The Top Ten Tuesday is a nifty idea started by The Broke and The Bookish blog, of which I post at from time to time. This week’s theme is Top Ten Books I’d want on a Desert Island. Feel free to discuss, argue, post your own, and drink tea.
10) The Sagas of the Icelanders.
-This monster has been sitting on my bookshelf for a while, so my logic is this: if I’m stranded on a desert island, it will in all probability be the only time I’d have to read it – and actually finish it. Besides, I’d be reading about someplace cold, which would take my mind of my assumed predicament of being, you know, stranded.
9) Duma Key, by Stephen King.
-Hands-down my favorite Stephen King novel. I actually CRIED reading this, which almost never happens when I read. Who knows, it might inspire me to make some paint out of various plant juices and do some cave paintings while I’m stranded.
8) On Language, by Noam Chomsky.
-It’s actually two books in one, Language and Responsibility and Reflections on Language. Chomsky’s commentary on linguistics should prove to be somewhat of a distraction from the sharks swimming around in the water. Yeah, that would show them. I’d fight sharks with my new-found knowledge of the nature of language.
7) Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.
-Every self-respecting book lover knows that at one point in his or her life, (s)he wanted to read the dictionary straight through, and have it memorized (because it’s that simple, right?). I was no exception to that rule. Why not turn my boredom into something constructive? If I ever managed to get off of the island, I could show off to my bookworm friends. They’d all be so jealous, but would never admit it.
6) Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, by Scott Cunningham.
-Depending on which island I’m stranded on, this book could be useful, with its drawings of plants and various properties associated with them – not just for magical purposes. In any case, I’d learn my plants in no time.
5) The Swarm, by Frank Schatzing.
-I have been working on this for at least two or three months now, and I’m having trouble getting through it. It’s sitting on my bedside table, gathering dust and haunting my dreams. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to read about underwater aliens trying to kill off humanity and take over the world when I’m on an island, surrounded by water. But at least the thing would get read.
4) Bring Me the Rhinoceros, by John Tarrant.
-If I start to hallucinate, meditating on these zen koans should calm my mind. It’s a small book, but is philosophically potent. I’ve been working on it for around a year and a half, and I’m still struggling with these. Who knows how many years I’d be stuck on that island? I’d be a zen master by the time I escaped.
3) Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, by John J. Collins.
-I had to drop out of my Hebrew Bible class last semester due to an illness, so I simply haven’t had an opportunity to finish this in conjunction with my studies of the Tanakh. I didn’t sell it back to the college bookstore, as I intend to finish it. Stranded on an island, I’d have plenty of time.
2) The Tanakh.
-This would, naturally, go hand in hand with Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. No matter what kind of study guides one may have, one can’t quite study the Tanakh without the Tanakh. I’m determined to finish it.
1) Oil! by Upton Sinclair.
-This book is my number one to-read book. I loved, LOVED the movie version, There Will Be Blood. It’s so dark and HONEST about the nature of human greed. I want to read Upton Sinclair’s version, and this would be the first book I’d pick up. Hey, I’m stuck on and island! Great! I’ve got time to read this now!
Book: Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey Through the Hell of Divorce by Stacy Morrison
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, March 23 2010
Got it from: The library.
Why I read it: Believe it or not, I checked this out from the library completely by accident. But that’s as may be.
The verdict: 4 cups of tea.
While from the start it was apparent that Falling Apart in One Piece is A Good Book, I had a hard time relating to Stacy in the beginning – for one, I am not an optimist. I identified with Chris, Stacy’s ex husband: he was restless in his marriage, felt trapped, and Just Wanted Out so he could have room to breathe. In the only serious relationship I’ve had, I felt the exact same way. It was as if the roles were reversed: Stacy as my ex (only with a lot less optimism on his part), and Chris as me. But at the same time, Stacy is so open about everything she was thinking (i.e. compiling a list of Reasons Why He Left Me – a list whose number reaches into the hundreds), feeling, and saying. If she couldn’t recall specific dialogue used, she says so, instead of taking guesses and embellishing.
