It’s All About Me

Date: 25 August 2013

Books Completed: 162

Books Left: 38

Today is my birthday. In honor of the day, I thought I’d share some random thoughts about myself. Some are well-known, some not so much.

Here goes:

  1. Favorite color is green
  2. Hate broccoli
  3. Was a teacher for 11 years
  4. Favorite g-u book is Pride and Prejudice
  5. Traveled to 9 foreign countries
  6. Have 1 older brother and 1 older sister
  7. Prefer to listen to classical music
  8. Don’t have a microwave
  9. Thought the movie Titanic was way overrated
  10. Took piano lessons for 8 years
  11. Love cats
  12. Been a librarian for 7 years
  13. Terrified of snakes
  14. Love boxing workouts
  15. Furthest east I’ve been is Vienna, Austria
  16. Wrote curriculum for 6 years
  17. My favorite movie soundtrack is The Commitments
  18. Prefer black ink to blue
  19. Prefer children’s fiction to grown-up fiction
  20. Tear up at patriotic songs
  21. Total Apollo program nerd
  22. Graduated Magna cum Laude from JMU
  23. Have been in 15 different states
  24. Drink at least 6 cups of tea a day
  25. Would love to be a Gryffindor, but likely would have been a Ravenclaw
  26. Tend to like volume 2 of trilogies
  27. Can’t whistle a tune
  28. Hate camping
  29. Used to want to be Jewish
  30. Wanted to be a bus driver when I was 4 years old
  31. Favorite movie musical is The Sound of Music
  32. Read The Grown-Up Day to my fellow preschoolers at age 4
  33. Prefer grown-up non-fiction to children’s non-fiction
  34. Hate the color pink
  35. Addicted to old episodes of Law & Order
  36. One place on travels would revisit is Westminster Abbey
  37. Want to attend a tennis Grand Slam event
  38. First car was a Plymouth Sundance
  39. Furthest west I’ve been is Covington, KY
  40. Favorite historical fiction book is Johnny Tremain
  41. Won a blue ribbon in the 25m fly when I was 10
  42. Secret career goal is to be a backup singer
  43. Prefer baths to showers
  44. First job was delivering newspapers for The Washington Post
  45. Favorite fantasy book is Ella Enchanted
  46. Am 46 years old today

There you have it. The Book Diva, in 400 words or less.

Deep Impact

Date: 17 August 2013

Books Completed: 159

Books Left: 41

I was doing some back-to-school housecleaning last week, and for a librarian, this naturally includes weeding my personal collection. As I was looking through my European history section (yes, my bookshelves are arranged by subject, author, and title) I came across a book that I know I will never remove from my possession.

I first encountered the book in question when I was in sixth grade. Several of my elementary school years were spent at a very small parochial school. One of the greatest practices of this school was to start the post-recess afternoon with a read-aloud time—we called it Literature in those days. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom was one of these Literature books, and to this day it has had the greatest impact on me of any book I’ve ever read. Over the past few years I have shared that book with others and that impact has spread.

The Hiding Place is one of Miss ten Boom’s memoirs (she wrote at least two others) and my favorite by far. It chronicles her World War II experiences as a middle-aged Dutch watchmaker and leader of an underground group dedicated to helping anyone (Jews in particular) suffering under the Nazi regime. To this day I have a fascination with Holocaust literature, rejoicing in any lives saved in defiance of the Nazis and mourning for any lives sacrificed.

Miss ten Boom’s influence on my reading tastes, however, is rather minor when compared with the influence she has had on my actual life.

The ten Booms were a very devout family, Corrie’s brother even being a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. They had daily Bible readings, worked as catechists, and focused on serving others. Indeed, their wartime resistance activities grew out of this sense of charitable duty. And due to these resistance activities, the ten Booms ultimately experienced tragic consequences: the entire family was arrested; Corrie’s father died in prison; her brother contracted a painful illness from which he subsequently died after his release; her nephew was murdered at Bergen-Belsen; she and her older sister Betsie were eventually shipped to the extermination camp Ravensbrück, where Betsie died from a combination of exposure, unsanitary conditions, abuse, and starvation.

This family suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis, yet a major theme of this book is forgiveness. While she and her sister are tortured, Betsie forgives and prays for their tormentors and urges Corrie to do the same. Corrie struggles with this, especially after the war when she comes face to face with one of the guards who sexually abused prisoners by enforcing a mandatory weekly stripping for an “inspection” that never took place. She chronicles how she could not manage forgiveness on her own, but was only able to do so through divine assistance.

