Tag Archives: books

50 thoughts on turning 50: #32 Nothing but the truth (but whose truth?)

I often read Young Adult books, because I like to see how authors are dealing with difficult topics in a way that young people can understand them.

In this election cycle, I’m reminded of the YA novel “Nothing But The Truth”, by Avi. I read it years ago, and have reread it several times, because it’s an excellent portrayal of how what we see on the evening news – or, with the advent of social media, online – is only a snippet of the truth. And how that truth is filtered and distilled down through the eyes of each person involved in the process of telling the story.

Here’s the premise of the “documentary novel”: Phillip Malloy is a ninth grade student. During the morning announcements, the school has a policy that all students must stand and remain silent during the playing of the National Anthem. Phillip, however, happens to be in a homeroom with a teacher who not only tolerates tomfoolery, he joins in it himself. So Phillip talks and does homework while the teacher cracks jokes. But when the school reassigns all students to new homerooms, Phillip finds himself in Mrs. Narwin’s homeroom. She also happens to be Phillip’s English teacher. And Mrs. Narwin takes the rule of silence during the National Anthem very seriously.

Phillip continues to play the class clown and hums along with the National Anthem in his new homeroom. The more Mrs. Narwin asks for silence, the more Phillip acts up, until she sends him to the principal’s office.

What follows next is a domino effect of events: suspension from school, a civil rights lawyer, national news. It’s a game of telephone, with lives and careers at stake.

What’s so brilliant about this book is that it’s told in transcript style, so readers see the actual conversations between teacher and student, parents and child, parents and local politician, politician and local journalist. There are letters from the teacher to her sister, newspaper clippings, memos from the school board to the teachers in the district. It allows the reader to see the motives behind all of the participants: a dedicated teacher who loves her students and doesn’t want this one punished (she just wants him to stop humming during the National Anthem); a student who knows he’s being a smart ass but doesn’t want to get in trouble at home (because there are bigger issues going on here, including parents expectations at odds with a child’s wants and needs); parents and politicians with their own agendas (and not always with the child’s best interests at heart); a school board on the eve of a budget vote (and dollars often take precedence over people); a journalist with her own goals (and an inability to get the facts right); a conservative talk show host charged with stirring up controversy (and ratings).

The reader gets to see how a complex situation gets boiled down to a headline or sound bite, until a teacher is ruined, parents are vindicated, a politician is elected, and a student is left to navigate the turmoil it all leaves behind.

It’s fiction…or is it? The book was published in 1991, but the premise – the way the story is manipulated, the way the public reacts to a news story without knowing any of the real story – happens every hour of every day. And with social media, every second of every minute of every hour.

This short fiction book – you can read it in a few hours – will remind you that behind every headline is a whole story, and behind every story are real people, with real lives, and that what we pass around as truth is really nothing more than rumor.

Go read it. Now. Before you spout off on social media or forward a story you haven’t actually verified or make a judgement based on a three minute news story that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story…and ruin relationships and friendships in the process. It’s an important lesson to learn in this emotionally charged election year.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

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A belief in a God bigger than any book or religion

god in my head grisetti

Josh Grisetti has a lot to say about God in his new book, “God In My Head.” Or, to be more clear, what God said to him.

The two met while Grisetti was at the dentist and doped up on nitrous oxide and a dangerous combination of drugs he had lying around the house and took before the appointment in an attempt to ward off pain. The trip, or hallucination as he sometimes refers to it, spanned two hundred years and during it God answered Grisetti’s spiritual questions and showed him the mysteries of the Universe.

In reality, Grisetti was out for about forty five minutes, and didn’t actually leave the room. But did he meet God?

Sure. He met God. As much as any of us can meet God and live to tell about it.

I’ll confess that I skimmed parts of Grisetti’s book more than I actually read them, at least the parts about what God said to him. That’s partly because I was reading before bed and tired, but also because those sections interested me far less than his accounts of going to the dentist. Grisetti’s best writing was telling his memoirs; God was a less compelling storyteller. I found what God said to him sometimes really interesting, sometimes boring, sometimes as I’d expected God to speak, and occasionally so far out in left field that I didn’t have the brain power to sort it out.

Like the notion that God created humans and then came to earth so he could understand humans. I don’t get why an omnipotent God wouldn’t intimately know that which he created. At the same time, the death of human God exploding into God particles that exist in us all? Yeah, that actually makes a lot of sense.

Maybe the main reason that this book didn’t change my life is that I didn’t need it to. Grisetti and I have had the same sort of spiritual awakening, only mine didn’t include laughing gas and marijuana.

Some years ago, a writer, who identified himself as a former evangelical, was interviewing me for a book he was writing about his former faith. He asked me this question: “Do you believe that everything in the Bible is true?” I initially answered that yes, of course I did. Then I hesitated, and said I’d need to think about it some more.

To be honest, no one had ever asked me that question before, or I’d at least never pondered it for myself. I’ve been taught most of my life that the Bible is true. To question it was to flip a figurative bird to the Almighty, a sin from which you don’t return.

