The Alchemist

This summer I discovered the public library. It is a much more economical way of reading. And I am doing a lot of driving so I check out a lot of books-on-tape. I'd seen The Alchemist in stores and heard about what a best seller it was, but I read the back of the book and I wasn't very interested. But the public library didn't seem to have anything better on tape or CD so I checked out The Alchemist -- a short read at only four and a half hours.

About three hours into the book-on-tape I went to Borders and bought a copy for me and a copy for a friend.

This is an amazing book.

It is the story of Santiago, a Spanish shepherd, who has a recurring dream about the Pyramids in Egypt. A gypsy tells him that he will find his treasure at the Pyramids. Then Melchizedek (yes, that Melchizedek) shows up and tells the boy that the treasure at the Pyramids is his personal legend. A personal legend is "what you've always wanted to do," or your mission in life. There are three rules/truths when going after you personal legend; one, don't give up; two, follow the omens; three, follow your heart.

I took this book personally. I want to travel and I guess I am still in the planning stages and finally getting money to do it. And I'm not just talking little trips, though that is also involved. I'm talking moving far away or (hopefully) getting a Fulbright Grant to spend a year in Europe or working for an NGO. And maybe it won't happen next year or in five years or even ten, but it is someting I'd really like to do. And I've noticed that there are two types of people in my life: those who don't think it's a very good idea and those who encourage me and wonder why I haven't gone anywhere yet. When I speak with the first type of person, I begin to think, "Yeah, it's not very practical," because it's not. But this book is like the second type of person. This book tells me that I should do what I've always wanted to do and that "people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they've always dreamed of."

I think I'm in the "crystal shop" point in my life (read the book and you'll know what I mean).

This book is full of quotable little proverbs and truths. It has encouraged me to be a little more spiritual. And it's made me think more about my personal legend.

A Separate Peace

I'm the kind of kid who always wanted to go to boarding school and be mischevious. This book is about as close as I ever got to fulfilling that dream. It takes place at a boy's preparatory school in New England in the early 1940s. Narrated by Gene Forester, a sort of Nick Carroway type but with passion, it tells the story of Phineas, a charismatic, good-hearted athlete who turns Gene's education into the sort of memory one looks back on with longing and maybe a tear. Phineas makes up new sports, denies the existence of WWII, breaks school records secretly just for the fun of it, and smooth-talks adults and peers alike. He sort of lives in his own reality. it is not a coming-of-age story, but more a character description. One day Phineas and Gene are jumping out a tree into a lake and Gene basically causes Phineas to fall, ending in a majorly broken leg. The central micro-conflict is Gene's guilt over deliberately hurting his best friend (who is thus unable to do sports or go to war) all the while Phineas is denying any wrong doing. Phineas is sort of too good for this world. Parelling the psychic conflict within Gene is WWII. I think one message of this book is about finding inner-peace in a world of conflict.

I read this book in high school and adored it. I think I adored it more the second time around. The prose of the book is thoughtful and full of simile. The characters, despite their micheviousness, are good at heart. It is thoughtful, interesting, and important.


Select a Candidate

It is the first time that I am going to take the time to vote. Maybe it's a lame excuse but I haven't voted yet because I didn't feel like I knew anything about the issues. This time around I am attempting to learn so I can make a decision that I really agree with. I heard about a little quiz online from Minnesota's public radio station. It asks you questions and then says which candidates you most agree with and it also takes into account how important the issue is to you. The first go around, my highest "agreement score" (I don't know what the scale was) was a three-way 18.0 in agreement score with Hilary Clinton, Chris Dodd (who is that?), and John Edwards. Obama didn't show up for a while until I got to the 15.0 rankings which I thought was interesting. Even more interesting was my agreement with Mit Romney --- way down on the list at, like, 8.0. I felt like I went through 20 candidates before I matched up with him. I took the quiz a second time and came out with slightly different results, I think because I changed how important the various issues were to me. It came out with just one top winner, John Edwards, with 19.0 agreement, For the issues that are really important John and I (like we're friends) differ only on the issue of a definition of marriage. Our positions on Iraq, Iran, SCHIP, energy, immigration, and health care are compatible. Hilary fell to number three with 17.0 and Obama fell to 14.0. Old Mit got a little better with 9.0. The person I am least likely to vote for: John McCain (he score only 1.0). Guess I am not a republican. Must be a democrat. I've said it. I'm out. You can try the quiz out at here. Have fun!


