Do your parents know what your favorite book is?

Sarah Palin is like a national Rorschach inkblot test, especially for women. What we see when we look at her tells an awful lot about us. I’m not talking her politics per se, I’m talking her great hair, snappy clothes, edgy glasses, and Tina Fey sparkle.

Maybe we hate her because she’s beautiful. Maybe we love her ’cause she’s feisty. Maybe we feel threatened by her seeming ability to have it all. Maybe we think her priorities are really mixed up as we yell at the kids to get their ding-dang shoes on RIGHT THIS MINUTE. Maybe we think she’s the Rosa Parks of the 21st century. Maybe we think a beauty queen could never be king.

I have mixed feelings about her (politically AND personally), but I don’t really care that the Republican National Committee spent $150,000 outfitting her with more bracelet jackets, though reading about it did send me to my Project Runway guide.

Me: What’s a bracelet jacket?

Tara: I don’t know — a cropped jacket maybe?

Me: But I think she wears longer, belted ones too. I think it just means you can see her bracelet when she wears it.

Tara: Oh. I guess that could be it.

The sartorial excesses of the aspirational governing class don’t really offend me. What else are they going to spend all those donations on anyway? More bad TV commercials?

But I’ll tell you what I do care about. Sarah Palin’s parents remember her reading everything from the local newspaper to Little House on the Prairie as a “strong, quiet” child, but they can’t quite recall what her favorite book was as she got older.

That may seem like a little thing. And it would be great if they listed a bunch of books that she read and raved about, but just couldn’t pin it down to one favorite. But no. “Her parents could not recall her favorite books as she grew older, but said they read Reader’s Digest aloud as a family.”

Reader’s Digest, my friends.

Now, I like me some Reader’s Digest when I’m indisposed, and I confess to enjoying a lot of frothy romantic-suspense-mystery-romance in my Thank Everything Holy The Kids Are In Bed time.

But my parents know what my favorite book is.

(And it ain’t Reader’s Digest.)

(Unless I’m on the pot.)

Do your parents know what your favorite book is?

Visit more What’s On Your Nightstand?

Stephenie Meyer, have you been talking to J.J. Abrams?

(Breaking Dawn and Fringe SPOILER ALERT)

Dear Stephenie,

Did you catch the second episode of the new (almost-as-good-as Alias, probably-like-X-Files) show on Fox, Fringe? I know you’re sad, sad, sad right now about the internet-leaking of Midnight Sun, and probably you have better things to do than watch House and Fringe on Tuesday nights. Like write. Or play with your three sons or talk to your husband. But some of us don’t (or, we do, but, our husbands have Scouts on Tuesdays anyway, and the kids are asleep/snacking/screaming in their rooms, and writing isn’t getting us anywhere that it’s taking you).

So there I was, watching my new show Fringe, and I have to tell you that Bella’s pregnancy and delivery in Breaking Dawn was my favorite part of that book. I loved how Re-gag-me was a vampiric parasite, much like all babies, who leach the calcium from their mother’s bones and who, if you’re Rh-negative and have a husband who’s Rh-positive, all of your kids will be A-positive and you have to get two extra shots and even more blood drawn so your body won’t turn on them. Which, if you think about it and you think that vampirism is like a virus or blood disease, really makes sense.

Photo from Fox.com. You can watch full episodes at hulu.com or Fox.com.

Anyway, the good people writing Fringe totally stole your idea of the baby who develops, in utero and out, much faster than normal. Of course, they followed the logical conclusion that aging and death would also come prematurely, whereas you came up with some ducks machine about development stopping at a very auspicious time, say, right when Re-gag-me would be a perfect age for the imprinting/newly-vampirphiliac Jacob.

I think Pacey would make a good Jacob, actually, which is another sign that you’ve been talking to J.J. Abrams lately. Or maybe you need a good copyright attorney.

Yours,

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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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Sally Reviews The Princess Academy; Everybody is Guest-Post Writing

I learned about Shannon Hale from Stephenie Meyer‘s Breaking Dawn acknowledgments page: Thanks to my peer support, Shannon Hale, for understanding everything.

Oh! How joining that group would be sweeter than all the Be Fri – St Ends necklaces in the world.

