Friday, January 29, 2016

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Mark Haddon

This book was mentioned in "Love Anthony" and it was also on the Rory Gilmore reading challenge list. I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it work for the 2016 reading challenge, but it was available on kindle, so I checked it out anyway. And that's when I discovered it takes place in England! Score, "Book set in Europe" check!

This book had me all over the place. I was absolutely convinced I'd be giving in a 4 star review. There is a LOT of swearing. A LOT of the f-bomb...more than I'm usually comfortable with. (In fact, I just returned a book I tried reading for the 2016 challenge of a book where the protagonist has the same profession as you, so I picked "The Music Teacher" but it had so much swearing being used in ways I was not comfortable with and also a few other crude/lewd comments). But I just skimmed over those parts as best I could.

This book is told by Christopher, who is 15. Mark Haddon has said that this isn't a book about a specific syndrome or disorder, but about differences. However, with that said, the behaviors that Christopher has are highly correlative to high functioning autism/savant. He is EXTREMELY bright at math. He talks quite a bit about math and shows math equations and my eyes glazed over. I didn't even TRY to understand most of it. But he is not able to decipher non-verbal cues. He has a one on one teacher at his school for children with special needs, Siobhan, who helps him to understand the people around him. Siobhan wrote a happy face and a sad face, and Christopher knows what those mean. But once she starts drawing other emotive faces, he doesn't know what they mean. He doesn't know mad, frustrated, unsure, uneasy, confused, etc. He said he once made Siobhan write them all out and what emotion they were and he was trying to use it as a reference sheet in real live conversations but that the expressions changed too quickly and people were put off by it. He is very literal minded. He said that people are not specific enough. They would ask him to be quiet, but never tell him for how long.

The story starts with him finding his neighbor's dog murdered, being falsely accused of the murder, accidentally on purpose hitting a police officer (he doesn't like being touched, so he hit the officer to get him to stop touching him, but he didn't mean to inflict harm, if that makes sense). He lives with his father who lets him be himself for the most part and indulges him in the "rules" that Christopher has made for himself. He doesn't like yellow or brown things. He doesn't like his food to touch on the plate. If he sees so many red cars in a row on the way to school, it determines how Good of a day it will be, but so many yellow cars in a row make it a "Black Day" where he closes off and doesn't to anything. He is only allowed to have 2 of those days in a row at school. The third day, he shuts his eyes on the way to school so he won't know if he sees so many yellow cars in a row.

He explains that other people don't take in details like he does. If someone were to be in a field with some cows, they'd see some cows, the field, flowers, and then think that it was a beautiful day and their mind would wander to other things. For him, he can tell you the date, day, time, what the cloud formations were, exactly how many cows there were and how many were white with black spots and how many were white with brown spots and that there were two different kinds of flowers in the field, etc. And that he can't help taking in all those details. So when he goes someplace new, he's flooded with all that information and it's too much, which is why he doesn't like new places.

I can't say too much more about the plot without it being a HUGE spoiler, but let me just say that the ending is what tipped me to the 5 star rating. The way things were reconciled in the end both with other people in Christopher's life and with his own self-reflection/perception, made me smile and feel SO good! This story showed how hard it is to learn to live with people who think in such a different way than the majority of society, but how even though it's hard, we CAN figure things out and meaningful ways of communicating. For instance, since Christopher doesn't like being touched, especially not hugged, his parents devised an alternative. They will hold up their right hand, with their fingers fanned out and Christopher will hold up his left and he makes it so all their fingers and thumb touch and that means they love him.

So I think this book helps bring to light more about the similarities between all people rather than the differences. That sometimes there are certain things that are needed-Christopher doesn't mind going to a special needs school because they always have an environment that he is comfortable with-and it's not cruel or treating them as subhuman or anything. That it would be more cruel to ask them to be where they aren't happy or comfortable. And that there are MANY different ways to communicate with people. That adapting ourselves to others and allowing them to be who they are is not really such a hard thing. We do this with lots of people in more subtle ways, so why not just go all the way in more obvious ways when necessary?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

This book killed two birds with one stone. It is on the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge as well as the 2016 Reading Challenge as "A Classic from the 20th Century" (I'm hoping to double those two lists a few times this year).