Being a woman myself, I eventually found it hard NOT to relate to Stacy in some way. Her need for control in any situation? Been there. Over analyzing What Went Wrong? Of course; what woman hasn’t? Feeling weak when having to ask for help? Oh, yeah.
Stacy does not hold anything back from the reader, and it is this openness that makes you root for her. You want things to turn around for her. Generally, when I read memoirs or stories about others’ misfortune, I do so with a detached, critical eye. All right, I won’t mince words here – I don’t care about the character. The author has to prove to me that I should, and I don’t sway easily. Stacy made her case using the tone of the book – I got the sense that she’s doing this for herself, and for other women going through the painful process of divorce. She’s not just trying to make the NYT Bestseller list and get more moolah. She doesn’t expect anything of the reader – instead, I think she hopes the reader will take something from her memoir, in that odd way only a true optimist could.
“You can handle more than you think, I told myself. You can handle more than you think by not thinking about things all the time, by not thinking about things all at once, by not being all-or-nothing…” (p87)
Morrison is so honest and real. Even though I couldn’t directly identify with everything she went through (as I’ve never been married, divorced, or have kids), she manages to leave a fragment of herself that speaks to each reader, and that reader alone. The above phrase was mine, as it’s something I need to learn on my own as Stacy did.
Stacy’s thoughts are well-organized, the best I’ve seen in a memoir. She doesn’t let the emotional turmoil of past events dictate the telling of her story – in other words, Falling Apart in One Piece is not a mash-up of jumbled half-thoughts. Considering the book’s touchy subject of divorce, this was a legitimate concern of mine that was put to rest quickly.
However, a memoir needs a little helping of mess. Stacy has analyzed and organized the mess right out of Falling. The emotional mess is important because it’s a part of being human – no one thinks in such an organized, conscientious manner. I know I certainly don’t! I struggled with this for quite a while, because Falling Apart in One Piece is so open and raw, and the organization helps the reader make sense of what Stacy’s trying to convey.
On the other hand, it also made the book read mechanical and robotic, despite my knowing that Falling Apart in One Piece isn’t either of those things – Stacy’s too honest.
I think my issue is that I’m just not used to seeing such organization in a memoir. It’s not a bad thing, and I should give Falling Apart in One Piece 5 stars for it. I can’t, though. Sorry, Stacy; I need a little mess in my memoirs. Save the analysis for a psychology publication.
I’m going to try to compile one list each Tuesday, as I was inspired by what we’re doing over in The Broke and the Bookish blog.
This Tuesday’s list is Provocative Covers for Provocative Reads, in which the cover is what attracts you, but the book itself keeps you enticed. The images may be a tad big, but this week’s list is partly about the book covers, after all. Enjoy!
Ice Land, by Betsy Tobin.
I’ll be honest. When I bought this one, it was purely because of the cover. The swirl of the dress, the realistic scenery – and, of course, the title. Who doesn’t want to read about Iceland? The book itself is great, too – I can’t resist Norse mythology, especially when it’s Freya-centric.
Kushiel’s Chosen, by Jacqueline Carey.
There is a well-proportioned, presumably attractive woman on the cover, who is wearing a sexy red dress with a dangerously low back, and an unique tattoo (“marque”, as it’s called in the series) in bold black spanning the length of her spine. This just screams, “There’s a story here. Read me to find out what.” So I did, and it’s one of the most worthwhile reads in my life. There’s quite a cult following behind the Kushiel’s Legacy series, and you would not BELIEVE the amount of people who have actually gone out and gotten this same tattoo on their backs. The author, Carey, has a whole page on her website devoted to images people have sent in of this tattoo.
Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld
First off, the cover is shiny. You can’t quite see it in the picture, but in person, it glints I am greatly attracted to shiny things. Secondly, it looks badass with the machinery making intricate patterns. Combine this with the ominous title of Leviathan and you’re sold – or rather, the book is sold. This was my first introduction to the Steampunk genre, and, while I’m still not entirely sure what that means, I know I’ll be looking for more.
Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, by Vicki Myron.
Look at it. Just LOOK at it. If you have any appreciation for cats whatsoever, you most likely want to gently nuzzle your computer screen with your nose, trying to get as close as possible to the adorableness. When reading it, I let out so many “awwws” I sounded like I was watching a Julia Roberts romance movie; Dewey is much better than Julia Robers.
Orcs, by Stan Nicholls.
It’s straightforward. It doesn’t leave any doubt as to what this book is about. You want orcs? You’re getting them – or rather, they’re getting you. After I finished I had a new-found respect for these creatures, since they’re painted in such a negative light in The Lord of the Rings. In any case, I’d definitely want an orc on my side in a bar fight.
Suicide and Attempted Suicide: Methods and Consequences, by Geo Stone.
I will begin by saying that I read this book purely out of curiosity, and not because I’m contemplating committing the act. I could probably write an entire article based on the potential controversy this book could induce, but I’m including it here, because the cover is a lovely brand of funny called “dark humor”. A hangman? Really? Oh yes. They WENT there. Naturally, this appealed to my cynical, snarky sense of humor.
Not Yet Drown’d, by Peg Kingman
It’s not your typical “SOS” drowning image. It almost looks as though the woman on the cover is “drowning” willingly; it’s graceful and easy. A lot of artistic thought was put into the cover. This is another one I bought for the cover, and was impressed by the story as well. It’s not every day you read a story that connects Scotland to India.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Volume 1: The Millennium Puzzle, by Kazuki Takahashi
Yes, it’s manga. Once you get past that, take a look at the character on the front. If you’re asking yourself, “Is that his hair?” then you know why I included it here. If you’re wondering, “Is it provocative?” Provocative enough that it spawned an international trading card game that’s still played today, not to mention two spin-off series. “Is it the hair?” Quite possibly.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
At first glance, this one doesn’t impress. The cover is plain and minimalistic, until you notice the upside-down poodle. You stare. Your head makes the connection between the title and the cover. Next thing you know, you’re out the door, a few dollars short and the book in hand. The story is as strange as its cover, just as minimalistic and… well, curious.
There’s one more I would have loved to include in this list, but unfortunately I only just bought it from the library and haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Meet Hidden, by Paul Jaskunas:
Doesn’t it entice you? It did me. I was even more intrigued upon discovering that it’s written in a woman’s point-of-view, though the author is male – and to make things more interesting, the female protagonist is searching for the man who assaulted her. From a male author? That’s quite an undertaking! I’m anxious to see what Jaskunas did with it.
Book: Have a Little Faith: the Story of a Last Request by Mitch Albom
Publisher: Hyperion, September 2009
Got It From: The library.
Why I Read it: Curiosity, for one; spontaneity for another. It was available in the library so I snagged it.
The Rating: 4 cups of tea. I explain why in my review.
“…At some point, life is over. And then what happens? When life comes to an end?”
“You see?” He leaned back. He smiled.
“When you come to the end, that’s where God begins.” (p79)
Have a Little Faith is a short book. It’s a quick read, an easy read, with a simple enough synopsis: Mitch Albom is given an odd request from his childhood Rabbi (also called the Reb), to read his eulogy when he dies. At around the same time, Mitch meets Henry Covington, a drug dealer-turned-pastor who leads a congregation consisting of the homeless – in a church with a hole in the roof, no less. Simple enough, but Have a Little Faith is also jam-packed with powerful and moving truths, both controversial and mundane. There are so many different themes; it could leave the reader’s head spinning. But they are presented in a way that is easily accessible to readers of all or no faiths, of every age and race. More so, these simple little truths are so entirely simple, so effortlessly easy to accept, they can’t be anything else but The Truth, tiny and large and little and big.
