A Wrinkle in Time: Wherein I Read with Myself

A Wrinkle in Time (Time Series, #1)A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warning: This review is a meditation on personal time travel caused by re-reading a uniquely amazing piece of middle grade and high school science fiction that was written 50 years ago. In it, there are women brilliant at math and science and boys with incredible powers of communication. It is also an excellent story, and involves faster-than-light travel through time and space. My review will not be about that, though.

Just re-read my old copy of this book, and it literally transported me back to my childhood. It was a bizarre experience, like I was two people reading the book at once, through the same eyes. Childhood self had her reactions – the images that the prose brought to life, fully realized – and adult self had different ones. Simultaneously.

How did the book hold up for current me? I loved it. L’Engle is a masterful story-teller, and I was surprised how quickly she moves it along and how relatively spare her descriptions, etc, are, given the vast images they created for me as a child, images that were re-created in the re-reading.

Powerful stuff, and a reflection on what makes great and timeless writing.

I was also fascinated by the ways in which this book has shaped me, without my realizing it:

    That argument I had on the bus in high school about accent marks over the “e” in “-ed”? Well, it probably stemmed from the fact that there is an odd and out of place accented “e” in this book. Thus cementing it in my mental map of the world for all time.
    My immediate obsession with social psychology when I encountered it in college? Probably because of how directly it relates to the control of societies and exploration of social conditions played with in this book.
    My fear of the movie “It”, even though I’ve never seen it? Probably because of the villainous and creep-tacular “IT” in this novel. (By the way, contemporary Abi had “I.T.”, as in, “information technology”, the help desk people, pop into her head every time she saw the name “IT”, and it was very distracting. Not a problem in her prior, pre-computer era readings.)
    My willingness to connect religion with science at every turn, such as assuming it was scientifically reasonable for Jesus to walk on water because he could play with the molecules. Duh, Mom! Again, child-self appears to have stolen that idea DIRECTLY from L’Engle and the playing with molecules that occurs on Camazotz. I guess she’s not so original. 🙂

Reading this book was like reading myself. I even had set much of it, in memory, in the country setting of my old house in Pennsylvania. (I was surprised to discover that Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which lived in a house in a forest. In memory, it was geographically located up the hill where my dear neighbors Edwin and Martha lived, with only a smattering of tress around. I was also surprised to be reminded of Mrs. Murry’s laboratory off of the kitchen, which didn’t fit the layout of our Pennsylvania house I’d set the Murry home in. Thirdly, I was surprised that they return onto of the twins’ vegetable garden – the broccoli, to be specific – and not next to the compost heap and chicken coop I’d placed them at in my childhood plotting of their world onto mine. I still can’t shake seeing every bit of the story on a corresponding bit of that Amish Country world…)

Interestingly, “modern me” noticed the heavy religious currents that just didn’t register at all for “prior me”; in childhood, religion was just a given and a part of the culture I inhabited.

There are a few, minor moments where the book feels out-dated, but they are few and far between. Occasional dialogue, hand-holding, and gender assumptions are all that ruffle your feathers and remind you this book was written 50 years ago, not now. L’Engle’s novel remains essentially timeless.

(Side note: I also learned my mother had censored the book. When one of the twins describes something as a “gyp”, a term derogatory to gypsies, she penciled it out and penciled in “shame”. I don’t think the line reads quite right with that particular correction (the meaning is something more like “what a cheat!” than “what a shame…”), but I was fascinated to learn she had read it aloud to me – why else the correction? – and that I had read the censored book countless times without noting the edit! Ah, past self, how fun it was to hang out with you for this quick reread…)

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Today I Cooked Some Goat

I have curried goat simmering on my stove and (organic, brown) basmati rice sitting in my fridge. No big deal, right?

Well, for me it’s a milestone. A landmark moment.

You see, I am an recovering anti-domestic.

In my college years and most of the four years after, I did not do much in the way of housekeeping or cooking. Or budgeting, for that matter! In college, budgeting meant making sure I didn’t spend more than I had –  I didn’t have much, but I worked hard and always had enough. After, I was blessed enough to have a job for a time that meant I could get away with my slack budgeting. Cooking meant microwaving an Amy’s meal or – when I was really getting good – some Trader Joe’s rice to eat with steamed veggies. Sure, I attempted one curry and roasted one batch of veggies, but that was it until this August.

Thus, most of the lessons I’m working to learn right now are embarrassingly basic. So basic, in fact, that I’ve found it challenging to make my self fulfill my goal of blogging about them!  I’m coming out of my embarrassment closet, though, because I’m starting to hit my stride. I’m proud that this:

Goat Curry - Today I Cooked Some Goat

is cooking on my stove.

