Archive for May, 2013

May 30, 2013

The Next 37: An Annotated Bibliography

So I’ve been putting this off because I’m reading David Copperfield and it’s taking me SO LONG, but I wanted to be able to put it on this list. But I can’t. So here it is, as it stands today.

  1. A Pocket Full of Rye (Agatha Christie) – This one is quite clever.
  2. Into the Wild (Warriors Book 1) (Erin Hunter) – I read this because it has been such a successful series in children’s literature of late. I did not expect fighting clans of wild warrior cats would be interesting, but in the hands of Erin Hunter, they are.
  3. Flood Summer (Trenton Lee Stewart) – Boy, if anyone ever started out in the wrong genre, it’s Trenton Lee Stewart. His children’s books (you may have heard of them – The Mysterious Benedict Society series) are brilliant, delightful, and timeless. Flood Summer, on the other hand, nearly killed me. It’s not that it’s a bad story, or that it’s badly written, or that the characters are flat – I think if it had been by someone I’d never heard of, I would have been more pleased. But knowing what Stewart can do gave me high hopes. Alas.
  4. Snow White Must Die (Nele Neuhaus) – Classic small town mystery story. Or is it?
  5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky) – I think I was distracted by all the drugs.
  6. The Casual Vacancy (J.K. Rowling) – Fine, if a bit rambly. Lacked the universality of Harry Potter, and every single one of the characters was pitiable for a good chunk of the story.
  7. The Serial Killers Club (Jeff Povey) – It was fine. I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before (at least to my knowledge), although Dexter kind of fills this niche a little.
  8. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (John le Carre) – Very good. Why haven’t I been read le Carre before?
  9. Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective (Agatha Christie) – I’m a huge Christie fan, but if Parker Pyne is a detective, I’m the keynote speaker at the American Glassblowers Association summit in Nome, Alaska next summer.
  10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (JK Rowling) – It’s at this point in the story that I realize I cannot possibly pick a favorite book, let alone character.
  11. The Hangman’s Daughter (Oliver Potzsch) – Fine. I liked the “young love” romance angle. The size of the story’s tangled web was a little silly.
  12. Good Dog! (Steve Dale) – This little ebook was full of great advice, and as a first-time sighthound owner, I appreciated the nuances of Dale’s approach. “Breeding will out,” as they say – and I think particularly that’s the case with animal breeds.
  13. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (JK Rowling) – Love.
  14. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (JK Rowling) – Also love. This was my first time to read the whole series through since the first time, right around when this 7th book came out. It doesn’t get old.
  15. Firebird (Firebird Trilogy #1) (Kathy Tyers) – Read this for the first time in high school. Not be the best sci-fi out there, but I think it’s pretty good.
  16. Leaving Everything Most Loved (Maisie Dobbs #10) (Jacqueline Winspear) – To my thinking, this is the weakest so far of the Maisie Dobbs series. I feel about Maisie like I do about Stephanie Plum in Janet Evanovich’s bestselling series – MAKE A DECISION YOU ARE KILLING ME HERE. Being in limbo for multiple books on the same decision makes a character begin to feel dull.
  17. Fusion Fire (Firebird Trilogy #1) (Kathy Tyers) – The sequel to Firebird; not as strong as it’s predecessor.
  18.  Galahad: Enough of His Life to Explain His Reputation (John Erskine) – Hilarious, if you’re an Arthurian legend junkie.
  19. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (Erik Larson) – Absolutely fascinating. Talk about a chunk of history I had only the vaguest clue about. I’m sure not everyone would go in for a story about the rise of Chicago, architecture, personal politics, and a serial killer, but, man, I thought it was great. And apparently so have millions of other readers.
  20. The Accusers (Marcus Didius Falco #15) (Lindsey Davis) – Books like this are the payoff for sticking with a series for a long time. Fantastic.
  21. The Gates of Zion (Zion Chronicles #1) (Bodie Thoene) – I read this series, and most of the connected series, in middle and early high school (starting in 5th grade). I was completely obsessed. If you and I went to elementary or middle school together, you might even remember what the covers look like, simply because of me! (Note: No, you are not remembering wrong. The cover didn’t look back then like it does in the edition they are selling now.) Rereading this book made me embarrassed for my 5th grade self. There is so much kissing! And the theology is kind of wack! And the people are bizarre caricatures of actual human beings! And there is so much kissing! And the plot is silly! And there is so much kissing! And the writing is not very good! And there is so much kissing! I decided that I owed it to my 5th grade self to finish the book I had so loved, but then abandoned the series, hopefully forever. (Another note: I am by no means opposed to kissing. But HOLY COW.)
  22. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (Agatha Christie) – After reading The Gates of Zion, I needed my faith in fiction restored. This book helped.
  23. Scandal Takes a Holiday (Marcus Didius Falco #16) (Lindsey Davis) – So did this.
  24. Tuck Everlasting (Natalie Babbitt) – I finally get what the fuss is about with this book. Not my favorite, but not all good books are.