Here are two women who forgave those who routinely beat, starved, humiliated, and violated them. How can I not forgive what in comparison are petty slights? I, like Corrie, often struggle with this. Upon those occasions, I try to recall this book and think that if Corrie and Betsie could forgive, I have no right nurture a grudge. So in essence, this book helps me to try to live a better life. That’s one heck of an impact!

And it’s an impact that does not end with me. A few years ago I was in a book club. We were discussing possible future reads and some Holocaust fiction titles emerged. I mentioned my love of this non-fiction book and two club members expressed interest. They each borrowed my copy and were as moved as I was. I was curious as to how they would react to the book, since they are both Jewish and the book is heavily Christian in tone–not surprising since Corrie became a missionary after the war. Their enthusiastic endorsement solidified my belief that this book can have a positive  impact on anyone who reads it.

A friend of mine from church once mentioned that she was traveling to Leiden on business. She was surprised that I knew where the city was (it is a location in the book). I explained how I knew and she asked to borrow my copy. When she returned it she told me she had purchased 5 copies for family members as Christmas presents.  The impact continues to grow.

So thanks to CSCS for their daily Literature readings. Thanks to Mrs. Conover for reading an amazing, and what could be considered controversial, book to her 6th grade students. And thanks to Corrie ten Boom, for having the courage to live the life she did and the courage to write about it.  May the depth of her impact only increase with each successive reader.

Reality Done Right

Date: 6 August 2013

Books Completed: 152

Books Left: 48

I am so not a fan of “reality” TV. I’ve been known to watch a competition (Food Network Star) or makeover (Clean House) show or two, but I positively detest the shows that have camera crews just following people around. I guess this is primarily for two reasons. One, the people on those types of shows behave so badly that I can’t stomach their escapades, and two, I’m so not convinced that there is much reality going on. I strongly suspect that the producers of the shows give the “performers” a situation and encourage them to work through that situation, behaving as outlandishly and poorly as possible.

My disdain of this “faux” reality comes from the same place that admires the real thing.  I absolutely love non-fiction. Last year alone I read 9 royal histories, 2 European histories, 1 American history, 1 compilation history, 6 biographies, 2 true crime books, 1 literary commentary, and 4 books about Jane Austen (again, we don’t question the crazy). What can I say? I just love learning and knowing things.

I’m finding myself increasingly enjoying realistic fiction as well. I’ve always liked it, but until recently I would have classified myself primarily as an historical fiction kind of girl. However, some of my favorite books over the last few years have actually been realistic fiction, so I may have to change my affiliation. My love of realistic fiction doesn’t come from learning and knowing, as in the “real” (i.e. non-fiction) books I admire, but from the authenticity of characters and story—something that is greatly lacking in “reality” TV. I recently read an RF children’s book that was so genuine I still find myself spending quite a bit of time thinking about it. (Spoilers below!)

The book in question is called One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. After an incredibly violent night at the hands of her stepfather, Carley is placed in foster care with the Murphy family while her mom is hospitalized. The story follows Carley as she navigates a new family (with some members who welcome her and some who do not), a new school situation, and dealing with her mother’s role during that violent night. Carley is, of course, at first wary of the Murphys, but she finds herself loving them, almost against her will, as she inches toward reunification with her mother.

Although I’ve never been in conditions remotely similar, I found myself identifying so strongly with Carley. I fell in love with the Murphys (and no, they are not perfect) right along with her, and like Carley, I couldn’t decide where I wanted her to end up. Mrs. Murphy is the mom that Carley truly seems to need and any kid deserves, but Ms. Connors is the mom she has. Carley loves them both and they both love her. The Murphys represent a kind of life that would be good for Carley in many ways, but Ms. Connors is her mom. Well before the climax of the story I knew that my heart was going to break, no matter how the story resolved.

And there is no easy resolution. Keep Carley with the Murphys and she has the potential for a great life she never dreamed was possible, but she would be separated from her own mother, who loves Carley the best way she can. Keep Carley with her mother and the two of them will continue to better understand each other and grow up together, but her life will likely always be a struggle.

What makes this story so genuine is that Carley decides to stay with her mom (who, it turns out, was actually fighting for her daughter that night). While I wanted her to have the Murphy life, choosing to return to her mother was the right thing to do—the thing most middle-schoolers would do. My heart indeed broke as I cried at what she gave up. But, some of those tears were also for happiness for what she gained—a strengthening of the mother-daughter bond. This story does not have a pat “happy” ending, but it does have a “good” one.

So there you have it. No histrionics. No attention-getting-at-all-costs.  No “look at me” attitude. Realistic characters dealing with realistic situations working toward realistic outcomes. That’s reality as I like it.

Indeed. It’s reality as it really is.