Sunday, January 25, 2009

A love/hate relationship

It would not have been fitting, or an accurate portrayal of my personality, had I not procrastinated penning this post. I had read, and book clubbed, Eat, Pray, Love awhile ago, and had such mixed reactions to the book that I was eager to revisit it. Sadly, the outcome of a second run was quite similar to the first.

I loved this book and I despised this book. I find myself hesitant to recommend it, yet eager to get others input. I felt, as I dove in both times, that I had been taken on a roller coaster ride. One page had me on a highlighting frenzy, in an effort to remember some of the most masterfully crafted quotes, while the next had me shaking my fist at her narcissistic ways.

If we take it from the top, we find her crumbled in a heap on her bathroom floor, reeling from the realization that, because of her hesitation to take the next "logical" step in a marriage, hers was over. Perhaps it was her reluctance to divulge details of her failing marriage, but I felt very little pity for her. I know the entire basis for the book hinges on her unhappiness with her current All-American life. But knowing how blessed she was in so many aspects of her life leads me to question why I should feel sorry for her plight when there are millions struggling through much more drastic circumstances. I am quite aware that makes me heartless, but I had trouble buying into the whole whoa is me scenario. And yet, she has the ability to write in such a manner that almost forces you to keep reading, joining her on a journey you may not even support.

The journey itself often felt contrived. Knowing that each step had been paid for with an advance, banking on the lessons learned from her travels, I often struggled with whether or not her experiences were authentic. Don't get me wrong, I do not question that she was unhappy and therefore took this journey to find herself. I just wonder if she would have arrived at the same destination spiritually, physically and mentally if she was forced to navigate through her hardships like the Average Joe, and not with the security of a book advance paving the way.

Now onto Italy, my favorite section by far. There is something to be said about indulging, and as she literally ate her way through the country, I was not only intrigued but also envious. She lived without the fear of consequence (not even the 23 pounds gained made her pause), and the pleasure achieved because of it is something to be sought after.

In marked contrast, India was by far my least favorite section. Not only did I find the writing itself lacking her usual page turner style, but her experiences troubled me. I am open to all religious views. I may have my own, but I am always curious and eager to learn and explore other religions. So it was not the focus on Eastern religions that gave me pause, but rather her insistence on forcing the experience on herself, regardless of the price. This was a section that I felt was less of a personal struggle and more of an experience to have that would eventually find its way to her pages.

Although it differs from mine, I had no problem with her definition of God or even her desire to find her spirituality. And I do not think that being religious is always easy or effortless, but I do not feel it should be a struggle of that magnitude. It seemed almost counterproductive to me and I had to set the book down for a few days to get through it.

And I guess, in the same way Gilbert was attempting to strike a balance between the "Eat" and the "Pray" discovered in the first 2 sections, I felt equal part love and equal part hate for the last section. I loved her character descriptions and the relationships built in Bali, but I felt the relationship with Felipe went against all she had been preaching throughout the book. And to know she went on to marry him further cemented that hypocrisy.

With that said, I feel Gilbert is a gifted story teller. She weaves her encounters into the book in such a way that I felt connected to the people she met and befriended, and wanted to know what became of them. And overall, I felt it was more her obviously brilliant writing ability and less her self-discovery and insight, that led me to enjoy this book. But it is probably not a book I will read again, because I do not believe it will uphold the 3rd-times-a-charm theory.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sarah - Women of Genesis

The Page Nibbler pick for February '09 will be Sarah: Women of Genesis by Orson Scott Card

This is what I found about it so far:

From Libreriauniversitaria:

"Sarai was a child of ten years, wise for her age but not yet a woman, when she first met Abram. He appeared before her in her father's house, filthy from the desert, tired and thirsty. But as the dirt of travel was washed from his body, the sight of him filled her heart. And when Abram promises Sarai to return in ten years to take her for his wife, her fate was sealed.
Abram kept his promise, and Sarai kept hers. They were wed, and so joined the royal house of Ur with the high priesthood of the Hebrews. So began a lifetime of great joy together, and greater peril; and with the blessing of their God, a great nation would be built around the core of their love.

