read list.

On its surface, this book is philosophically heartbreaking regardless of whether you believe in the death penalty, euthanasia, cancer treatment, and God.  

The underlying theme is this: is there any point to hope?   The life celebrations of so many recently have shouted an affirmative yes to me. 

But here is Dow's father-in-law Peter's dissection of the argument:

"One drawback of being a scientist is I am aware of its hopelessness. If I elect to do nothing further, Irmi and I can drive out west. We can hike and camp and live. I can die on a mountain. If we remain here, I will die in diapers in an air conditioned room."

The question seems to be whether there is any point in the hope offered by cancer treatment. 

Peter thought no.   

Interestingly, Peter's daughter thought yes.  She chooses hope.

Here is one quote to prove it: 

"And so, just in case I had not heard her the first time, she looked into my eyes, and she said them again.  

You are getting another chance." 

Where does Dow fall in this spectrum, a death penalty lawyer carrying the weight of the crimes and lives of the world on his shoulders? Where do you?

I enjoy seeing life through other's experiences and opinions, even if they are different from mine.  Life would be very bothersome if we were all the same pesky weed.  But we aren't.  We aren't all going to agree on death and life and God.  The only thing we are all definitely going to do is actually experience life and death.  And we are all going to think about God in one way or another.  We are all going to have to decide if there is a reason for Hope.  Here is a quote from the Bible that was Lisa's favorite.   

"For I know the plans I have for you,” 
declares the Lord,
 “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, 
plans to give you hope and a future. 12 
 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, 
and I will listen to you. 
13 You will seek me and find me 
when you seek me with all your heart. 
 14 I will be found by you,” 
declares the Lord
“and will bring you back from captivity.[b] 
I will gather you from all the nations 
and places where I have banished you,” 
declares the Lord
“and will bring you back to the place 
from which I carried you into exile."

Jeremiah 29:11 -14 NIV

Lisa believed this verse through and beyond her dying day, and Paul did, too.  Through their own unique cancer journeys, Paul and Lisa both not only did not lose their hope, their hope grew and they shared it with many, many others in very real and non-judgmental ways.  Hope Now was and continues to be a mantra.

 Now, please excuse me while I enjoy a lament of Hope.  I like to sing this when I am sad.


P.S. Professor Dow, your son is brilliant.  Continue to be good to him.  :)

P.S.S.  If you are interested in learning more about the Texas Death Penalty system from the Innocence Project side, here is Dow's execution book.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Why I've become an Affiliate with BookPeople in Austin

Last year, Hastings closed its doors in Paris, Texas.  Luckily, we have a great Public Libary  that carries new books and classics.  Unluckily for me, I'm not the world's best at returning or rechecking books on time.  And I'm not so great at getting on the waiting list for the books I want.  So I don't read every single book from the Library.

Recent selections at the Paris Public Library
I have a kindle, and I have kindle apps on my phones and tablets, and I can always read my kindle books on cloud.  I also listen to books on my ipod, or ipad, and phone.

BookPeople in Austin, Texas
 Even with all those choices,  I want a real book to read at all given times. But I am very scared of the possibility that soon there will be only one huge universal bookstore and ten authors who actually get published.  I don't like having to buy from one universal store as my only option for the books I want to purchase.  So I felt very lucky to visit BookPeople in Austin earlier this year where I was able to by a stash of books to last awhile.  Some, like the Hilary Mantels and The Iliad,  I had already read or listened to but liked them so much I needed them in hard form. 

BookPeople winter stack, from hotel view in Austin
The Amy Tan is a signed first edition!

I'm thrilled to announce that BookPeople in Austin has approved me to Affiliate with them on my book reviews on my blog.  This book store works hard at all the things bibliophiles and bookworms need to be able to get from their bookstores:  a great selection of hardback and paperback books, signed copies, author lectures, a coffee store and hangout place, clerks who know their books and the store, and who actually make recommendations, an online presence, and even a signed first edition club if that kind of thing floats your boat.  Perhaps most importantly, they don't just order and push the blockbusters.  I am convinced that it is because of indies that most authors even get published.

I'm in the process of converting my book reviews to all link to their online store.  Of course, all of those going forward will be linked for you.  I hope you'll consider buying some of your books through this great store, or maybe other indie bookstores.  Why does it matter?  Well, because without indie bookstores, there are basically one or two large companies making all of the choices for which books get pushed and which don't.  And I am concerned that just means that who ever spends the most money gets the most push, right? Be forewarned that when that happens, basically, the whole sky will fall. 

(For more on this line of thought, see this Huffington Post offering on independent bookstores.)

Maybe someday I'll retire (yeah right!) and run a cool indie bookstore in Paris, Texas.  Or maybe someone else will.  But until then, I'm happy to give you all links to books from  BookPeople in Austin.  And by all means, when traveling, please go visit them and other bookstores in person!

Here are links to the books in my winter stack:

I've loved Amy Tan a long time.  This book was a different offering from her, but is a worthy read.  True to its title, it is a new look at multicultural Shanghai, its courtesans, and the men who "love" them. 

(See below).

Bring Up the Bodies

Hilary Mantel jumped way up on my favorite author's list, and resparked my love of history with her political literary explorations of Henry VIII's lawyer, that infamous Cromwell, and his maneuverings to serve his king while keeping his head.  How often have you ever heard of anyone who won two Booker Prizes? 

I'm shocked I haven't read this yet.  Thanks to BookPeople, I will soon be able to.  I, Claudius, is named by many persons as the best historical fiction book ever written.  We'll just have to see about that!

A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement

This is a daily offering, about a paragraph or so long, of inspiration on writing.  I love it and have about half of the pages dog eared so I can go back and refresh my writer's soul.  Rather than type out one of my favorite quotes, here is a picture of it, to entice you:

So remember, if you are interested in purchasing these right now, in almost any format, click the picture or hyperlinked title, and you can go shop BookPeople!