Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hey, Waitress

This was a bit of a flashback book. Even though I haven't spent that much of my life waitressing, reading this book provoked some strong memories. The best thing about it was that it wasn't some sort of scholarly examination of waitressing. There were no statistics: 73% of waitresses have experienced some form of sexual harassment, 47% have worked in unsafe conditions, 39% have tried illegal drugs, etc. The author interviewed a lot of waitresses and let their own words speak for what happens on the job.
It takes a special kind of interviewer to let the interviewee just talk, and not need a lot of your own words in between. Owings did a wonderful job of giving women who don't often have a voice the opportunity to speak plainly about what it is like to serve people all the time. Studs Terkel, another historian, could do this as well. By placing the interviews together the reader doesn't need the analysis, you can see what happens in this profession, or any other group. Terkel did several books like this, most notably on the Great Depression.
If this book can get even a few people to consider thinking more about their server than whether or not their food was perfect it will have accomplished something. One woman pointed out that she could switch places with a co-worker and the diners wouldn't even notice the change. Too many people think that someone serving them loses their humanity, making them vulnerable to behavior that wouldn't be tolerated in any other setting.
The worst part is the sexual harassment, at least it was for me. It doesn't come from the customers (mostly) but there is a great deal of tension between the male cooking and dish washing crew and the female wait staff. The ladies interviewed talked about handling that tension in a variety of ways, but the restaurant business is very physical, and many times that tension plays out in physical ways as well.
The tension between the servers and the customers differs with each meal served, but the classic human need to feel superior to someone else can be very ugly sometimes.
This was a good book, informative for those that have never picked up one of those big black trays, and respectful to those that have. I was very impressed by the author's handling of a topic that has been treated with condescension so many times before.

Hey Waitress: The USA From the Other Side of the Tray. Alison Owings. University of California Press. 2002

Monday, April 27, 2009

Street Gang

I picked this book up because I have the type of curiosity that makes me watch the making-of sections of all the DVDs we own. I have watched all 12 hours of extras in the Lord of the Rings Extended editions. Yes, I am a geek, but I can kick your butt in Trivial Pursuit (as long as I don't have to answer any sports questions).
I have heard writing described as weaving a tapestry. This was a book that you could see the weaving being done. The author gives half-chapter biographies of all the people involved in creating Sesame Street, starting from way before they met. Eventually all the threads converge and you have a public television show. It was an enjoyable read, and I learned some things, but a lot of those things I didn't really want to know. For example, the politics and bickering involved in making a television show; I knew it was there, didn't appreciate so many pages explaining it in detail. The liberal policies of mid-60s intellectuals wasn't all that high on my interest list either.
What you hope for in a book like this are amusing anecdotes and a new insight into people you already knew. There were some of both, but since the real story was the development, the book gave a cursory look at the actual production of the show.
And I now feel really old because this year is Sesame Street's 40th anniversary.

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. Michael Justin Davis. Viking. 2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Seek Ye Earnestly the Best Gifts