I had never read anything by Faulkner before.....I gave it 3 stars because I appreciate the pretense and the writing, but I did not enjoy the story. I felt constantly annoyed by the characters and their selfish views on the world, but in the same breath wasn't sure I could judge them for what they clearly had never been taught. This book is full of what is called "unreliable narrators" and to be honest, I read this chapter by chapter along with the Spark Notes because I felt I was missing some things (and I clearly was). But I think the lesson to be learned from this book is what my husband learned earning his Psychology degree: People's perception is their reality. And that's what we see here. We see the same events from different points of view-and for awhile you feel sympathetic towards one character, but when you see things through another's eyes you stop feeling that way as much. So let that be a lesson: when someone tells you the events of something, because that's the perception you receive, you will most likely be swayed to be on "their" side. Make sure you logically look at the other sides before making judgment on anything.

There are some confusing things and a LOT of loose ends at the end, but maybe that was part of the writing style of back then. There was also a fair share of Freudian ideas because he was the "in thing" back in the day, so it was definitely current at the time it was written.

I'm not sure if any of Faulkner's other works are on the Rory Challenge, but it was a "trudge through" thinking book, so if there are, I'll definitely space it out with other things to read so all those ideas have time to percolate by themselves before introducing new serious themes. Otherwise I'll never fall asleep at night.....

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Love, Anthony, Lisa Genova

So this 2016 reading challenge thing is really fun....but so far, I've picked books I've already wanted to read and made them fit into the list....hehe.....

I've had this one on my radar and saw it was "checked in" at the library so I grabbed it. I thought I'd have to pass it off as the "book from the library" but guess what? Nope! This little gem takes place on and island. That's right, Nantucket island.

Anywho, I really enjoyed this book.

There were some believability aspects that were hard to swallow, which is why it's not up to 5 stars, and I'm sure that if the two main protagonists, Olivia (mother of Anthony who was born with autism) and Beth (author of Anthony's thoughts and insights for her novel) had met up earlier in the story and collaborated rather than it being a seemingly coincidental or divine interventional. But it didn't bother me enough to knock it more than one star. Mostly because I felt that it would be nit-picky beyond the scope of the author's intentions to help us, the readers, to better understand what might be going on inside the mind of a person who has autism.

There are two very different story lines going on, first is Beth, who finds out that her husband cheated on her for a prolonged period of time. She's a Nantucket transplant and has a group of tight knit friends who are an amazing support to her, offering great advice, but refusing to make decisions for her. She is the mother of 3 girls.

The other character is Olivia. You get to hear her story in the present, as she has recently separated from her husband following the death of her non-verbal autistic son, Anthony. She ends up on Nantucket because she and her husband own an investment property there and she needed time away from all the things that reminded her of her son. We get perspective of her from her reading previous journal entries of her life. It is raw and emotional. It feels real because I've experienced similar emotions to other things that are out of my control in life, though on a MUCH smaller scale. While the other books of Genova's that I've read, the couple stays together through harsh trials, Olivia and her husband, David, get a divorce after the separation. This makes things very real because it's become pretty common knowledge that parents of autistic children are much more likely to divorce than parents of non-autistic children, even when you factor in other conditions like Down's Syndrome. I kept hoping that maybe they'd get back together and heal together, but that was just too much fairy tale wishing.

Beth also becomes estranged from her husband after she asks him to leave following receiving a card in the mail from his mistress informing her of the affair. Beth spends most of the novel trying to decide if she wants to be divorced or if she is able to offer forgiveness. Her journey, while I hope I never have to experience it, has the ups and downs, and all sorts of pro/con list type thoughts that I would probably have myself. In part of this time of separation, she re-discovers her love of writing and finds inspiration in some of her previous short works when she saw an autistic boy lining up rocks on the beach. So she decides to write about what it's like to be inside his head.