Bestselling author Orson Scott Card uses his fertile imagination, and uncanny insight into human nature, to tell the story of a unique woman -- one who is beautiful, tough, smart, and resourceful in an era when women had little power, and are scarce in the historical record. Sarah, child of the desert, wife of Abraham, takes on vivid reality as a woman desirable to kings, a devoted wife, and a faithful follower of the God of Abraham, chosen to experience an incomparable miracle."

And then this piece from

"As Card tells it, Sarai (as she is called until God changes her name late in life) first meets Abram (later Abraham) when she’s 10. He has come to pay the bride price for his nephew Lot to marry Qira, Sarai’s sister. Abram tells Sarai he’ll be back to marry her in 10 more years.

Problem is, she’s been promised to the goddess Asherah as a temple worshiper for life.

When Abram does return, Sarai breaks the vow her father made to Asherah, marries Abram and goes off to lead the nomadic life. A supremely honorable woman, she wins the love of every servant in the camp -- unlike Qira, who grumbles that the upright Lot does nothing to befriend the dirty men of Sodom and increase their social standing. When Lot leaves Sodom to join Abram in the desert, Qira has no choice but to go along. She offends everyone in the camp, while the love shown to Sarai only grows.

And that’s the problem. Card makes his two major female characters too one-sided. Sarai calls to mind the tragic hero of ancient drama -- perfection on legs if it weren’t for one fatal flaw, and one flaw only. Sarai’s flaw is her nagging concern that Asherah really does exist, and the goddess is inflicting barrenness on Sarai because of the broken vow.

In all else, Sarai is perfect. She selflessly offers her handmaid, Hagar, as a gift to Abram in order for Abram to have a child by her. After Hagar’s son Ishmael is born, Sarai displays not the slightest hint of cattiness toward Hagar. Even in disagreements with Abram, Sarai is always right, and Abram has to go seek the Lord to come to the conclusions that his wife has already suggested.

Qira, on the other hand, has not one redeeming quality. She ridicules everyone and even considers her own daughters an annoyance. She’s too easy to hate.

Despite these drawbacks, the story is well-told. Abram is more multifaceted. So is Hagar, who seems at times to be Sarai’s best friend and at other times her fiercest competitor. A servant since girlhood, Hagar wants to love and be loved but is hampered by her impulse to steal every advantage.

The story moves swiftly, climaxing at several points, such as Abram and Sarai’s stay in Egypt when the pharaoh wants to take Sarai as his wife. It is a quick and interesting read.

The biggest problem I foresee for this book is winning an audience. The natural audience -- Christian and Jewish people who know and love the story of Abraham and Sarah -- may well be offended by the liberties Card takes.

Some can be excused as poetic license or convenience -- for instance, making Sarai and Qira sisters adds a heightened level of interest.

But other changes will be more offensive to people who cherish the biblical story. For instance, Card dismisses the miracle of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt. In an afterword, Card, a Mormon, explains that choice and others, probably meaning to mollify traditionalists but perhaps making the situation worse than if he had simply left his choices a mystery.

So if many Christian and Jewish readers are put off by this book, who’s left to read it? Historical fiction fans? Not necessarily. Most responsible historical fiction embeds a made-up story within a such a factual setting as a documented Civil War battle. But Card readily admits he’s not doing that here; he doesn’t have enough historical facts to work from because the story is so ancient.

And that’s the real crux of the matter. A warning for those who might hope to find in this book a responsible theological discussion, a historical record or a devotional: “Sarah” is based on the barest of facts, and her character is largely a creation of Card’s own imagination. This is an intriguing story -- with the emphasis on the word story."

So as I begin this book I am curious, eager, and cautious. I am reminded that this IS a work of FICTION, based on what we know from the bible.

I just finished reading the book about Sarah in the Canaan Trilogy by Merek Halter It will be interesting to see how Orson Scott Card's interpretation of the same character will compare.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Introducing Orson Scott Card

For our February selection of Page Nibblers I am suggesting we read any one of the Women of Genesis series by Orson Scott Card.

There are three books to choose from:

Rachel and Leah



I have not yet decided which one I will be reading...I'll probably make a trip to the library and see what I can get there before I buy one.