The list of gifts of the spirit is repeated in scriptures three times, Moroni 10, I Corinthians 12-14, and D&C 46. This must be an important topic to be repeated so often. I divided the lesson into three parts; identify, use and seek. These three aspects of having spiritual gifts work together and all gifts are continually moving between these three areas.
Everyone has at least one spiritual gift, D&C 46:11 says "For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God." Did you get that? "To every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God." When you receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, you have one gift right there and all others come from that initial gift. During the lesson we had a wonderful lady say that she had never felt she had any particular spiritual gift, that maybe she needed to start looking for hers. This was surprising to me because she is kind and compassionate and gives great insights to my lessons. I know she is the compassionate service leader in RS and does a marvelous job there as well.
How many of us are unaware of what gifts we have, perhaps even using them each day, but not knowing what a gift they are? Each of us needs to read our patriarchal blessing on a regular basis. That is the first place to start. It is probably the only place you are going to see, spelled out as clearly as possible, what you have been given as a gift.
After that we need to pray and think and practice. While we may have the seed of any gift, we need to use it to fully acquire it. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: “Spiritual gifts are endless in number and infinite in variety. Those listed in the revealed word are simply illustrations” and Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve said
some “less-conspicuous gifts” include “the gift of asking; the gift of listening; the gift of hearing and using a still, small voice; … the gift of avoiding contention; the gift of being agreeable; … the gift of seeking that which is righteous; the gift of not passing judgment; the gift of looking to God for guidance; the gift of being a disciple; the gift of caring for others; the gift of being able to ponder; the gift of offering prayer; the gift of bearing a mighty testimony; and the gift of receiving the Holy Ghost”
Are we ignoring some of our gifts because they are the "less-conspicuous" kind. Does that make them less valuable or less worthy of development?
This takes us to the second aspect of having a spiritual gift, using them, and using them properly. D&C 46:8-9 describes the proper frame of mind for using spiritual gifts:
8 Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;
9 For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts.
Perhaps we think we only have minor gifts, and wish we had "better" ones? D&C 88:33 is good to ponder:
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
We also referred to the law of consecration. Just as we can consecrate all of our material possessions to the Lord, because they came from him in the first place, so we need to consecrate our gifts and talents to the service of the Lord, because they were bestowed upon us by a loving Heavenly Father. I know how pride can affect how we use our gifts because I struggle with it as I teach my lessons. I know I have been given a gift to teach well. I can convey what I want to say and feel confident while I am in front of the class. Each week I teach I pray and try very hard to not let those feelings make me teach to show everyone else how good I am at it. It is something I worry about because I will not be able to teach by the spirit if I am doing it for myself. If I don't teach by the spirit I may as well not be there at all because no one will learn or be strengthened by my words.
Then we have those times when we feel we have no gifts, and everything is going wrong, there is hope for moments like that:
President George Q. Cannon taught: “If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. Have I imperfections? I am full of them. What is my duty? To pray to God to give me the gifts that will correct these imperfections. If I am an angry man, it is my duty to pray for charity, which suffereth long and is kind. Am I an envious man? It is my duty to seek for charity, which envieth not. So with all the gifts of the Gospel. They are intended for this purpose. No man ought to say, ‘Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature.’ He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things, and to give gifts that will eradicate them” (Millennial Star, 23 Apr. 1894, 260).
This is hard advice. If you don't have a talent you think you need, get down on your knees and ask for it, and get in tune with the spirit enough to either obtain this gift, or know what you should do instead. I fall into that ‘Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature.’ trap all the time. We (I especially) need to gain enough faith that we can become strong where we are weak. All the spiritual progress we make is through the grace of God. The testimony of Jesus is a gift, faith is a gift. When we say, "I believe. Help thou my unbelief" we are asking for the gifts that will bring us closer to him.
The last few verses of D&C 46 show us how to ask for these gifts. I'm going to paraphrase the instructions. We need to remember what they are for, not for prideful reasons; we need to ask in the spirit, which I take to mean being prompted by the spirit or knowing it is the right thing to ask for; in the name of Christ, through prayer; thanking God for the gifts we have received; and be worthy.
Again we have the promises of God that this is how we receive gifts. We all need these gifts. We cannot function without the support of our benevolent Heavenly Father. Our very existence is a gift. He will bless us, he longs to bless us, we just have to be aware of this and he will help us.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Magic Lost, Trouble Found