Their Eyes Were Watching God

Janie is a black woman living in Florida in the early 20th century. The book is a flashback of Janie's life and divided into three sections based on three different men. Janie first marriage at age 17 is not based on love and ends quickly as Janie learns that love is impossible with some people. She falls in love with and runs off with Joe Starks to Eatonville Florida, America's first all-black city. Joe is the mayor and expects his wife to act in a certain way, disallowing many opportunities to Janie. After Joe dies, Janie marries Tea Cake and now that is a love story! Tea Cake allows and even demands that Janie develope into her best self. In a way it reminds me of what Marjorie Hinckley said to her husband, "You have given me wings and I have loved you for it." It would seem that often folks are called to sacrifice what they love most in order to care for it most, and this happens in Their Eyes Were Watching God.
The flow of the book reminded me a lot of The Outsiders. In both books the narrator walks the reader through small anecdote after small anecdote, without necessarily leading to a specific outcome or to overcome a specific challenge (as in, say, the Harry Potter books). And, in both books, one event climaxes the whole things. For The Outsiders it is the fire in the church and for Their Eyes Were Watching God it is the hurricane. In both books, these climaxes lead to the conclusion of the book that is poignant and meaningful because of all the anecdotal character descriptions filling the greater part of the book.
I listened to the book on tape which I would recommend for this book especially. The author writes the dialect phonetically and that can be difficult to read. If you listen to the story on tape, you don't have to decifer the conversation.
Despite the title, the book is not centered on something religious. It is a woman's story and a story about love without being a love story. One watchs Janie's personal development as well as her gradual growth with interpersonal relationships.
Oprah recently made this book into a movie starring Halle Berry. I'm excited to get it from the library and partake. I would recommend this book to folks who enjoy classic literature, can hold on to a story full of anecdotes, and those interested in watching relationships.


The Office

Would I rather be loved or feared? That's easy -- both. I want people to fear how much they love me.

Casual Fridays

It was my first Friday on the job. I wore a skirt and boots because that it what I wanted to wear. I was told by my supervisor and the therapist whose caseload I am taking that "Fridays are casual."
Because somehow Fridays don't count.
People don't judge on Fridays.
Respect is not garnered on Fridays.
Fridays we show the personality we hide the rest of the week.
Nothing important happens on Friday.
I actually think these two were saying, "Wear jeans."
Jeans are a misunderstood article of clothing. Traditionally work attire, the jean is now staple of most wardrobes but the stylistically misinformed relegate all demin articles to "casual wear." Are you going to tell someone in jeans and heels that they are underdressed?
Paradoxically, khaki anything is ok when it shouldn't be. No one should ever wear a carpeter pant in any situation, but lets say I went into a dissociative fugue and wore it. Now, if it were khaki I don't think anyone would think twice about it. But if it were demin it is no-no. This is a gross fashion injustice.
I dress how I would like my own therapist to dress. If she can't put herself together, how is she going to put me together? I dress well because impressions and gaining respect never take a day off. I don't dress well Monday through Thursday because the company says to in vague terms. No. I dress well all days of the week because it's who I am. I'm not a slob in cognito until Friday, but a professional who can find herself in a well-dressed world.