But now I needed to answer the question. Do I believe the Bible is true? And if I don’t, does it change my faith?

So I pondered that question for years and came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter. If my faith is in God, then the book can be holy or it can be just a bunch of nice stories. God would still be God. But if my faith rested on whether or not I thought the Bible was all true, then my faith was in the book, not God.

And if my faith was rooted only in the God portrayed in the Bible, then I put God in a box that didn’t allow for him to be anything except what’s written on those pages, even if he existed in other faiths or spiritual paths. And if that was the case, God was not as big as eternity. He was only as big as the book that told his story.

That is not thinking that jibes with church. Or religion. But I think it lines up pretty well with God, the Creator.

And it lines up with science, too, because let’s face it. With all of our scholars and scientists and space travel, we only know a fraction of a fraction of what’s out there in the Universe. The human brain is a mystery; how can we be so arrogant as to assume we know what’s beyond the reach of our telescopes? Or through a black hole? Or what exists in other dimensions in space and time?

Contrary to what you might think, my pondering led me away from organized religion but towards a deeper faith in God, a more solid belief in the supernatural nature of the Creator of the Universe, a greater peace, and a more loving attitude towards man and beast. It awakened awe and wonder and the realization that I am but a small piece of a grand, grand puzzle stretching out in every direction for eternity, a puzzle filled with pieces of different shape and sizes and whose very existence I can’t even begin to comprehend.

At one point Grisetti recounts a story of going on a work study trip to Rome and bringing home a gift for his grandparents: a decorative rosary carved from stone. As a non-Catholic, he didn’t know what the rosary actually was for, other than being something you held when you prayed. And he still doesn’t know, despite the fact that a simple Google search would tell him. Instead, he says, “[T]here’s something about the mystique of it that I like. Not knowing somehow makes it more sacred, more magical.”

I think that’s how I like my faith, too. If I knew everything there was to know about God, if he could be packaged between the pages of a book or in a song or a workbook study, then he wouldn’t be God. But not knowing, having questions, pondering mysteries? To me, God is bigger and more complex and more wondrous than any book can describe. And I think that’s the same thing Grisetti came away from his encounter with, too. Whether he actually met God or not, he walked away from the experience with a bigger faith in a bigger God than even he, who saw him face to face, can imagine.

Click here to read what other Patheos bloggers are saying about “God In My Head,” by Joshua Steven Grisetti, as well as read a Q&A with the author and an excerpt from the book.

“What The Dog Said (And Other Adventures in Everyday Life)” on sale in April

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In honor of the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop that I just attended, and which I still have to write about, my publisher, WordCrafts Press, has graciously dropped the price for “What The Dog Said” for the month of April!

Yay!! You can get the ebook for just 99¢ at any ebook retailer – what a bargain! And you can take 40% off the paperback price by visiting http://wordcrafts.net/what-the-dog-said/ and entering promo code ERMA16 at checkout. (The links are at the bottom of the page – just click “trade paperback” and it’ll take you to the purchase page where you can enter the promo code. Same with the ebook; click “ebook-$5.99” and . it’ll automatically change the price to 99¢.)

It’s not Erma, but there’s still a little slice of life, love, and humor on every page.

What I Read in 2015

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With just a couple of weeks left in 2015, I thought I’d compile my annual list of “books I read”.

I keep the list every year, but I don’t always share it. Lately, though, I’ve found myself recommending a lot of books or just discussing what I’ve read, even if it I didn’t love it. So I thought it worthwhile to share my list with you.

The books are listed in the order that I finished them (vs any kind of ranking order), along with some general thoughts. Don’t be misled by the “finished reading” dates. I’m often reading several books at one time, so it’s not unusual to finish a couple of books within days of each other – although I have definitely been known to stay up for a few days straight reading (“Dead Wake”) or read a book in one day (“Nothing But The Truth”). Also understand that inclusion on the list isn’t necessarily an endorsement; a book is on the list simply because I read it in 2015.

Continue reading

A musing on the To Kill A Mockingbird read-a-thon

BN To Kill A Mockingbird Readathon roster

Pittsford, NY Barnes & Noble roster for the “To Kill A Mockingbird” read-a-thon.

This will be a quick post, informal and to the point. I hope. Often I have great ideas and because I want to be profound I put off writing and then lose the idea and never write it down.

And I don’t want to do this with what’s running through my mind.

So if it feels like maybe I’m rambling or am not making my point, or if you see typos or mistakes or places where maybe you think I haven’t thought through an idea, keep in mind that I’ve got just a few minutes between places I need to be this afternoon, and I’m writing this in between where I just was and where I’m going.