I have discovered a new category of brain-dead fiction I enjoy. I've mentioned before that I read "recipe mysteries", those are the ones aimed at squeamish women, less violence, more recipes and similar homey touches. The new genre is romantic fantasy. The ones with less romance but a cute leading man (more often two) so while the heroine is being chased, magicked and otherwise moves the plot along, she can dream about which of the two interesting males she wants to spend time with. Most of them are laughable and not much else, though I was impressed with Dawn Cook's books.
I found myself comparing this one to two books I read a couple of months ago and never blogged about because I had mixed feeling and wasn't sure what I would say. But this book wanted to be The Lies of Locke Lamora sooooooo bad, but without all those icky bits. The Lies of Locke Lamora, and its sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies are lovable rogue books. The heroes are on the wrong side of the law, but they don't kill, unnecessarily, and mostly only rob rich people. This trope has been around since Robin Hood. I loved the book generally. The plot was rich and complex, the characters interesting and fresh, the dialogue witty and very funny, the language truly offensive. So when I finally decided that I didn't want the book around my house, I gave it to the library. They bought the sequel two weeks later. After starting several awful books in a row, I wanted something I knew I would like, so, feeling rather guilty about it, I read the next one. The language was better, though not anything I would recommend.
Magic Lost wants to be everything Locke Lamora is. It has the hero(ine) on a shaky footing with the law; thieves and pirates; heists and double-crosses; it even has the protagonist being singled out for unknown reasons and hunted across a city. (One of my favorite lines from Red Seas was "The entire economy of this city is now based on messing with us!" After a fourth assassination attempt.) The reason she did not accomplish it, though I do think Shearin writes very well, is that she shies away from the more unpleasant aspects of the underbelly of a city.
While I appreciate the lack of curse words and gore drenched fighting scenes, when you have an entire book worth of
He had my arms, so the action I was forced to take was entirely his fault. It was as direct as my previous action, but not nearly as polite. In the next instant the Guardian was on his knees trying to remember how to breathe.
That is a great description, but I felt like most of the action sequences in the book were like that, coy hinting of what really happened. So if violence bothers you, you can skip over what the people are really doing and focus on the dreamy Guardian who came to help the main character.
The bad guy wasn't clearly defined either. You get vague, undescribed hints about how bad he was, vague mentions of people going into his dungeons and never coming out, and that he feels evil and is a psycho, but no reason, no definition beyond evil scary guy. It seemed a shame because I thought there were some excellent ideas and plotting in the story and an interesting heroine. Perhaps she can stretch the boundaries of the romantic aspect of romantic fantasy and make the next one better.

Magic Lost, Trouble Found. Lisa Shearin. Ace Fantasy. 2007

The Lies of Locke Lamora & Red Seas Under Red Skies. Scott Lynch. Bantam. 2006 & 2008

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Eye of the World

I was looking for an easy read, something I knew I liked. I first read this book about 12 or 13 years ago. I was out of work and a friend recommended the series. It was a good thing I was out of work because I read the first four books (600+ pages) in three days. I read all night because I wanted to find out what happened. The characters became real. I had dreams about them and thought about the books all the time. It was scary how much they took over my brain. As the series continued it lost its hold a bit. When the author died without finishing the books I was more upset because I would never find out what happened in the end than I was about a person dieing. This is how I learned about Brandon Sanderson, he was chosen by Robert Jordan's widow to finish up the series. Having read all Sanderson's other books, I think she made an excellent choice. Now it looks like the end of the series will be three more books, with the first coming out in the fall.
All that is background to my reading this book, this time. I haven't read them for a while, not wanting to get irritated about no ending again. I was amazed at this book's ability to make me stay up too late even after multiple readings (at least 4) and years of knowing what happens to the characters later. This is an excellent book. I love the characters, the detail, the plot, the prophecy, it is all so well done.
The best part of rereading this book was seeing how much is put into the book to set up things that come later. There are bits of prophecy, there are characters that only have a chapter now but whole plot threads later. There are weird little incidents, not more than a paragraph, that prepare you for the huge plot twists that come later in the series. The amount of work it took to keep all of this straight is awe-inspiring. I can just imagine the office; with notes, diagrams, bulging file cabinets, all full of the details of the world Robert Jordan created.
His characters are incredible too. They are all people, even the serving maid and the innkeepers are people. So often the minor roles could just as well be faceless robots, with no personality, no interest beyond keeping the main characters fed. Though it takes up a lot of space, the incidental characters here feel like they continue living after the story has left them.
There are so many other parts of the novel I could rave about. The prophesies are the most I have ever seen in a book outside the Old Testament. The style of storytelling is not just a single line. As a character who is ill retells the last week, the narrative skips, following the jumbled memory of someone who has been ill and missed a bit of events. If the rest of the books had kept to this level of skill Robert Jordan would be proclaimed the best fantasy author of all time, perhaps even beating out Tolkien. Alas, they didn't. There was a marked drop-off about book 5, but by then you are so thoroughly hooked you keep reading anyway.
I will probably continue my read through of the series, getting ready for the next one in Nov. For a summary, and imagining of what the characters look like, check out this site