But while I am sorting that out, I thought I'd share a little background about the author.
Born in Richland, Washington in 1951, Orson Scott Card grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He lived in Brazil for two years as an unpaid missionary for the Mormon Church and received degrees from Brigham Young University (1975) and the University of Utah (1981). The author of numerous books, Card was the first writer to receive both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel two years in a row, first for Ender's Game and then for the sequel Speaker for the Dead. He lives with his wife and children in North Carolina.

While he is best known for his science fiction novels Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow, Orson Scott Card has written in many other forms and genres. Beginning with dozens of plays and musical comedies produced in the 1960s and 70s, Card's first published fiction appeared in 1977 -- the short story "Gert Fram" in the July issue of The Ensign, and the novelet version of "Ender's Game" in the August issue of Analog.

While Card's early science fiction stories and novels were earning attention (Card won the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer from the World Science Fiction Convention in 1978), he supported his family primarily by writing scripts for audiotapes produced by Living Scriptures of Ogden, Utah.

(Info taken from Card's website,

I LOVED the book Pastwatch. I was enchanted by Stone Tables. Folks on the Fringe stuck with me long after I put it down. I've long enjoyed work by OSC. But it has been a while since I've sampled his work. I'm excited to get back to his stuff, and to get a new view of some powerful women from the Bible. I look forward to hearing what my fellow Page Nibblers have to say about their matter what they choose.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Things I Gained from EPL by Gilbert

This book was fascinating to read - to think that a woman in the 21st century actually did this on her own - quite amazing. Now I'm interested in reading her new book that should be out this year titled "Weddings and Evictions" to see how she and Felipe ended up.

EPL prompted me to ask myself, "What three things do I want most in life?" "What would you enjoy doing today?"

It gave me many thoughts to ponder. Here are a few:
1. p. 61 Americans don't know sheer pleasure - the beauty of doing nothing.
2. p. 178 Master your thinking.
3. pgs 196, 197, 198, 199, Being in the turiya state.
4. p. 231 Smile! Even smile in your liver.

And, the big one that I've been thinking most about:
Meditation is the act of listening to God ....

As Christians we ( I ) pray to God and am always wanting to draw closer to Him and know His will for me. I always do a lot of "talking to God" but usually don't take much time "trying to listen to Him". So I've been pondering this question: If the Indian people can meditate for hours on end, can't I, as a Christian, ponder and listen (meditate) for more than just a few minutes in my day???!

Good book. Lots of food for thought.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Two Cents

I know I'm behind, so with inflation rates what they are, this is actually more like my .3 of a cent, but I wanted to add it none the less:

I can't believe how much I am enjoying this book! I just finished the Italy section, and am a few pages into India. While there were several things that stood out to me, the whole "pleasure is a lost art to Americans" thing stuck with me, and I have been thinking about it a lot. I have been on a quest, of sorts, this year to get to know myself, and to become more content, so maybe that's why I felt especially taken with this idea. It got me wondering what I like. What gives me pleasure? What brings me joy? And how can I derive happiness from the things I am already doing? Most days I think I just fulfill my responsibilities with a sense of duty and don't allow time to enjoy anything. I am so wrapped-up in the accomplishing of tasks, that (it pains me to admit) I go mindlessly about my day (Rozel, your comments on this subject put my thoughts into words perfectly). I am usually cross with my children, and for no specific reason. I am getting on my nerves. I am ready for a change. But how? I announced to my husband that I will be taking at least a month off to travel to Italy. That is the only solution I can think of.

Okay, and this is just a little random piece of personal info: I have also been pondering the author's declaration that having a child because you are afraid of future regret is NOT a good reason to have a child. I know I probably shouldn't base my life on something Elizabeth Gilbert wrote, but for Heaven's sake, it is like she knew exactly what I was thinking. So does that make it an answer to MY prayers? It sure would be helpful if it were. Mysterious ways and all that...?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My thoughts on Italy

If I were to write a book I think that it would be somewhat like this one. Minus the divorce and depression. Both which I am eternally grateful to have never had, nor do I plan to have (I suppose no one plans to have either). How brave she is to write her intimate feelings where the world can see, readers can judge, and book clubs can analyze/scrutinize.

How how I envy her life. Some envy career women, some envy stay at home moms. I envy the footloose and fancy free lifestyle in which a person can travel world and learn a language. What I would give to leave responsibility behind and pursue pleasurable things.