  25. The Singer (Singer Trilogy Book 1) (Calvin Miller) – HOLY COW. I read this in third grade, and apparently (understandably) DID NOT UNDERSTAND ALL THE TRINITARIAN AND CHRISTOLOGICAL HERESIES being voiced here. In the words of El Guapo, “a plethora.” I think that probably, Miller is extremely orthodox, but since he was trying to write an epic poem (which had some more minor theological problems, btw), he got all kinds of “creative” with describing the Trinity and wound up voicing tons of different heresies, one right after another in many cases. Poor guy was trying to 1) explain the ineffable and 2) was using language long-since trashed by the church councils in the, you know, 4th century AD. Good times.
  26. A Lasting Impression (Tamera Alexander) – This was just fun historical fiction, with some mystery, some romance, and some art. I may be a terrible painter/sketcher/sculptor, but I sure do love art, and reading about art and artists. Oh, and it’s set in Nashville, in a real house, and stays true to the real character of its mistress at the time.
  27. Touch & Go (Lisa Gardner) – Typical of the DD Warren books, this one barely featured the series’s eponymous character and was quite engaging. I like this series so much better than the FBI Profiler series she did before.
  28. Bossypants (Tina Fey) – Good. Worth the read.
  29. Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Kate Atkinson) – I think somewhere along the way I got in my head that Kate Atkinson and Kate Morton are sort of similar. This is NOT the case. At all. I think I will stop reading Kate Atkinson. I just am not that into her style. If you liked The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, it might be your sort of thing.
  30. Far in the Wilds (Deanna Raybourn) – This novella served as backstory for her then-soon-to-be-released new novel, A Spear of Summer Grass. It did a decent job of that, and I appreciated that backstory when I read the actual book (see below).
  31. A Spear of Summer Grass (Deanna Raybourn) – Let me go out of my way to say how much I like Deanna Raybourn as a person and an author; in fact, it’s safe to say she is my favorite living novelist. BUT. This book. I did not like it. It was interesting – Raybourn always does copious amounts of research, and doesn’t let her characters do anything unless she has proof it was done by someone, at least, in that time period. I learned some very interesting things about English imperialism and the colonization of Africa. BUT. When a book revels in debauchery, I have a hard time liking it. And I felt like this book reveled. And the redeeming qualities in the main characters, while valuable and important traits, were just insufficient to make up for the hot mess that was sprawling throughout the book. (And by “hot,” I mean both sexy – as in sex-related – and very warm. After all, it is Africa.) Bring back Lady Julia. (Raybourn is, never fear.)
  32. Murder Is Binding (Lorna Barrett) – This book is Exhibit B of the “cozy mystery” genre. (Exhibit A would have to be either a Father Brown story or a Miss Marple, no question.) In my opinion, it was a little too cozy and cute.
  33. The Mind of the Maker (Dorothy Sayers) – If I didn’t already adore Dorothy Sayers for Lord Peter Wimsey, or for Are Women Human?, or for “The Lost Tools of Learning,” this book would have demanded my adoration of her. This was so good. In contrast to The Singer (#22 on this list), Sayers writes a long, complicated, extended metaphor of the Trinity, and specifically for the type of reader most likely to understand it best – artists. And I think that it’s the best metaphor for explaining the Trinity I’ve ever heard of, except maybe a triangle (which is nice and simple because everybody can grasp the concept of a triangle). I know that the intention of this book is not to teach people to write – or create any type of art – but it sort of does help with that, particularly if you are interested in “theology of ____” type things (in this case, creative work). Also, Madeleine L’Engle’s introduction is delightful.
  34. Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking #3) (Patrick Ness) – Ness shines here, closing out his trilogy with a really well-thought-out plot, and world, really. I was pleased, especially as book 2 (The Ask and the Answer) had not lived up to the promise of book 1 (The Knife of Never Letting Go). This is in the same genre as The Hunger Games, but I think is thought-provoking in a more personal way. The Hunger Games makes you think about society and government; this trilogy makes you think about yourself as a person, and how we as individuals try to hide from each other. Some of that is, I think, ok – privacy is not a bad thing per se – but there is much in our application of it that looks more like Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden when God comes for their daily walk, dressing up in fig leaves and feeling so alienated and alone.
  35. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Stephen King) – I loved it. Loved it loved it. Marked it up like crazy. And have begun writing daily (except for Sundays).
  36. Carrie (Stephen King) – He talked about it so much in On Writing that I had to read it to figure out what he was talking about. Side note: It turns out that I don’t like horror. Shocking, I know. (But I was shocked that books like Relic and Reliquary by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are classed as “horror,” and I enjoy those and would never classify them as such. If monsters make the genre, I guess they are, and I guess I like some horror, but I think that’s silly.)
  37. Interrupted (Jen Hatmaker) – What if American evangelical Christians are missing out on a huge part of the kingdom Jesus came to establish, namely, caring for the poor? Hatmaker describes how she and her family were changed by exploring the answer to this question. I think it shook me out of some lazy-weird thinking.
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May 25, 2013