The next best thing was a trip to the library, where I got Austenland, Shannon Hale’s first grown-up book, and Sally got The Princess Academy, her Newberry Honor book.

At first Princess Academy wasn’t princessy enough for Sally, who’s seen Barbie as the Island Princess one too many times. A few weeks later, after a detour through the old Nancy Drew books, Sally picked up Princess Academy again, and this time she was hooked. I sat down with her last night to see if it’s something I’d like to read:

On a scale of 1 to Harry Potter, how was it? I liked it as much.

What was your favorite part? When the bandits came.

Was it set in the real world? No, it was set in somebody else’s world, but that world seemed real.

Would you like to live in that world? No, it’s all cold on Mount Eskel.

Would you recommend it to your friends? Yes. What about the boys? I think boys would like it — there are princes and stuff in it.

There you have it: Two Thumbs Up for The Princess Academy. Sally is seven, but I think it would appeal to tweens, teens, and even grown-ups who remember reading Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books and Ursula K. LeGuin.

As for Austenland, I couldn’t help comparing it to the Twilight series, even though they are incredibly different. The authors share many characteristics — they’re both female, Mormon, mothers of small children, and both write YA books. They also both write romance-y books for a PG audience.

The first half of Austenland was delightful. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I read Melinda’s copy of the Complete Jane Austen when I was thirteen, and that I watch both the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth and Keira Knightley/Matthew MacFadyen Pride and Prejudices regularly. Hale’s writing is fantastic. One of her images still thrills me: she compares an middle-aged woman suddenly outshone by a younger flirty woman to a wilted carrot in the back of the refrigerator. I’ve had enough sad carrots in my crisper to love this image!

But the romance/plot is ultimately unsatisfying. I want to be convinced that my hero and heroine belong together. That they deserve each other, fit together, that their relationship will last. And she couldn’t convince me of that. Contrast that to Stephenie Meyer, who is not the world’s greatest writer. And who could use an editor like that carrot could use a shot of adrenaline.

But Stephenie Meyer is an incredible storyteller. Her plots are satisfying and convincing and I feel like I will die if her characters don’t end up together.

Is it too much to ask for great storytelling and fantastic writing all in the same book? Maybe they could collaborate? I mean, when they’re not busy understanding each other?

—-

If you’ve ever wondered how to (or if you should) express your religious beliefs in your online writing, check out my guest post at Segullah today: Have you born your testimony on YouTube yet?

And for a great example of the power of blogging for good, check out Blog Community Supports Injured Couple. Tara at The Well-Rounded Woman talks about how bloggers have raised money and pulled together for Stephanie and Christian Nielson.

Aack. I just realized I’m a week behind on the theme. Sorry! Next month I’ll have a children’s book. Promise.

Eat, Drink, Vampire, Bella: a Review of The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

The perfect romance novel of all time is The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. It was great when I was an innocent twelve, and it’s fantastic now that I’m the 31 year-old mother of three girls, who I would love to have read every single word of Montgomery’s. In fact, if they wanted to read her books and short stories all day long, I’d never make them go to school. I would never ask someone reading Anne of Green Gables to come set the table (see how glad you are that you decided to read the archives of Mom’s blog, 12 year-old Sally?).

If I ever wrote a book and someone (who knew where I got my first and third daughters’ names) said it reminded them of an L.M.Montgomery book, I would lock myself in the bathroom and cry happy tears for three days straight. And then come out and read the Emily of New Moon trilogy again.

So that’s my literary standard. I’ve also read just about every other kind of romance there is, from the classic to the near-pornographic. I’m a Mormon (didn’t say a good one), a woman, a BA-in-English reader, a mom, a wife, a sometime-aspiring writer, and I have to tell you what I think about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, because either you’ve never heard of them and could care less, or you have heard and could care less or you’ve read them all and (love or hate them) have talked/blogged/read enough of other people’s reviews to care less about yet another review.

Still, I have to say that I am conflicted by the Twilight Saga — indeed, one could say, if one were inclined toward impassioned prose, that I want to both love them forever and to sink my teeth into them and drain all the blood from their weak, helpless bodies.