Jane Austen

I was in Border's bookstore and found a display of all things Austen, minus anything Jane Austen actually wrote. There were three or four different authors who had published "fan fiction" detailing the aftermath of Pride and Prejudice. There is the Jane Austen Book Club movie coming out, Becoming Jane (which I liked), and Kiera Knightly's attempt at Elizabeth Bennett. Austen is very "in" right now.
I'd like to state that I knew Jane Austen when. I knew her before all these people figured out what a genius she is.
Another point worthy of note, Jane Austen wrote some very good books that aren't Pride and Prejudice. In fact, my favorite Austen books are the darker ones -- Mansfield Park and Persuasion. (Ok, Persuasion isn't dark but it is decidely different from the others because Anne is older and the lovers are already in love.) My favorite Austen movie is Sense and Sensibility.
Most Austen fans in my acquaintance realize she wrote other books. I want to compare the characters of the books.
The heroin seems to be mostly observers, calm, and rational; the only exception is Emma Woodhouse -- she is the anti-observer, much to everyone's annoyance. Anne Elliot, Fanny Price, Elinor Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, Catherine Morland are the most likeable characters and always the heroins.
Quirky, annoying characters are a must also. Sometimes they are comic relief and sometimes comedy relieves us from the characters. These characters are what critics are referring to when they say that Austen was able to realistically portray famly life. Although (and hopefully) exaggerated, we all know someone or multiple someones who are like the oddball Austen characters. From Sense and Sensibility, you have the meddling mother-in-law Mrs. Jennings, Mrs. Palmer (Mrs. Jennings' daughter whose own husband can't stand her); from Mansfield Park we are acquainted with Lady Betram who is incredibly naive, drugged, and oblivious, Mr. Rushworth for whom we feel very sorry but we are glad he has his landscaping; in Emma and apart from Emma herself, we laugh at Mr. Woodhouse's hypochodria, Mr. Elton's awkward attempts at courting, Mrs Elton's offensive assumption of her belongingness, Miss Bates' perfectly and endearingly annoying everything; in Pride and Prejudice one thinks first and foremost about Mrs. Bennett, then goes from there to Mr. Collins, and even Mary Bennett's piety; Persuasion introduces us to Anne's sister Mary Musgrove (played by Emma's Miss Bates ... who in real life in Emma Thompson's sister ... and Emma played Elinor in Sense and Sensibility... seven degrees of Kevin Bacon anyone?), Sir Walter Elliot is so annoying and offensive that he is very disagreeable; and lastly from Northanger Abbey we have Isabella Thorpe (also very whiney and self-centered), John Thorpe who can be catergorized with Mr. Elton and Mr. Collins although not clergy and General Tilney for making a fool of himself in the mix-up that is the book.
Every herion needs a second. This is someone who is sympathetic and also reasonable. From Northanger Abbey it is Eleanor Tilney; in Pride and Prejudice you can pick between Charlotte Lucas and Jane Bennet; For Emma it is Miss Smith, or perhaps it is Emma who seconds Miss Smith, or more likely it is Mrs. Weston, who is more reasonable than Emma herself; for Mansfield Park you have Fanny's correspondence with her sister Susan and perhaps even the hero, Edmund; For Persuasion it could be Lady Russell but is more like Mrs. Smith or one of the Musgroves if not Mr. Musgrove; In Sense and Sensibility Elinor needs Marianne (who could be a heroin herself but I indentify with Elinor and therefore she is the heroin).
What about the villains! Austen usually makes all the charismatic and likeable characters the villains by the end. Watch: In Pride and Prejudice we are decieved by Wickham, but we are equally irate due to the antics of Lydia and the Bingley sisters or even Catherine De Bourgh; Sense and Sensibility has the tricky Willoughby and the evil Mrs. John Dashwood (and her husband and even brother); Persuasion's villains are cousin Mr. Elliot (again, not what he seems at first), and perhaps Anne's family and even Lady Russell ... at least ten years before the book begins; Emma's villains are subtler -- Frank Churchill, even Jane Fairfax, maybe Mrs. Elton, and at one point (from Emma's perspective) Miss Smith; Mansfield Park gives us Mariah Betram, and Mr. and Miss Crawford and even Lord Betram for his crimes in the West Indies; In Northanger Abbey, General Tilney, although he is not pure evil just mistaken.
We cannot forget the heros, the love-interests, because they make ever Austen novel worth reading. Like the villains, the heros are often not what they appear. And they are somehow unobtainable: Darcy is too proud, Wentworth has changed his mind, Ferrars is engaged, Edmund is too high and mightly in his family's eyes, Brandon is too old and boring, and Knightley is uninterested and too much like a brother, Tilney is uninterested. Mr. Darcy (let's begin with the most popular) is apparently arrogant but in the end he is generous and self-sacrificing; Edward Ferrars is engaged to that twit Lucy Steele -- but shows us his integrity and sense of duty, yet Elinor wins out in the end; and if you think that Marianne is a hero, then Colonel Brandon is quiet and yet so true and kind that any woman would want him (all Harry Potter images aside); Mr. Tilney, like Edmund Betram, is a lowly clergyman who seems unreachable but is obtained in the end; can I say enough about Edmund Betram? Forget that he and Fanny are kissing cousins and remember the line, "I've loved you as a man loves a woman. As a hero loves a heroine. As I have never loved anyone;" who can forget Captain Wentworth's letter of constancy?; and Mr Knightley goes from best friend to husband when Emma thought there was no chance whatsoever.
What other characters from Austen do you love or love to hate?