Book Duel: To Kill a Mockingbird

to kill a mockingbird

This is quite possibly the best book I’ve ever read. Ever. It’s definitely topping the charts for this year (sorry, Old Testament), and I can’t think of a more wholesome, refreshing, honest look at life. It’s simply fantastic.

Written at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is the story of a 9-year-old learning some harsh truths about the society she lives in. Scout lives in southern Alabama, during the Great Depression. Her new schoolteacher won’t let her read, because she’s not supposed to learn that until 3rd grade. Her classmates often go hungry. Her father is appointed defense attorney to a Black man accused of raping a White woman, a crime that can carry the death penalty, and Scout’s neighbor Boo Radley is rumored to be a madman who haunts the streets at night. Scout encounters all these with a childish candor that blasts through the layers of complication grown-ups add to everything. To Scout, there’s just one kind of folks: folks.

This is not only a beautiful depiction of childhood, it’s also a beautiful depiction of the fight for humanity. Scout’s father Atticus Finch spends much of the book defending Tom Robinson, a Black man, even though he knows the White jury will convict Tom. Atticus already knows the cause is lost, but does everything he can to change the minds of the jury, considering it at least a “baby-step” when a juryman considers acquitting. Atticus is one of the only people in the state, it seems, who considers all human beings worthy of respect. He doesn’t allow his children to disrespect anyone, or to grow up with prejudice – but he also doesn’t become bitter in the face of opposition. He allows that everyone has their faults, and gives everyone – Black, White, learned, or ignorant – the benefit of the doubt.

I would recommend this book to anyone mature enough to understand what rape is, and to recognize that there are racial slurs in the book for the purpose of pointing out their ignorance. The writing is beautiful and hits home, making decent human behavior look like the obvious course of action. ♦

Book Duel: The Old Testament

old_testament_law

Woof. The Bible is not easy reading. I don’t even remember when I started in Genesis – but I just finished the Old Testament, and I’m super proud of myself, and of course I’m counting it for this year’s book count.

Now, how does one go about summing up the entire Old Testament? It’s complicated. And not just “1200 pages” complicated (although it is). It’s that the book is actually a collection of much smaller books, written by various different prophets and historians, and many of them out of chronological order. So the best I can hope to do here is to find some kind of running theme.

old testament organization

My dad knew someone who had read the whole Bible, looking for a thesis to the whole work. I think her conclusion was that the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” was supposed to be answered, “Yes, you are – or at least, you’re supposed to be.” (In the words of Jeffrey R. Holland: “…although I may not be my brother’s keeper, I am my brother’s brother…”)

Anyways. I’m not going to spend an eternity here dissecting individual books of the OT – but I would say the most prominent (and relevant) theme I found to connect to my own life was the question, “Do you want a God or not?” Most of the prophets who contribute to this work ask, in one way or another, why the children of Israel keep contradicting themselves. When the Israelites aren’t following God’s commandments, they tell the prophets to leave them alone and find other “gods” who will condone the lifestyle they want. But when the Israelites are in trouble, suddenly they want a God of vengeance and justice, and they get mad that God isn’t being consistent. And the prophet’s like, “Well, do you want God to follow His own rules or not?”

Basically, everybody wants God to take their side – but they don’t want to have to take God’s side. They want a God who will back them up, no matter what they decide to do, with no demands in return. So… they just want to be God.

I thought this pretty accurately described our society today. I’m not saying it describes everybody – but let’s face it: most people just want to be accepted for who they are. Even if who they are is a total jerk. And while I think we should certainly be accepting of people, that doesn’t mean everybody  has the right to be a total jerk. It doesn’t mean everybody’s doing the right thing, just because they say they are. And it doesn’t mean we have to be okay with every decision people make. On the flip side of that, we should take a good, hard look at the way we’re living our own lives. Are we mad when the cops pull us over for speeding? And if we are, do we have any right to get mad at the other drivers on the road when they ignore the law? Basically, I feel like the Old Testament draws a connection: if you want protection, you have to follow the rules. If you want God to defend you, you have to pattern your life the way He asks. ♦

 

And the Floods Came Up…

This morning was interesting.