I got to take part today in Barnes & Nobles “To Kill A Mockingbird” Read-a-thon, to celebrate the release tomorrow of Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman”. The readings started at 9 am this morning and end at 9 pm tonight, with guest readers taking half hour time slots to read the entire book from cover to cover. It’s a nationwide event, and I was at the Pittsford Barnes & Noble.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” is one of my favorite movies, not only because it’s so brilliantly done, but because it so brilliantly follows Lee’s book. (It’s pure joy when a movie does justice to a book, isn’t it? And it so rarely happens.) We could talk all day about characters and setting and story, but for now it’s enough to say that when I got to B&N,  I got sit and listen to chapters 17, 18 and 19, read by Judy Shomper, chair of the theater department at Brighton High School and Beth Adams, morning show host on WXXI.

BN To Kill A Mockingbird Readathon Judy Shomper

Judy Shomper, chair of the theater department at Brighton High School, reading from “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

As I came into the store, I could hear the sound of the reader echoing throughout the entire store, although I wasn’t actually listening to the words. But after I’d checked in, said hello to Beth and chatted for a minute, I settled in to listen to Judy Shomper and then Beth Adams read from the famous courtroom scene. You know what I’m talking about: Atticus is questioning Mayella Ewell about her beating and the accusation that it was at the hands of Tom Robinson, a Negro.

The word “nigger” is used throughout the text. Continue reading

“The Hand On The Mirror”: Can our loved ones speak to us from beyond the grave?

hand on the mirrorI was having a chat with my mom recently about making a will and telling us any plans for what she wants us to do with her … after she … you know … moves on to the next adventure.

“Do you want to be buried in Massachusetts?” I asked, because that’s where she’s from and I wondered if she’d like to be back with her family.

“I don’t care,” was her reply.

“Do you even want to be buried?” I asked. “Would you rather be cremated?”

“I don’t care what you do with me.”

“OK,” I said with a laugh,”I’m going to have you cremated and then we’ll sprinkle your ashes on top of Mt. Greylock.” That’s near her childhood home in the Berkshires.

She laughed. “That sounds fine. I don’t care.”

I gave her an evil little giggle. “OK, then, since you don’t care, I’ll carry your ashes around with me all the time. Mwahahah! You’ll be with me twenty four hours a day! You’ll never escape me! How’s that sound?” I assume not so great, since my mom can be finicky about spending time with me. The last time I asked if she felt like doing something she said, “Nah, I’m going away with you next week. That’s enough time together.”

By now we were both laughing. “Do whatever you want,” she said. “I won’t be around so I won’t know anyway.”

That conversation was on my mind as I read Janis Heaphy Durham’s “The Hand On The Mirror: A True.s Story of Life Beyond Death.” Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #23 Confessions of a non-recovering introvert

This post originally appeared in 2013 on my Heavenly Creatures blog at Patheos.com. I generally write about animals and faith and God on that blog, but when offered the opportunity to read and write about this book for a Patheos roundtable, I jumped at the chance. Turns out it wasn’t only a good read; it profoundly changed the way I view myself, making it a must to include in my “5o thoughts on turning 50”.

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Quiet-book-imageI’m an introvert. When I said it to friends a few times over the last couple of weeks, I’ve gotten responses like, “You? You’re so talkative” or “I remember you as so outgoing” but almost always, “You’re not an introvert.”

Really? How would you know?

You probably base your idea of who I am on what you see on the outside, without knowing what’s going on inside of me most of the time. Sure, I can put together a party and play the happy hostess. But inside, I’m usually freaking out, because I have a difficult time talking to lots of people at once. You see me as talkative because I try to go out into social situations only when I’ve built up enough social energy to carry on a conversation; you don’t see me in my alone times, just me and the dogs, walking in the cemetery and recharging my batteries.

I can talk at length, and even in front of a crowd, about a topic dear to my heart. But it’s impossible for me to speak when I don’t believe what I’m saying. Want to talk about human trafficking or positive dog training methods? I’m all about it. Which girl should get a rose on “The Bachelor”? I’m out – or rather, I end up musing about why women would value themselves so little that they’d compete for some guy on a game show and throw their emotions around so trivially; usually everyone else wants to talk about which girl is the biggest bitch.

I’m always asking questions to strangers, like “why do you believe that” and “how did that make you feel”, surrounding myself with gads of acquaintances but few real friends, avoiding conflict and loud noises (and people who wear copious amounts of perfume or cologne), always aware that there is a social line that, once crossed, can throw me into panic or drain me to the point of physical exhaustion.

I get it. I sound cuckoo. In fact, for years (and years) I thought there was something wrong with me. Let’s face it. In our culture, we revere the outgoing, bold, confident risk takers, those who set goals and go after them with wild abandon. Those of us who spend a lot of time thinking and wondering but not always doing are viewed as weak.

That’s why I was so relieved to read Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” The book could have been subtitled “Joanne: An Owner’s Manual.”

For the first time, someone has taken the side of the introvert and shown how important they (we) are in an American culture, dispelling the myth that all introverts are recluses who avoid human interaction or that extrovertism is the ideal. And she uses neuroscience and research to back it all up.

Newsflash: there’s nothing wrong with me. Continue reading