This part is brilliant. I feel like I can make better decisions when approaching people who think differently. While no two cases of autism are the same, I really appreciated her imagery of how many people with autism need to compartmentalize and how it happens for them: rooms and hallways. If they are in the Counting Room, they cannot hear what you are saying because in order to hear you, then need to leave the Counting Room and go to the Ears Room, and it's not as enjoyable as the Counting Room. And if you touch them, they are all of a sudden thrust into the Hands Room (physical touch) and they don't like being yanked from one room to the other. In between rooms are hallways and sometimes they get stuck there and they don't like to be stuck there and there is a Horror Room where anytime things get to be too much, that's where their brain sends them. There are also Rules that a person with autism really likes. It will be different for all of them, but they all appreciate hard and fast rules "Always Rules" rather than Depends Upon Rules. For instance, Anthony says that he used to think that light switches were Always Rules because up was always on and down was always off, but then there was a power outage and the Rule changed. One time his mom didn't follow routine of going straight home from playground and he KNEW they were NOT going home, because the way home was a certain way and that wasn't the way they were going. So it caused a meltdown. Later he muses that maybe there is more than one way to get home. Maybe there are 2 ways. But if there are 2 ways, there might be MORE ways and he just doesn't even know how to cope with that. He also has a love of 3. He always has 3 french toast sticks for breakfast, but one day there are only 2 and no more in the box in the freezer. His mom tries to fix it by breaking one in half, but that makes it worse because they are not 3 of the SAME. There is 1 big and 2 medium. He wishes he could talk, to tell his mom that it can be fixed if she cut the big one to be medium and threw the rest away, or made them all a different length, but he can't. He doesn't think his brain is broken, but his throat or tongue or voice, because he thinks just fine, he just can't verbalize.

I love the part when Olivia talks about perceptions. Why does she need to make Anthony fit this mold of what they think he should love and do? Why can't they accept that he loves something and let him love it (like Barney, way past the appropriate age for it)? She reasons if someone forced her to give up something she loved and make her do something else, she wouldn't be very happy or herself. She struggles with knowing if Anthony felt loved; but she struggled because she felt that in order for him to feel loved, she needed to do certain things that he didn't like: hugs, kisses, eye contact, words. But in actuality, allowing him to be who he was and participating in his love of things like lining up white rocks or staring at a blue sky were ways of expressing love that he both understood and accepted. Kind of like the "Love Languages" but for the autistic. It was very eye opening.

I feel like I'm already an accepting person, but sometimes I'm unsure if I'm coming across the way I want to. I don't want to be like what Auggie in "Wonder" described as "overly nice", but I don't want to come across as insensitive if I pretend that nothing is different and treat them like everyone else when maybe you do need to at least acknowledge so it's not "pretending" but "seeing and not having it affect how you see the actual person" if that makes sense. So I hope that I don't stare or look like I'm judging, or look away too soon. I hope that I can use some of my new perspective in helping my children understand and treat others appropriately.

Because in the end, this book wasn't just about autism or the people whose lives are affected by it, but about love. Love in general, and how to love. How to be unconditional about it in all aspects of our lives, because by human nature, we love conditionally. It's not at Always Rule. When maybe it should be. Now, loving doesn't mean you have to always agree or even trust someone with your life. You can have a love and reverence for human life and fellow man in general. We can love enough to give people second chances and to allow for mistakes and irritations and them not showing us love in the way we want them to. We can love someone even when they hurt us-intentional or not, and then rationally determine whether or not this love can extend to them being a part of our lives still or not. And in return, we can accept others offerings of love toward us, even if it's in a way that we normally wouldn't think of as love. We can choose to accept that maybe love is shown by scraping your icy windshield instead of diamonds, or maybe love is cooking dinner every night instead of sex every night. Love is SO MUCH MORE than we allow ourselves to see. I am committed to seeing the acts of love given to me every day by my family, because those acts of love, I'm convinced, are more common place and take the shape and form of every day occurrences that I've taken for granted. Thank you, Anthony, for opening my eyes to so very many things.