I’m not entirely sure why Have a Little Faith didn’t elicit a 5-cup rating from me. It’s a potent read, surely, but not necessarily a life-altering one. It reaffirmed my own beliefs rather than instilled new ones, but these thoughts, actions, and words were presented in such a way that the reader can’t help but sit back, close the book, and murmur a quiet “Wow,” before continuing.
While I wasn’t moved to tears, I found myself smiling at the ease with which Have a Little Faith grew roots in me. The truths, though not always joyful in nature, left me feeling calm, my mind quieted by their sheer simplicity. I took refuge in Have a Little Faith, which encourages the reader to do so with open arms. I felt renewed, in my faiths and in myself. It’s hard not to, with passages such as these:
[Reb:] “Even in our own faith, we have questions and answers,interpretations, debates. In Christianity, in Catholicism, in other faiths, the same thing – debates, interpretations. That is the beauty. It’s like being a musician. If you found the note, and you kept hitting that note all the time, you would go nuts. It’s the blending of the different notes that makes the music.”
[Albom:] The music of what?
[Reb:] “Of believing in something bigger than yourself.” (p160)
It hit a little close to home with the title alone: Have a Little Faith. Faith. For reasons somewhat inexplicable, I have always shied from using the word “faith”, whether in reference to my spiritual beliefs or in reference to my faith in people, humanity, fate, what have you. If I called upon “faith”, I no longer had any control or say in the matter. Have a Little Faith encourages the reader to do just that, without actually outright demanding it of the reader:
[Albom:] “…I believe, as the Reb once told me, that, with a little faith, people can fix things, and they truly can change, because at that moment, you could not believe otherwise.” (p244)
Throughout the whole of Have a Little Faith, Albom never once uses quotation marks for his own speech. I felt that this heightened the importance, the significance, of what others had to say; this book was written about them, after all. I was impressed by this quiet distinction.
Have a Little Faith maintains its simple, easy attitude throughout, much like the Reb Albert Lewis, who was a constant presence throughout the whole of the story. The book oozes with his calm, smiling presence. I could easily picture him in my head, could hold debates and conversations with him, could sing with him as he so often did. Like I said earlier: this book is potent, but it’s not a poison or a drug. It’s something bigger, smaller, harder, better: truth that resonates with everyone who reads it.
So why on earth didn’t I give it 5 cups of tea? I felt like something was wrong with me, as this book is clearly capable of eliciting 5 cups from various readers. I feel, somehow, that the Reb would be okay with 4 cups. This is the kind of presence the Reb has: one that touches the soul and stays with you, singing in your head. This man was a delight to read about: the kind of man who puts a basket on the front of his walker with a red maraca gourd inside, because “I have found that if the walker looks like a shopping cart, the congregation is more comfortable.” (p157).
This man, who romanced his wife in such a direct manner:
[Reb:] “Are you seeing anyone romantically?” he inquired.
[Sarah:] “No, I’m not,” she replied.
[Reb:] “Good. Please keep it that way. Because I intend to ask you to marry me.” (p141).
Such a unique man, whose view on the nature of true love was inspired by the musical Fiddler on the Roof, and the relationship between Tevye and Golde. (p143) This made me giddy, as I adore all things Fiddler.
Poor Henry Covington didn’t hold a candle to the Rabbi. While his story was interesting, his overall person didn’t resonate with me the way the Reb’s did: from beyond the grave and through these pages, I felt him so intensely in a way I’d never experienced from any other book, fictitious or no. I think this, then, may be the reason I couldn’t give Have a Little Faith 5 cups: I didn’t feel this connection with Henry. With the Reb having such a strong, clear personality, I expected Henry and his story to ring out the same way, and it just didn’t for me, moving and touching though it was. Sorry, Henry. The Reb’s more awesome than you.
He’d be alright with 4 cups of tea. I’m sure of it.
This will, at some point, be a book (and occasionally movies) review blog type thing. It’ll take a while for me to figure out this new-fangled technological concept calling Blogging, so be patient, please. I should have it up and running in a week. :) It’ll be worth the wait, I promise.