There will never be enough knowledge to fill the cracks of Christian maturity without the fruit of selfless service in our lives.

Brandon Hatmaker, in Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted

May 23, 2013

Adventures in Yoga, Part One

My physical therapist has been not so subtly encouraging me to start going to yoga classes. I already have a number of stretches that I do for PT every other day, but she thinks that yoga will be a helpful addition.

On Monday, I had my first-ever appointment with a physiatrist (we could call her Doctor #9, but I think that since I’m doing so much better, we can dispense with the numbering of doctors, so I’m calling her The Physiatrist). In case you didn’t know (I didn’t), a physiatrist is basically an MD of physical therapy. Her job is to assess where a patient is physically in their problem area(s), and then help the physical therapist determine how to help the patient make progress.

After assessing my situation, The Physiatrist was like, “Yoga. You should do it. Only the slow, stretchy kind – no hot yoga or anything crazy. Cardio is good too. NO PILATES. NO SIT-UPS.” Whoops. I’ve been working on sit-ups for the last week. My bad.

I have a yoga workout DVD. It’s the fast kind. I haven’t done it since seminary, but I do have it rumbling around in the recesses of my mind somewhere. So between that and random moments in Go On (which I just found out has been cancelled; sad, because I thought Matthew Perry really had something there, but ANYWAY…), I thought I knew what to expect from a beginner’s class at the local Y.

Unfortunately for me, no one told the instructor that her class is on the “Classes for Beginning Exercisers” list. Holy smokes, people. This wasn’t mostly slow, lengthening stretches – it was… I don’t know what it was. Insane. It was insane. I’m not going to be able to walk tomorrow. It was like the first day of volleyball practice after a summer of reading lots of books.

But let me tell you the whole story, if you have the time.

Vaguely remembering that some classes are jam-packed and first come, first served, I showed up about 20 minutes early, found the classroom, and parked myself along the wall to wait for other people to show up and tell me what to do. In walks a very spry, fit older woman with a yoga mat. I assume she is a fellow eager classmate, and say, “I’ve never been to this class. Tell me what it’s like.”

As she answers, it gradually dawns on me that she’s the teacher. So I explain to her that I’m coming out of a long illness, that I haven’t done much in a long time, and that I’m there on the recommendation of my physical therapist.

I probably should have listened to the little voice in my head that warned me when she said, “You might want to come to the Easy Yoga class tomorrow at 10:30; I’ll be subbing. That will be basic poses. Tonight, what you’ll be doing will be a little more advanced. [Ha!] I just want to have fun, and for you all to have fun. Just do what you can.” (Note: I knew that class she said would be “Easy Yoga” was also on the “Classes for Beginning Exercisers” list as “Yoga.” So maybe the advertising wasn’t exactly accurate, and maybe I should have added 2 and 2 and come up with 4, but we all know how good I am at math…)

Because I am not scared of looking like a complete moron most of the time, when the room started to fill up, I was willing to move myself and my brand-new yoga mat to the front when no one else seemed to want to join the three brave souls already up there. Probably that was the worst thing I could have done for class morale – who wants one of the “courageous” people up front to wimp out? And I did, believe me.

So we started with the yoga form of John Jacobson’s “Burst” move (around 0:41; not as popular as his “Double Dream Hands,” but apparently more work-out friendly) and a bit of deep breathing, and I’m thinking, “You know what, this isn’t so bad.”