*I now cannot wait to read Carly's Voice since it is both non-fiction and current

Another I have on my to-read list is "The Way I See It" by Temple Grandin

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Winter, Marissa Meyer

I did it! I finished "Winter" today. This one is counting for my 2016 reading challenge as the "book over 600 pages" since it has over 800. Thank goodness it was a page turner! SO good. Happy endings all around, so totally unrealistic, but happy. There are so many elements of other books......biological warfare like in Matched, turning friends against each other, like in Hunger Games and "hi-jacking", mutant warriors, kinda like in Extras, etc. BUT that didn't stop me from enjoying these books. Oh, and NO LOVE TRIANGLES! Yes! Everyone has their own love interest so no one has to choose between someone else.

One big take away: sometimes tyrants cannot be reasoned with or given a chance to change. Because they won't. Showing them mercy only turns you into a victim. Sometimes you CAN'T negotiate, no matter how much you wish you could, and if you end up getting stabbed in the back while attempting to do so, you'll be lucky to survive giving such an offer. So there ARE times when it is justifiable just to quickly eliminate the enemy for the safety of EVERYONE.

I feel like there can be more to this story, epilogue type stuff, but I don't feel a NEED to have more. I can be happy just imagining my own future for everyone. The only BIG thing left up in the air is whether or not the device that Cinder had installed that interrupted her ability to access her Lunar gift was successfully replicated and whether or not it was able to help Winter. But based on everything else, I'm willing to say that it all works out perfectly.

There was a LOT of action. And it was fast paced. It didn't have to be as long as it was, though. It had elements of 'they're caught again, they get away again, they get caught again, they get away again' and the one plot hole where Jacin actually gets away without providing proof to Levana that he followed through. Unless of course, she was truly as distracted and psycho as Meyer had painted her to be, then I could see how she might start being less careful, thorough and attentive. And she was completely psychotic.

But another thing I started thinking about....physical appearances. Lunar's prized physical appearance SO much, they would rather see a lie than have to accept the truth. Meyer was REALLY great to point out that Levana was NOT ugly because of her physical appearance, it was ALL on the inside. Which I really appreciated a LOT. However, there are SO many controversial things going on based on physical appearance. To wear make up or not. Is make up a lie? Does it make you fake? It's ok, because it gives women confidence. It helps women with skin conditions feel normal and human. It makes a girl feel like she looks like a person. BUT WHY do they NOT FEEL HUMAN in the first place? WHY does their physical appearance cause them SHAME to begin with? WHY isn't a human in a natural, not made up condition considered to look like a "person" or a "a person who just doesn't care." Why can't we just be taught and truly BELIEVE that beauty is so much more than what a person looks like? Why can't the human body and face be accepted in it's natural state? I honestly don't think there are any easy answers. But if you have a daughter who reads this too, just like if they read Uglies, is a good conversation to have. See what she thinks about this issue. Personally, I don't like spending money on things that are not necessity or memory making experiences. So to make my make up last longer, I don't typically wear any on a regular basis right now. I did when I worked because I taught middle school and I'm short and I figured I needed a way to stand out among them, and doing my make up like the late 20 something I was at the time was the way I achieved that. I also wear a little to church or for formal pictures and special occasions. I feel like I look good without make up and amazing with it. Sometimes I feel pressured to wear it more often. I do still work, it's just out of my home teaching private lessons. But the other part of me thinks that I'm not being true to who I am when I put it on. I feel like if I am going to be a confident, vibrant woman, I need to be that first WITHOUT any exterior prompting. But that said, I don't think that I am being a fake when I do wear it. I feel like where I live, wearing a little make up is a culturally acceptable way to indicate that I feel something is important enough to put effort into having a more polished look. I'm hoping that I cant each my daughter when she's ready for wearing make-up, that while it is fun to create a 'new look' and how because you have it on, you may feel more bold or confident, those feelings don't come from the make up. They come from your choices and your actions; they come from within.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Michael Vey: Storm of Lightening, Richard Paul Evans

Well, it's getting harder to find pictures of the book covers that can be used form a URL!