How I have nothing in common with, nor can I identify with the authors beliefs in God, politics and some of her choices. I have no idea what it is like to have a forgiving body, and felt a bit smug when the authors pants no longer fit.

My favorite part in the Italy section is when she was talking about what word best describes some cities and people (pg 104). New York = ACHIEVE. Los Angeles = SUCCEED. Stockholm = CONFORM. (Which, for the record, I disagree.) I suspect people and their "word" change from time to time. My word? TORN. Just curious . . .what is your word?

Soldiers of Seriousness

I'm continuing on with the book Eat, Pray, Love. Found some GEMS in the section on Italy, where the author spent time exploring the whole concept of pleasure.

I particularly related to the section on page 23 where the author says:

"For years, I'd wished I could speak Italian--a language I find more beautiful than roses-- but I could never make the practical justification for studying it. Why not just bone up on the French of Russian I'd already studied years ago? Or learn to speak Spanish, the better to help me communicate with millions of my fellow Americans? What was I going to do with Italian? It's not like I was going to move there. It would be more practical to learn how to play the accordion.

But why must everything always have a practical application? I'd been such a diligent soldier for years--working, producing, never missing a deadline, taking care of my loved ones, my gums and my credit record, voting, etc. Is this lifetime supposed to be only about duty? In this dark period of loss, did I need any justification for learning Italian other than that it was the only thing I could imagine bringing me me any pleasure right now? ..."

Yeah, I could relate.

For many years I've piled load upon load of responsibilities on my own plate, scrambling from one "should do" or "ought to do" to another, too often confusing RELAXING with sloth, an unpardonable crime.

My focus all too often has been more on accomplishing, achieving and acquiring than it has been about savoring, relishing, appreciating.

I'm working at shifting the balance of that in my world.

Another part that really hit me was over on page 42-43 where she talks about beginning formal language classes in Italy. She has to take an entrance test that will determine which level she will be place in, Level One is the most basic, for brand new beginners. It becomes VERY important to her to prove she can make it to at least Level Two. The scorn she feels for Level One is absolute. After all, she had begun learning the language while she was still back in New York. She has practiced. She has studied. She is ready to shine. So she pushes out her very best effort and does indeed make it to Level Two.

However, she flounders there, feeling out of her depth, way beyond the right fit. She writes:

"Classes begin in the afternoon. So I go eat lunch (roasted endive) then saunter back to the school and smugly walk past all those Level One students (who must be molot stupido, really) and enter my first class.. With my peers. Except that it becomes swiftly evident that these re not my peers and that I have no business being here because Level Two is really impossibly hard.

I feel like I'm swimming, but barely. Like I'm taking in water with every breath. The teacher, a skinny guy (why are the teachers so skinny here? I don't trust skinny Italians),is going way too fast, skipping over whole chapters of the textbook saying, "You already know this, you already know that..." and keeping up a rapid-fire conversation with my apparently fluent classmates. My stomach is gripped in horror and I'm gasping for air and praying he won't call on me.

Just as soon as the break comes, I run out of that classroom on wobbling legs and I scurry all the way over to the administrative office almost in tears, where I beg in very clear English if they could please move me down to a Level One class. And so they do. And now I am here. This teacher is plump and speaks slowly. This is much better."

OH how I recognize in myself the driven need to prove my advanced proficiency at ever so many things...even when it meant putting myself into circumstances that were way beyond me. Unfortunately, unlike the author, I have not often had the courage to recognize it and fall back, take things at a more appropriate pace. Instead, I've just pushed and pushed and pushed to keep up, making myself nutty in the process.

Maybe there is a lesson there for me... maybe I CAN set my sights "lower" and find the right fit in things I take on. Hell, I have nothing to prove to anyone else. It's high time I quit scrambling to prove whatever it is I'm trying to prove to myself.

Yeah, I really like this book - even the parts that make me a little uncomfortable. Maybe ESPECIALLY the parts that make me uncomfortable. It makes me think, to ponder, to recognize. I'm enjoying it way more than I thought that I would.

I just finished the section on Italy. Now I'm off to India where she will be exploring Spirituality. I can't wait!