Ethan’s alarm went off at 5am, but happily, Ethan had the day off today, and he just turned the alarm off. Unhappily, I felt like a donkey had kicked me in the small of the back. I have no idea why, but apparently pregnancy means you should not sleep on your back. I had fallen asleep that way and slept most of the night with steadily growing back pain. It took me an enormous effort to get onto my side and curl up, and the pain in my back eventually died down enough for me to fall asleep again.

Several hours later, Ethan got up because he heard knocking at the door. Nobody was there anymore, but after a few minutes, he tried to turn on the water and found we had zero water pressure. Not good. So he went to check with the neighbors in the studio apartment next to us. Apparently, our neighbor had gotten up early to discover his kitchen floor was wet around the door to the laundry room. When he opened the door, a wave of water came flooding through his apartment. The water heater had exploded – or at least, there was a sizable hole in it, and the laundry room had accumulated nearly 12 inches of water.

Fortunately, our neighbor is competent and clear-headed, and quickly shut off the water valve to the whole house. Also fortunately, our manager is much more proactive than our past management, and we had the problem fixed by noon. In the meantime, Ethan kindly massaged my lower back until the pain went away. No lasting damage to apartment or body. Just small-scale adventure. ♦

The Foody Blues

I have a love-hate relationship with food. Before pregnancy, it was love. Shortly after pregnancy, it became bitter and tainted, and food and I began arguing. We had a few (very) nasty break-ups. But now, I think I’ve moved on from the post-break-up bitterness to complete apathy.

I’m done with food. Ready to move on with my life. Find something new and exciting, better than that old relationship.

Except that food is necessary for survival. Small detail.

It’s not that I hate food. It’s just that, for the past few days, I have absolutely no desire to eat it. Oh, what’s that? Food? Oh, that’s nice. Occasionally, I’ll have a sudden need for pizza, or a taco, but aside from random cravings, I’m pretty much eating when I think I should, not when I actually want to.

Except for Halloween candy. Man, if I had realized how good a KitKat can be just out of the freezer, I would’ve left food for candy a long time ago. ♦

A NY Slice with General Washington

Ethan and I were running errands the other day when we got hangry. (It’s the kind of anger that strikes when you’re hungry.) We drove into the parking lot of Panda Express in Orem, because it was the closest purchasable food – and we were just too hangry to go home and make it ourselves. First-world problems.

Anyways, while we were parking the car, Ethan spotted a restaurant that claimed to be serving New York pizza. I scoffed, as often I do. I lived in New Jersey for a year and a half, and while I still enjoy a cheap slice of Little Caesar’s from time to time, I have yet to find a “New York” slice that actually tasted anything like the east coast. (Not that I’ve ever taken a bite out of the east coast, mind you. Just the pizza.) Anyways – we decided to go in, ask for a menu, and see what the price was like. Worst-case scenario: too expensive, and we end up at Panda anyways.

We walked into Lucy’s Pizza, and the waiter graciously gave us a menu, pointing out that the $3 slice was the best value. Now, in Jersey, a “slice” means something about the size of your face. It’s huge. And it’s usually $1-3, depending on the sketchiness of the pizza joint you’re at. And it’s addictively delicious. In Utah, a “slice” is a piece of pizza. As in, you order a whole pizza, and a “slice” is the piece you’re eating. You don’t order a “slice.” And a slice of pizza is usually about half the size here as it is in Jersey. So I was hesitant – Lucy’s sold slices, which was a good sign, and they were quite affordable, which was another good sign, but they might be tiny. We asked the waiter about the size of the slices. He held out his hands and indicated a good, face-sized slice. Alright then. We decided to stay.