First I’ll admit that I’m jealous of Stephenie Meyer’s success. I’m jealous of her book tours and her new house, and that she never has to cook anymore, and I’m pretty sure she’s hired a cleaner and child-minder. But even more, I’m jealous of her inspiration and focus. That she dreamed a plot and then that she sat down and actually wrote the whole ding-dang thing. So that’s some of the conflict, but mostly it’s that the English major/fangirl/Mormon/Mom/latent feminist in me see the books very differently.

+++SPOILER WARNING+++

As a BA-in-English Reader

Holy get-an-editor, Batman. The first 75+ pages of Breaking Dawn should have been a 5-page epilogue to book three. If I’d picked up the last book in the series without having read the first three or being invested in the characters, I would have been able to put it down and never look back. I get that extreme popularity is an overwhelming validation of good-enoughness, but, these books are lazy. Lazy writing, lazy editing, lazy including-of-every-stray-thought lazy.

One plot point in particular — They’re terrified for Bella to see her own daughter, yet have no fear that the vampire witnesses will be tempted to drink Renesmee’s blood after they smell her half-humanness and listen to her heartbeat. These are vampires WHO KILL HUMANS on purpose. Wuh? Maybe if an editor had read the book this could’ve been discussed? Lazy.

As a Fangirl

I couldn’t put any of the books down. I love that all the ends tied up neatly, that Jacob imprinted on she-with-the-worst-name ever, that Bella got to finally become a vampire, that the vampires and werewolves (shapeshifters — whatever) are all friends. Things turning out well and happily-ever-afters divide enjoyable fiction from serious fiction, and thank goodness for that.

As a Mormon Mother

After Breaking Dawn, I agreed with Tara that how Stephenie Meyer handled the sex/intimacy in the book was fantastic. Meyer portrayed desire without any body parts heaving or throbbing. She also expressed the uncertainty (after months of anticipation) that surprised me on my own wedding night:

I was freaking out because I had no idea how to do this, and I was afraid to walk out of this room and face the unknown. . . .

How did people do this – swallow all their fears and trust someone else so implicitly with every imperfection and fear they had – with less than the absolute commitment Edward had given me? If it weren’t Edward out there, if I didn’t know in every cell of my body that he loved me as much as I loved him—unconditionally and irrevocably and, to be honest, irrationally, I’d never be able to get up off this floor. (p 83)

When Dick tried to get to second-base after our wedding ceremony and before our reception that night, I felt so weird. If you’ve spent 21 years believeing that all sexual intimacy should be reserved for marriage, suddenly being able to express all the desire that has been raging in your body is heady, frightening, exhilirating, nauseating.

And if you’re as lucky as I was, your 23-year-old husband is even more clueless about how the whole process will even work. Ten years later, the fact that, through faith and goodness on his part and, really, blind luck and strange circumstances on my part, the first time we ever experienced connubial bliss was with each other is really one of the biggest wonderful things in my entire life.

Does that sound naive and silly? I want that for my daughters — their own purity and their husbands’. I have good friends, friends I love like sisters who, through different beliefs, different experiences, or just different lives, had slightly different wedding nights. And most of them have wonderful marriages to incredible men. (And on the other side, my sweet sister who never even kissed a boy before her husband is going through a sad divorce. Obviously, virginity guarantees nothing, and experience doesn’t dictate disaster.) But this is still what I pray for for my daughters.

That doesn’t mean I think Edward is the archetypal husbandly-ideal, despite his refusal to sleep with Bella outside of marriage. I like that Mormons revere chastity. But it is incredible to me that fornication is so bad in Mormon terms that the fact that Edward has murdered people is a mere footnote next to the big headlines about his never having been impure. Sure, he now only hunts wild animals, we believe in repentance, yadda yadda, but last time I checked, you could repent for fornication, as well.

So for a woman who has read stuff she really ought not to have read, Breaking Dawn handles newly-married physical intimacy with exquisite appropriateness. But would I want my daughter reading it? This is important not only because I am liberal in the reading department, but because these books are intended for the tween-and-up crowd. If I’m praying daily (or should be) that my daughters will go to their wedding nights MUCH more unaware than I was, I’ll have to seriously consider that.

