Once upon a time (or, Susan’s book pick: Fanny’s Dream by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner)

Sometimes I fantasize about organizing a “too much stuff” intervention for my parents. I try to tell them, nicely, that we have libraries, Blockbuster, and WalMart for a reason: so we don’t have to stockpile every last ding-dang thing in our own homes.

But ever since Sally learned how to read, it’s been kind of nice that they have too many old hardback copies of Nancy Drew, The Secret Garden, and Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint. Susan and Spot love Grandma’s picture books. Like toys, someone else’s books are always much more exciting that your own.

A couple months ago, Susan set down Grandma’s copy of Rapunzel long enough to discover Fanny’s Dream, an enchanting pseudo-Cinderella-type fairy tale. Fanny’s fairy godmother doesn’t arrive in time to send Fanny to the ball. Instead, her good friend Heber comes calling and offers her “one hundred and sixty acres, a little log cabin, and dreams of my own . . . and good food and great company.”

Fanny accepts, though she warns him that she doesn’t do windows. So Heber and Fanny settle down to a mundane life of farming, parenting, and laughing.

Here’s my favorite part (and a good candidate for fridge lamination):

As for Heber, he figured that it hadn’t been easy for Fanny to give up her dreams, so he made it a point to wait on her at least once a day, as if she were a princess, and every so often he wiped the grime off the windows.

When Fanny’s fairy godmother finally shows up, after three kids and a house fire and pig slopping, butter churning, and outhouse pranks played on Heber, Fanny has to decide whether she wants her current life or her dream life. I don’t want to give away the plot, but let’s just say I haven’t finished reading it yet without crying.

Last time I read it to the girls, I noticed an inscription on the title page: To Mom and Dad, love Jane and Dick, Christmas 1998. That was just six months after Dick and I were married. And I think I gave it to my mom because I know she gave up a lot of her dreams when she got married at 17, had me at almost-19, and then mothered continues to mother the five of us and grandmother the kids that we have added.

I guess it’s okay to hang on to some books forever.

Obviously, Fanny’s Dream Works for me!

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If it’s free, exactly how much would that be worth?

The Curse of the Critic
I’m completely blocked. Uneasy stomach, guilty headache. And I can’t write. Serves me right, right? I read an interesting post at Scribbit yesterday that made me feel defensive. In describing her product review philosophy, she wrote, “I don’t like writing posts that blast a product out of the water–seems a rather cheap shot. So if I can tell that I won’t like something I’ll turn them down.” Which is a good, honorable strategy. But, I wanted to comment, what if you’re offered a book, say, that you honestly expect to like and then it disappoints? Do you mail it back to the publicist? Warn them that you can’t say anything nice at all review it as positively as they would like?

What if, even though you sincerely regret trashing someone else’s literary style, the very mulling over of their overall conclusions fills you with such urgent indignation that you wish you could write your incredulity again, this time in all caps AND bold. And maybe italics for a little emphasis.

Well, what’s done is done, I’m taking my medicine (can’t vomit it out, anyway, those nasty rue-the-day’s burrow deep and gnaw at the oddest moments). And I’m left to wonder if part of the problem is the very nature of free stuff. Compare the Episode of the Book to the Physical Therapist aka the Angel of Rehabilitation and the Realtor Who Sold the House of Death.

Physical Therapist aka the Angel of Rehabilitation
Gail, who’s real name is Gail M., has spent five hours of her life on my shoulder. The best part is when she hooks up the electrodes and the heating pad and the massages and the stretching and the ultrasound waves and the electrodes and the massages and the exercises and the ice pack at the end. The other best parts are her listening to all of my worries and her reassurances that the thread poking out of my skin is a normal, not-yet-dissolved dissolving stitch, and her commiseration on the fact that my (not very empathetic) orthopedic surgeon is an orthopedic surgeon. The end.

Best of all is her confidence that the surgery and what we are doing now will be successful in fixing my shoulder. It’s also nice that she doesn’t mention the fact that I have not shaved my armpit in two weeks. Her only flaw is that she has refused, so far, to hook up the pulsing electrodes to my brain, where I think they could do the most good.

Realtor Who Sold the House of Death
We lived in a drug-infested neighborhood in Florida. Our house was shot into and burglarized, the house next door was raided by SWAT teams three times in two years, our fence was vandalized and stolen. I guess you could say that it wasn’t the best investment decision ever. We listed it first with a realtor from our church who was a nice guy though he didn’t really know our neighborhood (how could he? He was just like us). After seven months of that, we switched to John because he was already selling in our neighborhood. We had to move before the house sold, and John babysat it for us, showing up right after the police when the fence was stolen and spending his Saturdays supervising the repairs. He braved the maze that is Home Depot to organize a purchase order for us and then to pick-up and transport the building materials to our house for the contractor (that he found) to fix it.

That house went under contract seven times before it actually sold. People looking to buy in that price range were hard hit by the mortgage industry implosion, so financing fell through every other day. It took a few months and a loss on on our part, but he sold the house.

You really do Get What You Pay For
My physical therapy appointments are costing me, and my insurance company, big money. We paid John the Realtor 3500 bucks for his trouble. And both of them earn(ed) every penny. In Ayn Rand’s book, Atlas Shrugged, there’s a part where Dagny Taggart has arrived in Galt’s Gulch and John Galt is giving her a tour. They need transportation, so Galt pays a quarter to rent a car from a good friend. Dagny asks why they can’t just borrow the car, and Galt says that’s not a good way of living. It’s not good to get something for free.

I almost hesitate to invoke Ayn Rand. I don’t have the confidence in my own ability or talent or self to withstand the strict requirements of Art and Being that she evangelizes in her books. (Not to mention the objections I have to the insane sophistries she employed to defend her private infidelities). But I think she was on to something here: you value that which you work hard for. Or, if she were a prepositional stickler and against second-person, “one values that for which one works hard.”

How on earth does that relate to the book I got in the mail with a request to “recommend” it? Well, I expected, when first approached, to enjoy a book about the journey a mom takes from mundane despair to utter fulfillment. If, however, I had found the book while browsing at Barnes and Noble, and if I had considered whether to part with my hard-earned (Dick’s hard-earned and well-shared) money on that book, I would have read the back blurb carefully, skimmed a few pages (much less than I read for my initial review), and I would have set it back down carefully. Then I would have walked to the children’s section, where Spot would’ve been shrieking with delight as she found book after book to throw on the floor.

By the time I got home, I wouldn’t have remembered the name of the book.

So, from now on, I think it’s best that I only do product reviews for dark chocolate, Mountain Dew, and sleep aids. You know, things I can reasonably expect to enjoy even if they are free.