I’m proud I have basmati rice cooked, ready to put it on, and vegetables, fruits, and trail mix that will sustain me throughout the week. I’m thrilled to KNOW – really know, from past experience! – that the food I have will sustain me through breakfast, lunch, and snack/snack/snack/snacking throughout the work week.

In order to have that food appear on my stove, the following lessons had to be learned:

  • How to make a budget that worked for my easily-overwhelmed self
  • How to look up a recipe and (sort of) follow it
  • How to plan my meals for the week

I also had to learn to become comfortable with raw meat, but that happened automatically in August 2011 when I started eating paleo (more information on the paleo lifestyle can be found here. I’m not really paleo anymore, but doing it for about nine months fundamentally changed my relationship with food.)

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Books that Help Us Remember: Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the United States: our three-day weekend that often consists of BBQs, family, and the onset of summer, but – more importantly – provides us with the opportunity to stop and honor the men and women who have died serving in the Armed Forces.

I am fortunate enough not to have lost any of my own loved ones to war, and I am a book nerd. Because of this, I turn to literature to help me slow down and think about the cost of war and about those who serve and give their lives. Here are four books I’ve read this year that help me hold the fallen soldiers of America more clearly in my memory.

1. Doing My Part by Teresa R. Funke
(For ages 9-12, according to the book cover. WWII historical fiction. Set in Illinois.)
Summary
Helen is 14 years old, working on a factory assembly line over the summer to contribute to her family’s coffers and to the war effort. The story is elegant, realistic, and deeply entrenched in history. Helen is trying to prove how grown up and responsible she is, but doing the right thing consistently proves to be more complicated than she’d thought it.
During the book, she increasingly tunes in to what is going on in the war, especially as her cousin and her best friend’s older brother go off to join the fight.

Why It Helps Me Remember
Helen’s neighbor is Mrs. Osthoff, a German immigrant who has experienced deep losses and withdrawn from the world. Helen begins to connect with Mrs. Osthoff after accompanying her grandmother to deliver the news that Mrs. Osthoff’s son has died in the war.
Because of this direct brush of family and community with the death of a young soldier, this book aimed at young readers helped me sympathize with the many families in our modern era and in our past who are dealing and have dealt with just this sort of loss.
Doing My Part by Teresa R. Funke

2. Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
(Young Adult literature. Fiction. Cybils Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction (2011), Andre Norton Award Nominee for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (2011))

Summary
Lucky Linderman isn’t so lucky. In fact, he’s depressed, and he might be going crazy. He is the target of a particularly pernicious bully. His dad is never home and isn’t that present when he is: his restaurant is his life. Lucky’s mom swims, swims, swims and pretends things are okay. When he sleeps, Lucky visits his grandfather in a Prisoner of War camp in Vietnam. When he wakes from these dreams, he finds physical manifestations of them, which he then hides.
This is the summer where something changes. His mom takes him to stay with relatives (who have a pool) for a few weeks. Lucky makes unlikely friends and an unlikely enemy. He stands up for someone. Connects with his mom in a new way. Faces fears. Faces the ants that constantly mock him.
This books is part dream and part reality, but all excellently and intensely written.

Why It Helps Me Remember
Lucky’s grandfather fought in the Vietnam War, and he never came home. While this story is about much, much more, the Vietnam dream sequences and the impact of the loss of Lucky’s grandfather on him and his own father (the child of the man who didn’t come back from Vietnam) bring the cost of the ultimate sacrifice to life.
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

3. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness (book 3 in the Chaos Walking Trilogy)
(Young Adult literature. Science Fiction. Teen Buckeye Book Award Nominee (2012), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy (2010), Carnegie Medal in Literature (2011), Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of the Year for Fiction (2010))

Summary
War dominates the final book of this trilogy, and many lives are lost.
Since this is book three in a trilogy, please go visit my review of the excellent first book. I don’t want to ruin any of Patrick Ness’s perfect storytelling for you.

Why It Helps Me Remember
While the war in this book happens on a fictional and very unusual planet in the future, Patrick Ness weaves a compelling and realistic story within that frame, and it is a story in which you care about people who are giving their lives in a war. Because of the quality of the writing, you connect deeply with the main characters and care about the people they care about. You see what is happening, how people serve, how they die. It impacts you. I have never been to war, but it is through books like this that I am most able to empathize for those who have lost someone and to see, dimly, what making the ultimate sacrifice might be like.
Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

4. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
(Adult. Fiction. Set in New Hampshire and Canada.)
Summary
Narrator Johnny Wheelwright’s life is shaped largely by the powerful voice of the tiny Owen Meany, his boyhood friend. Owen dies young, as he’d predicted as a boy, but the narrator never lets go of Owen’s memory. This is the story of their growing up together, of Wheelwright’s odd faith in Owen Meany, and of Wheelwright’s bizarre Canadian adulthood.