We couldn’t decide which toppings to get, so we got one of each (there were only 3 options). And while we waited, the waiter brought us some pickles and marinated olives to snack on, as well as describing for us the $4 Italian meatball we found on the menu. (It’s a 10 oz. meatball. We’re totally going to make this some kind of birthday tradition.) And when the pizza came, it was delicious. I’m sure it’s still better in Hoboken – but this was good pie. And 3 slices was too much of it for the 2 of us to eat. And – to top it off – when we were leaving, the waiter brought us a take-out box that had a picture of George Washington, wearing a “No. 1 Dad” apron, tossing pizza crust. It’s a work of art.

Basically, I’ve found my favorite restaurant of all time. At very least, it’s the best I’ve ever found in Utah. Buffalo chicken pizza, 10 oz. meatballs, marinated olives, and the Father of our Country to pack it all up in. It was a fantastic dining experience. ♥

WP_20141010_001

Book Duel: The Miserable Mill

9780064407694

Lemony Snicket is at it again, with book 3 of the Series of Unfortunate Events. The Miserable Mill took me about two days to get through (a grand total of probably two or three hours, to be honest), and it made a fun read. Heavy literature? Hardly – but good for “snack food” reading.

The Miserable Mill includes hypnotism, chewing gum, coupons, and a horrible sawing machine. Also, a sword-fighting baby. It’s a fun read. ♦

Book Duel: Wonder

Monday was pretty rough. The day before, we came home from church early because I wasn’t feeling too hot, and I ended up awake until about two in the morning fighting heartburn that felt like a lizard was clawing its vengeful way up my esophagus. Also, the lizard was on fire. Needless to say, neither of us got a lot of sleep Sunday night, and Ethan woke up at five to get to his student teaching position the next day. Meanwhile, I tossed and turned on the couch and desperately clung to sleep. Then I woke up and discovered I had zero energy whatsoever.

I was craving Halloween candy, but decided it wasn’t worth it. I would have to put on pants to go shopping, and I just couldn’t face that reality. By the time Ethan got home around three PM, I still hadn’t put on pants, and I was still on the couch. He was also out of energy, and eventually we got enough energy to get to Panda Express for dinner (with pants).

Wonder

Long story short: I had a lot of reading time Sunday-Monday! I burned through Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, in a matter of days. (Most of the reading happened while Ethan was trying to sleep, and my heartburn wouldn’t let me lie down yet.) And I’m inclined to agree with my husband on this one – it’s a great book, but the author doesn’t write ten-year-olds very well.

Wonder does a really good job of pointing out the daily challenges of a child with an obvious birth defect, a facial abnormality (or deformation). Basically, August Pullman is a normal kid with a really messed-up face. And he’s starting the fifth grade, which he knows is brutal even for a “normal” kid. The book follows several perspectives, pulling in characterization beautifully, and teaching some wonderful lessons about dealing with challenges and basically facing life in general. The author points out the struggles we all face every day, and even August acknowledges that his struggles with his appearance don’t necessarily outrank his friends’ struggles with money, family, grades, or friends. He starts to recognize that his challenges are just a little more visible than most.

I also really liked the attitude his sister Via pointed out toward the middle of the book: August is ready to quit school after facing some serious drama, and Via comes to talk to him. He tells her how rotten everybody treats him, and asks if it’s always going to be like that. She admits it might be – but he won’t have the luxury of just going home and crying every time that happens when he’s an adult. His face is going to be with him for the rest of his life; he needs to figure out how to deal with it eventually.

This book would be an absolute 5-star rating, were it not for the ten-year-old voice. The book is told in first-person, and frankly, I had a really hard time believing it was a fifth-grader. August and his friends were talking about girls they wanted to ask out, the jocks and cheerleaders at their school, and their stuffed animals, all in the same breath. If the author had made them all thirteen or fourteen instead, it would have been a lot more believable, but when I was ten, the boys still thought we had cooties. With that exception, if you can pretend the kids are just a little older than stated, it’s a fantastic book. ♦