The Eye of the World. Robert Jordan. Tor. 1990

The Happiness Machine

This is an article I read today that left me wishing I had written it. I agree and endorse every word.
I think it is something most mothers know at some level, though those bad days make us forget sometimes.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Books I Didn't Finish

Two comments for Christopher Stasheff. First, Vidicon is a really bad name for a character, especially a saint. I kept reading it as vicodin. And while I'm sure that some people do pray for and maybe even to, vicodin, that wasn't the type of book he was trying to write.
Second, allegory is good if you are Nathaniel Hawthorne, but just barely. Allegory comparing software problems to the salvation of souls, probably can't be redeemed even if you could write as well as Hawthorne. And I hate Hawthorne's allegory anyway.
I have liked Stasheff in the past. This type of religious stuff works best in a medieval setting. In fact, I like his fantasy because too many authors like the medieval stuff, but leave out the predominant religious aspect. It does not work in a more modern setting, at least for me.

I received Genghis as a free book. I am supposed to write a review, but I couldn't really get far enough for a review, except for the following. There was WAY too much testosterone and chest beating and "this is how you become a man, my son" for me to continue. I have read non-fiction books about Genghis Khan and enjoyed them, but this was too much for me.

If anyone would like to try their luck, drop me a line. Otherwise they are on their way to the library next time we go.

Saint Vidicon to the Rescue. Christopher Stasheff. Ace. 2005

Genghis: Birth of an Empire. Conn Iggulden. Dell. 2008

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Meme of the Week- The Last One

I'm still not reading as much as I usually do, but I've run out of memes that are interesting enough to do. I'm getting bored. If I am bored then I wonder if I have now chased every reader away except Jen. I need to do this one to get it out of my head. I have been debating which way to go with this for a while, inane or TMI? The solution?--BOTH! So stop before you get to the bottom, it just gets worse.

25 Things about me you didn't know because you didn't bother to find out.

1. My favorite candy is Cadbury Mini Eggs (Love that Easter candy!)

2. I consider myself a philomath (just learned that word yesterday)

3. I hate sappy movies/books where the only point is to make you cry. I'm not into catharsis.

4. I once got 153 on an online IQ test.

5. I speak bad Spanish with a Portuguese accent.

6. I love the heat and the desert. I feel like part lizard in the spring, just basking in the sun. Then I shed my skin if I stay out too long.

7. I hate crowds. If I didn't have a family I could easily become agoraphobic.

8. I've been trying to exercise for nearly two years. Sum total weight lost: 15 pounds.

9. I'm not very good at resolutions and goals. I write them down, and then fail miserably within days.

10. I enjoy being alone.

11. Part of the reason I read is as an escape and vacation from real life.

12. I almost never laugh out loud, even when I think something is funny.

13. I am really bad at casual conversations. I'm not snubbing you, I just can't think of anything to say.

14. Being pregnant is the most miserable I have ever been, every single time.

15. I hated being the Ward Activities Committee Chairman(person, whatever). I would get a migraine after EVERY activity, and the shakes during most of them.

16. I make David make phone calls if he is around. He thinks I'm silly.

17. Sometimes I wonder if Ryan inherited his Asperger's from me. It shows up differently in girls, and not as severely.

18. I've planned ahead what smart alec remark to make if anyone ever gives me a hard time about my large family. But no one ever has.