Why It Helps Me Remember
The narrator is obsessed with the Vietnam War, and it is because of this book that I have a sense of the scope of lives lost by American soldiers in that war. As odd and imperfect a narrator as Wheelwright is, it is through this book that the costs of that war came to life in my mind in a way they never had in text books or political discussions. Irving has his narrator obsessively tracking the increasing body count as the war goes on and the boys get closer to and past draft age, and that combination of true data mixed with a unique, compelling narrative hit a nerve for me and helped me see the lives lost in that war.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

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The Plot that Will Never Let You Go

Apparently, creating a Pinterest board for all of my 5-star books leads to writing lots of reviews. Here’s another.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1)The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love great writing? Read it.
Love a great plot? Read it.
Love stylized writing? Read it.
Love action? Read it.
Love suspense? Read it.
Love science fiction? Read it.
Hate science fiction, but love dystopian books? Read it.

Basically, just read it.

It’s hard to talk about without ruining it.
.
.
.

Wait, you’re still there? You want to know what HAPPENS? Well, fine. I’ll try to share something, spoiler-free.

The narrator is a teenage boy. He is the youngest of 146 men in Prentisstown, on a colony planet.

His world is loud: every thought of every creature and all the men can be heard. Walking through town can give you a headache.

They are all that is left on the planet, having killed off the native aliens (Spackle) and lost their women (his ma included) to disease in the war.

That’s just the beginning, though. Something happens that unravels his world, and he is sent off on a journey he could never have imagined. At every turn, it appears that some fact is not as it had seemed…

The epic journey at the center of this book rivals many others, but the speed and danger of it – combined with Ness’s pitch-perfect writing – reminds me most of Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.

Ness, however, is much much more YA friendly, and his plot hooks you and drags you along bleeding and gasping behind it through every artful page.

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Three Months Later, I Finally Review THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Upon finishing this book, I couldn’t rest until I’d found its next reader. I passed it on at 11:30pm, about 30 minutes after finishing it.

Every time I see it on my five star list, I think to myself, “Does that deserve 5-stars?” Then, I start remembering it. “Oh. Right.” I think, “It does.”

Here’s my review, at least three months after reading it. I didn’t even Google anything, although I usually do to get the details right…This book is so amazing for me that it just comes flowing back.

The book is about Hazel. She’s a teenager. She’s dying of cancer. She wants to avoid being a “grenade” – she doesn’t want people to hurt because of her when she dies. To minimizing the casualties, she avoids everyone but her parents and the cancer support group she attends.

Beyond her parents, there is one other thing she cares about. It’s a book, by a Dutch author. She feels like he, through his book about death, is the only one who “gets” her and what she’s going through. (This is the book within the book. There is no such book or author, although Green quotes the book a fair amount in his book. I love that.)

Then, she meets a boy. He’s beautiful. He’s in remission.

Against all of her best judgment and running counter to her rules for coping with her impending doom, she forges a connection with him. She shares the book, and he shares her enthusiasm for it. There is love.

Then, there is the necessary external conflict that drives the plot forward. It is wonderful and only partially predictable, and I refuse to give it away.

The reviews I read of this book said that it was John Green at his best, and that his specialty is a highly-intelligent but detached teenage protagonist, but in this book everything is pitch perfect. I’ve only read one other Green protagonist (one of the Will Graysons in Will Grayson, Will Grayson), and while I really liked it I agree that he has taken his strengths to the next level in this intense, emotional, intelligent and highly literary book.

A must read for deep and thoughtful teenagers everywhere, and delicious and poignant for the rest of us. Bravo.

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Epiphany

Today, I had a realization.

I used to ask school to be practically everything in my life. Then, when I graduated, I asked that of my job. Only after I lost my job was I able to learn some of the essential and (for most) easy and obvious lessons about how to be a person, beyond school or work.

It was an amazing job that helped me grow so much as a person and a professional. I am so grateful for the work I was able to do and the people I was able to work with for those nearly four years. Now, I’m grateful that I got a chance to leave and learn to be “me” without a job. I am so much stronger and more well-rounded, as a person and as a professional.

I hope I can keep this realization in mind moving forward into the next phase of my career. It is vital that I take care of myself if I’m going to do the good I hope to do in the world.

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Inspiring Quote!

Imagine the progress we could make in all matters of challenges, if when we had a different take on something, we began with, “Here’s my point of view, and here’s why. Help me understand where you’re coming from.”

~Dena Lambert Hellums

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May 21, 2012 · 8:28 am