Monday, February 25, 2008

Gotta read this..."Old Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills"

Sorry to double-post...I listened to this "article" on NPR last week on the connection between children's play and their ability to self-regulate, an essential element in success at older ages in both school and work. I'm sure we all know a lot of this but some of the underlying reasons are interesting as are the suggestions on how to encourage self-regulation in young children.

Here's the link to listen and/or read-- and then tune back in on Thursday, 2/28 for more.

This weekend's reading

NASCAR season started last weekend which means I'll be going through books like a madwoman in an attic. This weekend, even with the races rained out, I had plenty of time as D was reading for class (we both had books open at the same time!) and he fed his addictions by playing NASCAR on the Xbox.

Two vastly different reads...First, Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I've been wanting to read this one for a while, just forgot about it until I saw the striking cover on the library's "new books" shelf. Hirsi Ali was born in Somali, lived in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya before escaping a forced marriage and finding asylum in Holland in the early '90's. Though her parents were at times progressive for the culture and time they lived in, they were also contradictory and Hirsi Ali begins to see the destructive power of Islam personally, individually, culturally, and politically. Ali, who is educated mostly in Islamic schools and receives additional instruction in the Qua ran, also learns English and reads novels ranging from Wuthering Heights to Danielle Steele. She has dreams of a vocation and romance. And upon her immigration to Holland, she abandons Islam altogether and fully assimilates into Dutch/Western culture.

Once in Holland, she sees the immigrant experience played in several ways. And she begins to rebel against the Muslim culture that condones physical abuse of women, female genital mutilation, fundamental schools, arranged marriages, and the refusal to assimilate into Western culture. She sees Islam and the culture it creates as negative. It's not coincidence, she decides, that the failing political systems of the countries she has known, all have Islam as a shared factor. And she further condemns Western governments for their tolerance, for letting immigrants remain unassimilated. As a member of Parliament she does make some strides in getting the problems of Muslim women notices until her own life is threatened. Her analysis of international politics between the West and Islam is interesting--and makes me very afraid of Saudi Arabia. And she ends up refuting a lot of the American liberal ideas about why we are hated and why incidents like 9/11 happen.

Her style is matter-of-fact, sparse at times, and analytical. But in other instances her mother's abusive treatment, her father's duplicity, and her pain over being separated, disowned, forsaken by her family after leaving Africa are heart-wrenching. I had to put the book down before I continued reading the passage where Ali's and her sister's circumcisions (at ages 9 and 6) were detailed. Horrific.

But I was just as saddened in reading Ali's logical reasoning for becoming an atheist. The discrepancy she sees in the Qua ran calling Allah "holy" and the verses that subjugate women lead her to the conclusion that she must reject God altogether. She sees the ridiculousness of the sexual practices of Muslims and knows from experience that it didn't address her heart. She understands the failings of Islam and how it cannot be true. She just never sees that there is a true, loving God who does want relationship, not simply submission. That there is grace, not just works and a hope.

Mesmerizing book though.

Second, a way more light-hearted read, Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde, the fourth Thursday Next. I can't possibly begin to summarize the plot, especially since this is the fourth in the series. But let me just say that Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, from the play comes into Swindon, England, 1988 and he is hilarious. He wants to find out if people in the real world think he really is a "ditherer." He's also a bit depressed since he lost the Most Troubled Romantic Lead award to Heathcliff for the 80th time and "he would worry about not having anything to worry about if he didn't have anything to worry about" so the BookWorld Council lets him have a look for himself.

But here is one of my favorite parts. Here is Hamlet finding out that people portray him in plays:

"..I've heard that some people in the Outland think I am a dithering twit unable to make up his mind rather than a dynamic leader of men, and these 'play' things you describe will prove it to me one way or the other."

I [Thursday] tried to think of the movie in which he prevaricates the least. "We could get the Zeffirelli version out on video for you to look at."

"Who plays me?"

"Mel Gibson."

Hamlet stared at me, mouth open. "But that's incredible!" he said ecstatically. "I'm Mel's biggest fan!" He thought for a moment. "So...Horatio must be played by Danny Glover, yes?"

"No, no. Listen: the Lethal Weapon series is nothing like Hamlet."

"Well," replied the Prince reflectively, "in that I think you might be mistaken. The Martin Riggs character begins with self-doubt and contemplates suicide over the loss of a loved one but eventually turns into a decisive man of action and kills all the bad guys. Same as the Road Warrior series, really. Is Ophelia played by Patsy Kensit?"

"No," I replied, trying to be patient, "Helena Bonham Carter."

He perked up when he heard this. "This gets better and better! When I tell Ophelia, she'll flip--if he hasn't already."

I laughed out loud, interrupting D's concentration as he tried to avoid a wreck. The better portion of the book is like this--English-teacher inside jokes.

Up next is Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist and book club meets Friday so we'll have a new selection as well. Plus, I'm now on so you can see my book shelf--my favs, my current reads, and what I hope to read next. Become my "friend" and we'll trade recommendations.

Happy Reading!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Shack

....not the newly acquired Phoenix Suns player.

No, this is a novel, another "Christian fiction" novel, of dubious literary quality. I can't believe we picked two in a row. What is becoming of our book club? Where are the ideals and standards we once held ourselves to?

Maybe this is the margarita talking...I ate fajitas tonight and D's at class.

To back up a bit, at the women's retreat last month, we had a book table of recommended reads from our speaker. The Shack was one of those books. It was touted by the speaker, quoting Eugene Peterson's compliment, that this had the potential to be our generation's Pilgrim's Progress. That's pretty high praise and though Bunyan's prose is not really my cup of tea, the concepts and imagery of that book has had lasting impact on both the Christian and literary landscapes.

This will not have the same effect, I predict.

The Shack centers around Mack Phillips, a middle-aged father in the midst of a four-year Great Sadness after the abduction and brutal murder of his youngest daughter. The italics are not mine; they set off The Great Sadness each time in the novel. (I tend not to like those kind of call-attention-to-me devices that are artifically trying to make up for lameness. Maybe it's the years of reading high schoolers essays. In blogs it's okay.) One winter day, Mack finds a mysterious note in his mailbox, calling him to return to the shack in the Oregon woods where his daughter, whose body was never recovered, is believed to have been murdered. It's simply signed, "Papa," the name Mack's wife uses to refer to God. Mack, who has major daddy issues, thinks this is either a horrible prank, a taunt by Missy's killer, or actually God himself and decides to head up to the shack, alone, for a face-to-face encounter.

Once you get to this point, the novel does pick up. And there are some great lines in the conversations between God (turns out He did send the note) and Mack as Mack struggles to regain his trust in God despite the existence of tragedy, pain, and evil in this world. Mack sees God interacting in relationship through the three personifications of the Trinity which blows his idea of relationship out of the water. (He gets to walk on water with Jesus too!) I especially appreciated the discussion of fear and imagination and how we label good and evil so arbitrarily to keep ourselves comfortable and protected. The contrast between expectancy vs. expectation and respond vs. responsibility reveal how sin has corrupted our relationships (I did have a bit of DC Talk "Luv is a Verb" running through my head in that chapter.)

There's a swelling of interest in this book from blogs, websites, podcasts, and rumors of a movie in the works. I know of someone leading their small group through the book, chapter by chapter. I could see a Bible class discussing some of the conversations and arguments that Mack has with God.

I'm hosting book club this time and I'm sure we'll enjoy discussing this one; we almost always do. And I think I'll make scones this time.