Tag Archives: nonfiction

Black Heels to Tractor Wheels

I found The Pioneer Woman blog sometime in college.  As a dairy farmer’s daughter in a big city, I really enjoyed reading about a city girl moving to the country; it helped with the homesickness.  It also helped that Ree was incredibly funny.

I enjoyed the story of how she met her husband, who is known on the site as Marlboro Man (though Ree is quick to point out he doesn’t smoke), which was told in installments.  Over time, other blogs caught my interest and my visit to PW were less frequent.  But when I saw that she had published her love story as a book, I was excited…and then even more pumped when I saw it on the shelf at my local library!

True to the writing style on her blog, the book is humorous, touching, and relatable.  Ree’s word choices can be over the top sometimes, but it definitely rings true of her voice.

The book includes not only their courtship, it also tells about their wedding, disaster honeymoon (waaaaaaaaaay too much vomiting to be a fun trip!), almost immediate pregnancy, down-on-our-ranching-luck first year, and the birth of their first baby.  Again, it made me nostalgic for home and country living and gave me the itch to get back to farming with the Professor and Pookie.  But we’ll get there someday.  In the meantime, fun summer reads like this one help take the edge off the wait.

 

What have you read this summer?

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World Domination vs. Ordinary Days

I read–and enjoyed–two contrasting books while vacationing last week.

The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau is about how to “set your own rules, live the life you want, and change the world,” touting follow-your-bliss over sticking in a secure-but-boring job and lots of travel.

The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison, about a woman’s yearning for change from her supremely happy (if a bit confined) suburban existence that led to selling her family’s house and being in a sense homeless for three years (three years of having teenage boys, no less) as they sought a new life in a small country town, slowly building their dream house.

Guillebeau’s enthusiasm is contagious; I dropped the book several times to brain dump book and blog ideas.  However, he comes off a bit haughty and my-way-or-the-highway…or maybe my-way-or-a-boring-and-miserable-life.

And I’ve realized I’ve reached the end of my study in another genre: live-your-dream-by-quitting-your-stifling-job how-to books.  Because here’s the thing…I’m living my dream!  I have a husband, a baby, and a novel I’m in the process of publishing!  I cook and clean (well, I try to motivate myself to clean…), I read books with my daughter and watch her play and grow, I read what I want and get more than enough TV time, and I created a schedule that gives me time to pursue my publishing dreams.  My husband and extended family are entirely supportive.  In other words, I have arrived on the live-your-dream scale!  Hooray!

On the flip side of breaking out and conquering the world, Kenison’s book urges the reader to slow down and enjoy everything about life in the here and now because it changes so quickly.  This book reminded me how quickly kids grow and will be gone…it also reminded me how much I love a good memoir.  Maybe I can replace my live-your-dream books with memoirs…

Anyway, here are my favorite takeaways from The Art of Non-Conformity:

“Create a continual metric for your work,” is something that I was doing while drafting my novel but have stopped since hitting my editing phase…I need to figure that out and soon (216).

“You may even need to devote extended periods of time to what I call ‘radical exclusion,’ or shutting out absolutely anything that serves as a distraction from your key priorities…Bill Gates famously did this during his ‘Think Weeks,’ where twice a year he would shut out all distractions and head into a room of reading material for several days at a time.  An aide would bring in grilled cheese sandwiches and diet soda twice a day, and Gates would plot the future of Microsoft’s world domination strategy” (176).  Oh how I wish I could lock myself away and be sent grilled cheese sandwiches and diet soda at my bidding…not likely to happen any time soon in this momma’s life!

I’ll follow up with quotes from Kenison’s book next time; for now, I’m off to catch up on some Netflix and one-on-one time with the Professor after he spent a looooooong week at a microbiology conference.

A Gripe

I raved earlier about Cinderella Ate My Daughter, a book about the girlie-girl-ness of being, well, a little girl today and all the implications that may or may not have.  I enjoyed the book, it made me think, and it changed the way I look at certain aspects of princess play, Barbies, etc.

So I was really excited to pick up Orenstein’s previous tome, Schoolgirls, taking the same sort of approach to girls in middle school.  Though it was published in 1994, the girls Orenstein writes about could very well be your current neighbors: they struggle with eating disorders, sexual harassment, the constant urge to look desirable while being told that they’ll be considered sl**s if they actually feel desire.  Their tales are gripping and eye-opening, but I’m struggling with Orenstein’s main thesis.

Her premise is that girls are taught to be docile, “sweet”, to play the rules; meanwhile, boys are taught those things with words but their outbursts are tolerated and even coddled or pushed aside as “simply boys being boys.”  The author comes to the conclusion that we should be pushing girls to be more aggressive and outspoken.

As a Christian, I feel that Orenstein–and perhaps a lot of other feminists and women’s issue writers–has pinned down the wrong problem.  I think we need to teach our young men to be real men.