Book 5 of 7. *I also just decided to attempt the Popsugar 2016 Reading has more books on it than I originally would have picked for myself, but we'll see how far I get. This one counts as the "YA Best Seller".

WOW. Another great fast, thrilling ride! So much more information is given, yet the BIGGEST is yet to come. We were face with the identity of The Voice in the very bottom of the very last page and then....THE END. What??!!??!! And another 9-10 months until the next book. WHY do I get myself into series before they're finished?? It's such a horrible idea, but I fall for it. Every. Time. Sometimes it's an accident (Divergent), but most of the time I must just be a glutton for punishment.

There is more action and plot movers than character development. I would have liked to have a lot more inside other character's minds, but things are happening and happening fast.

My FAVORITE part of the book is SO incredibly relevant. It's a monologue by the villain, Hatch to his second in command Quentin on how to be the perfect and ultimate dictator. It's two pages long (183-184) but it's SO INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT that I'm going to post some of it here. I started making it a FB status, but realized that you need ALL of it and not just a status amount of it to have it make its full impact.

"The greatest threat to a dictator is not from without but from within. The first rule is, you must keep your subjects divided. A united people is a smoldering revolution. A divided people is a conquered people."  "How do I do that?" Quentin asked. "You make them hate one another. Before World War Two, Hitler was amazed and disgusted by the hate the German people exercised toward one another. He harnessed their animosity and directed it to his own ends."....."How do I make them hate each other?" "You begin by teaching them that they have been wronged by one another-that they are victims of a grave injustice-and encourage them to embrace their victimhood." "What if they haven't been wronged?" "Everyone has been wronged," Hatch said. "Everyone. And if you can't find a potent enough current injustice, then borrow someone else's. Find one that happened to someone else long ago and make your citizen a supposed crusader for justice. Imbue them with a sense of moral superiority as they trample the rights of others beneath their feet. Righteous indignation is the alibi of mobs and murderers....Unfortunately the Tuvaluan people are of the same race and culture, as cultural disparity is the easiest way to divide a nation. But divisions in humanity can always be found. Turn men against women and women against men. Divide the young from the old, the rich from the poor, the educated from the uneducated, the religious from the nonreligious, the privileged from the underprivileged. Teach them to shame others and to use shame as a tool to their own ends. Make the ridiculous ideal of 'equality' their rallying cry. Let them get so caught up in their supposed moral superiority that they'd rather see all men grovel in poverty than rise in differing levels of prosperity. Do not let them see that there has never been nor ever will be true equality, in property or rights. Equality is not the nature of the world or even the universe. Even if you could guarantee everyone the same wealth, humans would reject the idea. They would simply find a different standard to create castes, as there will always be differences in intelligence, physical strength, and beauty. Don't worry if your propaganda is true or false. Truth is subjective. It's as easy to tell a big lie as a small one. And any lie told enough will be regarded as truth. In dividing the young from the old, do not teach the youths the error of their elders' ways, as they may see through your propaganda. Instead, mock their elders. Mocking requires neither proof nor truth, as it feeds the fool's ego. You will see that when it comes to the masses, the stupider the individual, the more they want to prove it to the world. The second rule is to keep the people distracted from the weightier and more complex matters of liberty and justice. Keep them obsessed by their amusements-just as the Roman emperor Commodus gave the Roman people games to distract them from his poor leadership. A championship soccer team may do more to ease a public's suffering than a dozen social programs. If your subjects can name a movie star's dog but not the president of their country, you have no need to fear. The third rule is to to teach them not to trust one another. An ancient proverb says 'Kings have many ears and many eyes.' You must build a web of informants from within the population. Openly reward those who report on their neighbors. If your subjects don't know who is an informant and who isn't, they will never risk speaking their grievances."...."You will learn that human nature is a game. Learn to control the few, and you will someday control the masses. Give them hate. Give them games."