Fast-forward through about 5,000 years, most of which is a blur with black outs throughout because, as I do when I work out for the first time in a while, I kept periodically losing my vision. I kept up okay, but when I couldn’t see for about 10 seconds straight, I gave up and sat for a while.

[At this point in the story, I would like to note that when I got home and showed my sister, who is in way better shape than I am, one of the harder series of moves we did that I was able to do – though not as many times through as everyone else – she said that that was crazy-hard. Thus, I feel a little bit justified about my inability to walk like a normal human being afterwards.]

The teacher, who I should mention is 71 and has a 7-month-old new hip, kept saying things throughout the class like, “Do what your body will let you do” and “Feel free to go get a drink of water if you need to, at any time,” so after I start to be able to see clearly again, I weave through the yoga mats between me and the door, wobbling on jelly legs, and wandered out to the water fountain.

One downside of the classroom we were in (it’s not the class’s normal room) is the lack of a clock, but fortunately there is one in the hallway. Apparently, 5,000 years in Lauren-time is approximately 25 minutes. It’s clear that at least some folks in the class were having their expectations blown out of the water like I had. If I just leave, I could probably singlehandedly tank class morale completely. So I decide to do my best to at least fake keeping up, or just sit there, for the next 30 minutes. And try not to die.

The good news is, I am waaaaaay more flexible than I ever have been before, so I can do impressive things like a low squat for 2 minutes or more. So when everybody else is trying to balance all their weight on the balls of their feet foot while their legs are curled up under them doing some weird bendy thing I can’t imagine being able to understand, I’m squatting. The teacher is all, “Lauren, that’s amazing. I can’t do that.” So I say, “Well, I can’t do what you’re doing.” Even though I’m doing something almost as relaxing as laying down, but I kind of look like I’m at least around the same height as everyone else, and like I’m doing something hard.

Not often I can say that.

The part about the height, I mean.


Anyway, the 71-year-old marvel likes to introduce some pilates to the end of her classes. I just flat out skip that part, or try really easy variations of it that won’t make The Physiatrist mad. Seriously, I knew it was a huge step to even be there, doing downward facing dog and the child’s pose; all the extra stuff was like getting donuts on your birthday in addition to presents. And I was trying to be a good sport, even though I didn’t like the donuts. [I feel that I should point out here that I do not, in fact, dislike all donuts. Maybe the metaphorical donuts were all glazed. I don’t really like glazed.]

At the very end, we do more stretchy stuff and then some nice breathing exercises, which I am comfortable doing. Once everyone starts to get up and move around, I strike up a conversation with the woman on my left, who had muttered, “I didn’t sign up for pilates” at one point. She’s clearly not new at this, so I ask her which classes to try. Apparently, there is a yoga instructor at our Y who is known for his beginner, easy classes, and one of them is on Fridays. She thinks this guy is great; I think his classes sound like exactly what I am supposed to be trying.

If I can drive by Friday, I will be trying that out. In the meantime, I will be drinking lots of water and taking Advil.

May 19, 2013

Things Get Better

Three-ish weeks ago one of my doctors decided to start me on a medicine often prescribed for mysterious pelvic pain. Guess what. It worked overnight.

I cannot tell you what a massive turn my life has taken. I am pain-free most of the time. I can drive. I can take my dog on walks. I can carry heavy things. I can make plans and actually expect to show up for them.

And y’all, I can think. My brain is back.

I can pinpoint the exact moment that I knew my brain had come back online. It was about a week and a half after I started the new medicine. I was playing SpellTower on my phone, and I managed  to get a score over 9000. And then another one. And then another one. Pretty soon, I had beaten my previous (pre-illness) top score, somewhere north of 14000.  (You are probably thinking that this is a really boring story. But I promise you, it felt like magic and Christmas and snow on Christmas in Texas.)

In addition to all that, we determined that I am not sensitive to gluten after all.

I’m just gonna let that sink in a minute.

(For the record, it took three days for it to sink in for me.)

Apparently, the massive allergy test I did is not conclusive, and needed to be verified by, you know, trying foods out. I scored the worst level of sensitivity for gluten, so I was certain I would be somehow be reactive. (I’m not. At all.) However, until the pain went away three weeks ago, I wasn’t confident enough to test it. How would I even know I was having a bad reaction?

So now, in addition to feeling well, I can drink beer, and eat anywhere. Oh, and I’m looking for a job. Because, like I said, I can finally make plans and expect to show up for them.

I’ve still got more physical therapy ahead of me, and stamina to win back, and shape to get back into. But I think I’m finally out a really, really long tunnel. God’s timing in healing me might not have been mine, but here it is.