Other Mormon-ish ideas include the belief in a never-dying soul, the ideal of eternal love, the importance of forming families. My cousin even pointed out that the Cullen vampire coven/family could be similar to the Mormon pioneers in that they’re driven from place to place and misunderstood, but once you get to know them, they’re not so bad.

As a Latent (I hate wearing a bra, but I haven’t burned it yet) Feminist

Bella’s passivity irks. Oh, how it irks. Her existence having absolutely no meaning outside of Edward bites the big tuna. Because Edward is not even that exciting. He’s obsessed with expensive cars, he probably wears cashmere sweaters, and you can’t even warm your feet on his legs at night. What’s to like? And Jacob — what a whiny werewolf. Seriously have not ever read of such a melancholy, effeminate “hero” since Romeo. He’s almost worse than Bella in the “my life is ooooo-ver if I can’t have yoooooouuu” department. At least he’s warm.

But — the baby as parasite! The pregnancy and motherhood as point of entry to actual adulthood (and in Bella’s case person-hood). Oh, how it sings to me. If you’ve breastfed and never once thought of how that darling suckling has quite a bit in common with a vampire, you are less imaginative than I. I love how the baby almost kills her, and yet she is willing to die for it. Die for want of Edward = Let me vomit. Die for baby-love = I actually understand this.

And when Bella becomes a vampire, she almost seems to have her own will. She realizes she is not the center of the universe and that everything is not actually her fault. Of course, this is because all blame for everything since World War II now shifts to her child, but like every good mother she lies to Renesmee and shifts blame back to the bad vampires. Where it probably belonged in the first place.

We should all be so lucky

The best criticism I’ve read of the Twilight Saga was a comment on Mormon Mommy Wars after the third book came out. Someone said that she hated the books — all three of them. If I could be assured of that kind of negative reaction, along with sentiments like this comment I once got: “You obviously suck at reviewing a good book, can’t wait till yours is out so we can smear it,” I’d probably start writing tomorrow. Especially if there were any chance I could stop cooking and start book-touring when I was finished.

Twilight Review Links (if you just can’t get enough) (if you have or know of another review and would like to be on this list, comment or email me, and I’ll add you).

First, if you hated Ruh-nez-mee as much as I did (esp. with the cute Carlie as an alternative!), try Mormonizing your name. The phenomenon of making up your own name is not unique to Mormons, of course: look at celebrities and people who live in Harlem. But somehow I feel like we should know better, or just use some good, old Biblical names, like Keturah.

Gail Collins at the New York Times called Bella A Virgin Goth Girl, and worries that Edward is to the average male as a female porn star is to the average female.

In the same vein, Mormon Mentality discusses whether the objectification of Edward/men is seriously unhealthy. (hat tip to Conscious Intention for those two links, via Feminist Mormon Housewives which is discussing Twilight/Mormonism right now.

Normal Mormon Husbands has done quite a few Twilight posts. Here’s The Twilight Series for Dummies (And Totally Desperate Mormon Guys), and here’s Breaking Dawn: The Spoof. Sometimes I tell myself that I could be funny and interesting if only I had more time. And then I realize I’d also need talent.

Sue at Navel Gazing at its Finest is hilarious, and here’s Why I think Twilight Sucks and Other Important Thoughts. Yeah, talent would probably help in the funny and interesting department (Sue’s pretty busy, I imagine!).

Here’s Laura William’s Twilight Thus Far. I think she nails why Bella’s character is a bit unsatisfying.

Mormon Mommy War‘s the Wiz reviews Breaking Dawn.

Entertainment Weekly‘s 10 part interview with Stephenie Meyer, in which she says she wrote the books for herself and her adult sister (but still I think, as a Mormon, mother, writer, something, she can’t just shrug off the fact that her publishing company markets them to 12 year olds). (hat tip Mom of 3 Crazy Kids).

And can I just make one request: It would make my life so much more complete if Seriously So Blessed would do a review of Twilight. Seriously am on the edge of my seat to see what she (they? it?) would say!

Things That Must Go: Nora Roberts/Joan Wickersham Giveaway

Hey! Glad to see you back here for Things That Must Go. Somehow I think nothing will ever compare to the great underwear giveaway of 2008, but that’s okay. I have a couple of things I need to get off my chest (no, not those things, though frankly I didn’t like them even before they went saggy), and that’s good enough for me.