Okey dokey....who out there has found parallels in today's world? Someone recently mentioned that the downfall of America is happening right now because NO ONE wants to "Identify" as 'American'. They want to identify as native american, hispanic, latino, asian american, african american, etc. etc. they are SO caught up in the grievances of the past that they demand that someone pay for it today-even if no one they personally know today has connections to those "borrowed" grievances. We are constantly dividing ourselves and pitting ourselves against one another. Organic vs. conventional. Breast vs. bottle. Stay at home moms vs. working moms. Those who have and have not. And lies are perpetuated EVERY DAY on Facebook and accepted and touted as truth. I'm talking blatant lies like the hoaxes that go around:"Moon melon" Anyone? That's the supposed blue watermelon that is in reality a photoshop exercise. How many crimes have been committed by all different types of people in the name of "righteous indignation"? Everything from the KKK to ISIS to that crazy Baptist church that protests soldier funerals falls into that category. Can't we see that ANYTHING that makes us different from one another and demands recourse for being different is HURTING and DIVIDING us which makes us already conquered. But we're ok. We still have the Super Bowl. And college ball. Lots of balls. We have dancing too! And don't forget those Bachelor's and Bachelorette's who just know the only way they are going to find true love is to be on a television show to help them. We care more about whether a dress is blue and black or white and gold that we did about what was going on with our country's security for heaven's sake! Social media is the EASIEST way governments can keep us distracted and they don't even have to do a darn thing! We do all of this to ourselves.

I am a Christian and as I read those things Hatch was saying, I was reminded that Christ's way really is the only way for freedom-we have to love people (not always agree with them) and try to be "as one". And we have to be ok with the fact that someone is always going to have more of what we don't. It's not a capitalist thing; it's a fact. Like Hatch said, even if we could be equal in most things, we'd still find a way to be different. So give up on the idea that everyone is always going to be identical and realize that equality isn't about being identical. To use a simple algebraic equation, a=c. a is NOT the same as c, they are different, but they CAN both represent the same quantity. Why not just be a=a then? I don't know. I never did fully grasp the motivation in math, but I know that a=c is a possibility.

Anyhow, I wish we as a nation would just stop playing into these rules that keep us divided and distracted. Luckily we're not to rule #3 yet, and I really hope it never comes to that. I'm really looking forward to having my older daughter read these books, especially for those two pages. However, Hatch is INSANELY disturbing as usual-taking humiliation and fear control to the highest level so far (SPOILER: by making the former Prime Minister of Tuvalu into the Prime Monkey by surgically removing his tongue so he cannot speak and forcing him to live out the rest of his life on public display in a monkey cage with other monkeys naked with the threat that if he attempts to take his own life one of his children will take his place-and knowing that Hatch WOULD follow through on that threat). It makes me nearly physically ill. So I want ALL of the books to be out before she starts reading it so that she can have psychological resolution as quickly as she can read the books (it'll probably take her around a week....). I just worry that he's too evil to expose my innocent 10 year old to. I mean, I think I'd even let her read Hunger Games before this one because Hunger Games has a lot less psychological trauma going on; yes there's a lot of physical violence, but it's presented in a way that didn't affect me nearly as much as Hatch does. Pure absolute EVIL. But I am looking forward to her having this evil presented in such an overt and obvious way, in hopes that she will then be able to assess and recognize the more subtle forms that she will most likely encounter throughout her life.