I worked in a public school before Pookie was born.  I spent full hours searching the halls and grounds for sixth grade boys skipping out on math–hours when I should have been tutoring kids in multiplying fractions. Why is this tolerated?

Boys were loud and obnoxious in class, but the repercussions were never much.  Why is this tolerated?

A boy in the lunchroom had smeared ketchup (accidentally) all over a bench.  Other kids told me and pointed it out; the boy was embarrassed and refused to clean it up.  Instead of lecturing, I appealed to his masculinity–but the real kind, the gentlemanly, chivalrous kind: “I guess somebody’s just going to have to be the hero and clean this up.”  He blinked while my words soaked in, wiped up the ketchup, and tossed away the dirtied napkins with a big grin.  It became my go-to tactic, to ask boys to be heroes.

Sorry, this post is disjointed and not entirely well-written…I’m just trying to work through my thoughts on the issue of boys and girls and discipline and what’s truly the matter with how they act, because I’m certain it has less to do with a need for female dominance than feminists want us to think.

Care to chime in on the subject?  I’d love to hear other experiences or opinions!

Buccaneering

I told myself no more library books until I felt “caught up” on the reading I’ve already got going.

But I just can’t help myself.

Really it’s the Professor’s fault: he had to go into lab for a bit on Saturday and the only way to park free downtown is to check something out from the library and have them stamp your parking ticket.  And somewhere in between, a half dozen books followed me home…

When we arrived and Pookie was down for a nap, I dove right into this one:

 

I’ve read other accounts of self-educated folks, people who’ve followed their passions rather than just following the crowd.  James Bach’s story is a bit different in that he lived entirely on his own at age 14 (though mom or dad took care of the motel rent and gave him $25/week for groceries).  He dropped out of school, spent all day making computer programs, and eventually started earning money for doing what he loved.

Fast forward and the guy somehow made it to Apple and is now sought after to give lectures and write articles.

I’ll admit, when I read stories like this, I’m both intrigued and put-off: “Yeah, that worked for him, but it won’t work for everybody,” “Well, why can’t it?  Not everybody has tried,” etc.  I also find these stories aren’t written as well as I would like and include cliches and heavy-handed hubris.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable.  It was fun, fast, and humorous.  It even contained some really great self-learning nuggets:

 

“A buccaneer-scholar is anyone whose love of learning is not muzzled, yoked, or shackled by any institution or authority; whose mind is driven to wander and find its own voice and place in the world” (9).

Mmm…that sounds good.  And that sounds a lot like what I did during college: sure, I studied my course work and got good grades, but my spare moments were spent devouring books on Christian education, homeschooling, and theories of learning–and I found it far more engaging than my regular classes and prescribed syllabi.

“To learn something valuable, you may have to work at it.  It may be hard work.  For me, it has to be fun, too.  Or else forget it.  The secret to my success is this: I found something that was fun for me, I learned all about it, and now I get paid for fun things I do with my mind” (4).

I love his reply to a teacher who said a lecture he gave was “dangerous,” that students might choose a nonconventional path based on his speech:

“So what if they do?…This is America.  They probably won’t starve.  They probably won’t be eaten by wolves.  If they don’t care about education, they may be forced to work at low-skilled jobs they won’t enjoy, such as fast food or house cleaning.  However bad those fates may sound, they are neither fatal nor permanent.  Or perhaps they will accidentally educate themselves by starting a new business, building things, or doing theatre, music, or sports.  Are you worried they’ll turn to crime?  Then show them more options, not fewer.  They will learn and grow from anything that happens, unless they believe there is no hope.  Your job is not to make them huddle quietly in a corral, but to help them get out there and seek their fortunes.  Show them a way!” (6)

Preach on, brother!  Makes me want to become a schoolteacher.

{Well, someday.  I’m going to focus on schoolin’ my own youngin(s) first}

“Knowledge is part of my education only if it changes me” (8).

“If I make a careful plan at the beginning of my journey, and stick to it, I may miss out on a lot of learning.  The beginning is a terrible time to plan.  it’s the moment of greatest ignorance.  In self-directed education, a lot of the value comes from exploiting opportunities that arise well out to sea, once I’ve seen some things and begun the learning process.

“In buccaneer learning, wandering is a necessity, not a luxury.  To wander effectively I need disposable time.  That means time I can afford to waste.  I’ve found that by giving myself permission to pursue things that might not come to anything valuable, more often than not, I eventually discover something really valuable” (41).

And about why he didn’t do homework:

“I was already busy at home.  I read fantasy novels.  I made technical drawings of imaginary spaceships, stargazed, tramped around the forest that surrounded my home.  I collected rocks and tried my hand at bird taming.  I watched a huge amount of television.  But whether my use of time seemed worthy to someone else hardly mattered.  I believed my time belonged to me.  Compulsory homework was theft of my time” (61).