19. I wasn't a very good missionary, especially in Chicago where I had to fight a lot of resentment.

20. Sometimes I am amazed at how wonderful my children are. I get teary eyed just watching them play.

21. I can see exactly how the choices I have made led me to the life I now have. I didn't just drift to where I am now, I chose it. There are a lot of details and difficulties and unexpected consequences, and I prayed and received guidance, but I have no one to blame.

22. We will probably have one more child. I know we are not done with our family. I have even thought about fostering children, when our own are a bit older.

23. I consider my marriage to be a result of direct divine intervention.

24. I can map my cycle during the month by my emotional fluctuations.

25. I fight depression every day, if I don't do the right things I start slipping down fast. I have to keep making the correct choices or I won't get through the day. I am grateful every day for repentance.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Black Hole War

This book was like a summary of everything I love about physics; the thought experiments, the elegant mathematics, the condensing of everyday reality into really bizarre activities on a subatomic level and the necessity of thinking in a completely new way to even begin to understand it all. The only thing I didn't like about this book is the continual regret that I do not have the mathematical chops to follow the math he didn't include. When my kids are all in school, I will continue and get that Physics degree that an English degree doesn't come close to equalling.
Susskind not only follows the progression of some extremely difficult physics with a translation everyone can understand, he also describes the personalities involved in the scientific dispute with wit and warmth. A scientific argument of this scale does not happen all that frequently and it is interesting to note that human qualities of curiosity, persistence and complacency have just as much to do with scientific achievement as mere cold facts do.
The equal parts respect and frustration that are accorded to Stephen Hawking is also interesting. The one physicist that everyone knows about is proven to be wrong about an essential fact of science. That alone is enough to make a good general reading book. We have a tendency to put great scientists on pillars they don't deserve. Ever since Einstein people have thought of physicists as our society's answer to mystic gurus who have the keys to the universe the plebeian masses cannot understand. But they are people who have egos just like the rest of us.
The author is direct in stating that String Theory and the interesting things happening in physics now is just the beginning of a revolution perhaps as epic as the changes that happened around the turn of the 20th century. There are a lot of things still to be figured out in this field, it is a very exciting time to be a physicist.

The Black Hole War: My Battle With Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics. Leonard Susskind. Little, Brown & Co. 2008

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Meme of the Week- 3 because my love has gone away.

David is out of town until Sat. and in the place of adult companionship I will post this meme about my spouse. Feel free to do the same.
You know the drill... copy, paste into a note, change your answers, then tag all your married girlfriends. Oh, and make sure you send your answers to your hubby and let him check!

1. He's sitting in front of the TV, what is on the screen?
most likely a kids movie. If he chose an action/sci-fi flick

2. You're out to eat/what kind of dressing on his salad?
bleu cheese

3. What's one food he doesn't like?

4. You go out to eat and have a drink. What does he order?

5. Where did he go to high school?

6. What size shoe does he wear?
11 1/2

7. What is his favorite type of sandwich?
Ham and cheese and tomato and pickles and lettuce and anything else you could pile on

8. What would he eat every day if he could?
chips and Herdez salsa (oh wait, he almost does eat this every day)

9. What is his favorite cereal?
Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds

10. What would he never wear?
uncomfortable shoes

11. What is his favorite sports team?
BYU football

12. Who did he vote for?

13. Who is his best friend?
me of course, or Ryan Morrill

14. What is something you do that he wishes you wouldn't do?
drink Dr Pepper

15. Something he does that you wish he wouldn't do?
stay up too late on the computer (not like that isn't what I'm doing right now)

16. You bake him a cake for his birthday; what kind of cake?

17. Did he play sports in high school?
Basketball but only jr high

18. What could he spend hours doing?
computer games, talking on phone to family

19. What is one talent he has?
wonderful with people

20. What's his favorite color?

Extra points if you know what song I quoted in the title