This week I’m offering your choice of Nora Robert’s latest, Tribute, or Joan Wickersham’s The Suicide Index. Tribute isn’t Nora’s best (that would be Birthright or Heaven and Earth or Hidden Treasures), but it’s entertaining: a perfect beach book. I reviewed The Suicide Index yesterday. Not a beach book, unless you’re on the thorny Oregon coast, but very worth your while.

To enter the contest, simply leave a comment with your Things That Must Go before midnight Wednesday night. Here are mine:

Things That Must Go

1. Excessive Emotion. I’m wondering if the lower hormonal levels of menopause bring with them fewer emotional storms. If so, it might be worth the risk of osteoporosis and breast cancer. Or maybe not. Sometimes I understand the appeal of being comfortably numb. I hate feeling guilty, sad, ashamed, selfish, etc. Cheerful, I know.

2. Vehicle Repair Bills. I am being suitably punished for risking the second commandment when it comes to my minivan. The other day I found the passenger-side window halfway down. I never roll down my windows, even when it is a million degrees. That’s what automatic sliding doors are for. By the time everyone is strapped in, most of the trapped air has been replaced by fresher air. So when my window fell into the door completely and didn’t respond to the up/down button, driving around was torture. Stinky, loud, hot torture. I know, there are people in the world who would love to be tortured like that, but it was still bad.

Then the Honda people told me that not only was my “regulator” kaput but my “front engine block mount thingie” was shot too. 724 dollars and one laptop fund later, the object of my affection is all better. Please do not write and tell me that I could have driven around with a broken “front engine block mount thingie” for years without a problem. I don’t think I could handle the emotional fallout of such a revelation.


It’s not to late to vote for your favorite in the Hane’s Giveaway Things That Must Go. I’m gonna announce the winners of the LLBean Tote Bag and the $50 Hane’s prize soon.

Would You Let Your Seven-year Old Read Books Six & Seven of Harry Potter?

First, a confession. I never got past book two of the Harry Potter series. Not because they weren’t engaging, but because I got lazy, I guess. Where an 800+ page book used to seem like a challenge, now it honestly makes me a little tired. And it’s not my favorite genre. That would be romance or romantic suspense or historical romance or romantic mystery historical suspense. You get the idea.

So I was talking to my friend who taught fourth grade. She has read practically every YA book, and especially every single fantasy-type book. This is my friend Tracey who, with our friend Melinda, I used to sit around on Friday nights reading books in high school. You know, when we weren’t out being extremely sought-after at parties.

Tracey loves Harry Potter — I think she said book five is her favorite, but the whole series is smashing! And I bragged casually mentioned how my soon-to-be second grader (Sally) was almost done with that one.

Oh, but with book six and seven, she said, you can definitely tell they’re not for kids anymore. Because the characters are growing up, they start swearing some, and Harry isn’t even really going to school, he’s fighting the bad guy, so it’s pretty scary.

Sally just showed me on the dust jacket of The Half-Blood Prince: “Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love,” hand over her mouth, smirking and rolling of eyes. So it seems Tracey was right about the kissing, too.

What to do? I know this is only the first in a long line of books, movies, songs, clothes, etc that I’m going to have to allow or disallow. Clothes are easy. They’re modest or they’re not. Music is harder because I like a few songs that have questionable lyrics (but really good melodies!). Movies are pretty easy so far, even though Dick periodically tries to convince me that Sally can watch a a PG-13 movie with him. (She can’t. I’m in charge. The End.)

But books? What if my mom had not allowed me to read Wuthering Heights or Phantom of the Opera at 12? It wasn’t until a month ago that I watched the Gerard Butler Phantom and realized he was old enough to be Christine’s father, and just how disturbing that is. And Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged at 13? (though anyone who can get through John Galt’s speechifying deserves a few romantic encounters).

Compared to what most kids see on TV, this probably seems like a really silly question. But, my kids aren’t most kids.

The best answer, dang it, is for me to read the books first, right? Please don’t say that. How about I watch the movies? Is the last movie coming out soon?

What would you do? Have you read books six and seven? Have your kids? Will they give Sally nightmares or scar her for life?