Bach also goes over the methods he uses when educating himself about a new topic, such as “scouting” by skimming through all sorts of resources (books, Google searches, websites, etc.), experimenting with it, even leaving it alone and forgetting he even studied it for a time.

If you have an afternoon and are curious about self-education, this would be a fun read.

Abomination & Barbie Dolls

Sherri Early of Semicolon wrote recently on her blog about the need for light and darkness in novels, particularly as this pertains to Christian literature: how dark is “too dark”?  Can Christian books make mention of occult things, sinful things, dark things while still edifying?

While I love Amish/plain living romances, sometimes I feel like something more…meaty, if you will, but I haven’t had much luck finding Christian fiction that isn’t clunky, one-dimensional, or underdeveloped (my budget has me strapped to the library, so that may be part of my problem).

So I approached Abomination by Colleen Coble with some trepidation; I haven’t read a thriller in quite some time and never one labeled as Christian.  I worried I might have found a clunker.

I was wrong.

Abomination opens with a woman who has been attacked and stabbed but cannot remember how it happened, where she is, who she is, or why the little girl in the back seat calls her mama.  From other characters’ POVs, we learn that the amnesia-ridden woman is being hunted by a serial killer, plus her worried ex-husband (who happens to be the police officer investigating the serial killer).

Twists and turns abound, and I gasped when I learned who the killer was…not who I was expecting, which is always a nice surprise.

{There were a few unfortunate bits, mostly editing: the main character’s true identity is given away too soon because of a typo, sentences that don’t work, wonky speech patterns, repetitive word choice…but that might be the OCD editor in me.}

The balance of light and dark was quite good; perfect, actually for a dreamer like me.  When I was younger, I got so wrapped up in The Face on the Milk Carton that I worried I might have been stolen from my real parents, even though I look just like my mother, I talk just like my mother, I act just like my mother, and I probably even chew gum just like my mother.  So, I have a history of allowing the story to take me in too much.

But that didn’t happen this time around; I had a moment in the dark of my home where I thought of Gideon, the serial killer in Abomination, but then my thoughts turned to Christ.  It was like he said, “Hey, that’s just a story…aren’t I bigger than a story?”  And He is.

So maybe I’ve grown up or maybe Colleen Coble hit the right balance of dark and light; I’ll let you read it and decide.

Also, I devoured a book a few weeks ago called Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein.  I wish I had it in front of me so that I could talk about it better, but if you have a young daughter, it’s worth the read.  It’s also worth asking the questions the book raises, like how does princess play affect our daughters?  Is Snow White really a good role model if her single greatest quality is her looks–I mean, what else does the girl do?

Orenstein looks at girlhood critically with all sorts of facts and statistics, but she also approaches the subject from a mom’s perspective, thinking of and writing about her own little girl.  At times the book is terrifying, as I don’t want to think of Pookie being marketed to constantly with pink or pressured to look “hot” when she reaches third grade or spend her teen years confused by the world’s message that she should looking desirable is good but feeling desire is bad.

The book is secular, so Orenstein and I disagreed on certain things (sex before marriage as an example), but it was a fascinating look into the marketing machine and the new world of girl in today’s society.  Again, a must-read for parents of young girls.

Well, could those titles have been any more different?!

I also found myself relating to a lot of Orenstein’s theses, thinking, “That’s exactly what happened to me…that’s how I felt/thought/acted.”

Review: Radical by David Platt

Talk about a game-changer.

David Platt got under my skin with this quick-reading, hard-hitting book: is pursuing the American dream–house, kids, good job, security–Christian?  That is, if we pursue the things of this world, can we truly be pursuing Jesus Christ?

That question alone stops me in my tracks.

No, Platt is not saying that I (or you or anyone) must sell my every possession in exchange for a one-way ticket to Africa to live life as a missionary, but he’s imploring us to check our hearts.

Our desires.

Our true motives.

He offers story after story of people in this world hurting, dying, needing Jesus.  Can I sit in my well-heated apartment when people in my own community lay their heads to sleep on cold benches?  Can I gorge myself on my favorite snack when children in my country go without food?  Can I spend my time and money at the mall when people across the world can’t even get a glass of clean water?

Platt does not merely offer stories and statistics to make the reader feel bad; he offers real, doable solutions that can be implemented by singles, marrieds, families, widows, kids–anybody.  And this year, I’m all about doable.

{The main premise of the book is this: Jesus called you.  He called you to take His love to the world, where you are and everywhere else.}

I would write more specifically about the book, but Professor and I are going to read through it together, one chapter a week.  After our reading and discussion, I’ll fill you in on the book’s contents and our discussion.  Suffice to say, I highly recommend this book and look forward to changing the world–here, there, and everywhere.

This book was provided by Waterbrook Multnomah as part of their blogging for books program.  The thoughts and opinions expressed are entirely my own.

{photo credit}