Monday, December 29, 2014

Post 3: A Book I Love


I guess I'm just glad it was worded as "A Book I Love" not "The" or "Favorite". 

Growing up in a house full of books, with an English major mother who introduced me to the Sneetches and Harry and Frodo and Mary Lennox and Jo March at a young age, books are an incredibly precious and important part of me. 
There are just so many books.

In fact, I would go so far as to say I don't have a 'favorite book.'
I really don't.
I suppose I have a list of literary works that touched me or resonated with me more than others. And I certainly have a longer list of books I would (and have) reread in a heartbeat. But is there one book to rule them all? For me, no. I don't think there is. 


Every girl goes through her Jane Austen phase. 
Most find it enough to fall in love with Mr. Darcy, to identify with Elizabeth, and to roll their eyes at the insufferably silly Lydia. Maybe some go deeper and find the dramatic experiences of both Dashwood sisters enthralling, or they find themselves wrapped up in the drama Emma Woodhouse creates for herself. There are a few who even overlook the now-days inherent creepiness of Fanny falling for cousin Edmund. [No one likes Northanger Abbey :) ] But--and I swear I'm not attempting to be some sort of Austen elitist, because I'm not and I've fallen for Darcy, Brandon, Ferrers, Knightley, and Bertram many times myself--I don't often find many people who list Anne Elliot and her decade-long search for love as their absolute favorite. 

I don't remember when I first read Persuasion, but I'm pretty sure it came after Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, and for sure Mansfield Park. It maybe came before Emma, but it was definitely the least-known Austen novel I attempted. 

Short synopsis--with maybe a few spoilers, I don't know, I think it's sort of difficult to 'spoil' any of Austen's work--is this: Anne Elliot is the middle daughter of a self-important, ridiculous used-to-be rich man. To bookend her, she's got a self-absorbed elder sister, and a hypochondriac younger sister. Her mother died when she was young, leaving her silly father to govern things by himself; in doing so, they lose the family home Anne loves more than anything. In order to keep themselves afloat somehow, the wise Anne--with the assistance of a mostly sensible family friend--convinces her father to rent the house to a suitable tenant; in this case, a retired Navy colonel and his wife. Lo and behold, this colonel's wife happens to be related to Captain Wentworth, a man whose name brings on a near panic attack when Anne first hears it. Back when Anne was still considered 'young' and 'hopeful', they had been in love. He had proposed, she'd wanted to say yes, but had allowed herself to be persuaded by her family and the "well-meaning" family friend to reject him, mostly because of his then-status as lowly navyman. Essentially, she broke his heart--and her own--and the two had parted, never to see each other again, and Anne convinced she would remain alone and unloved for the rest of her life. 

Through a series of various events, Anne and Wentworth find themselves frequently in each other's company. It is obvious Anne is still in love with him, but she--and we, as the readers--are forced to watch him gallivant about with the youngest Elliot sister's 2 very silly sisters-in-law. At one point, Anne is courted by the heir to her father's title, Wentworth is apparently 'promise-engaged' (those were weird times, man) and you think, for just a minute, that maybe these two people--who have lived almost a decade alone in regret and heartbreak--might not actually end up together!

I'll let you read it to discover the ending, because I promise, it's far better and much more interesting than the pitiful synopsis I gave above.

I think one of the main reasons I like this story so much is because it is not a typical 'girl gets the guy' story. Yes, Elinor Dashwood's up and down romance is exhausting, but it's only over the course of a year or so. Anne has a chance at happiness, turns it down, then spends the next ten years or so living in regret and solitude. She wonders if she's missed her chance, but even she gets a happy ending--even if it takes a little longer than others. 

I also just love Anne. 
As much as I love Elizabeth's wit and fire, or Emma's confidence, Elinor's good sense, and Marianne's sense of romance, I think I admire Anne more.

She's steady and sensible; she lives surrounded by vain and vapid people, but she keeps her sense of morality and intelligence throughout it all. She suffers a lot, but keeps most of it hidden; she doesn't allow the hardships of her life to drag her down. She selflessly gives whatever is needed; she connects with those who need it most. She learns from her mistakes, and decides that she will never allow herself to be 'so easily persuaded again.' She is put in the situation of seeing the man she loves flirt and be flirted with every single day, but she keeps going, stays pleasant, and reminds herself to stay strong. Because of this, I think she is the one of Austen's heroines who truly deserves everything she gets in the end. 

I love this book for what it is, but I also love it because it's the lesser known sibling to the ever popular Pride and Prejudice. It also offers a different presentation of romance; the idea that it may take years to find your true love and sometimes you get second chances. 

Honorable Mentions:
The Life of Pi - Yann Martel
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
The Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
The Lord of the Rings trilogy - JRR Tolkien
The Book of Mormon
Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park - Jane Austen
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
Seabiscuit - Laura Hillenbrand

and many 

Post 2 : Something You Feel Strongly About

This is a hard one for me. Being the obsessive, justice-hungry basket case that I am, it's hard to pick just one thing I feel strongly about. 

I mean, what do I choose? A ranting post about racism or hypocrisy or today's music industry? A gushing review of my latest favorite show or movie or song? A stinging commentary on today's social, political, governmental, religious issues?

So, really, I should be commended for narrowing it down to only 3 things, just three, that I feel strongly about. 

1) The power of music
2)  The power of caring
3) The power of prayer

If you know me even a little, #1 should not be of much surprise. Even with as much as I immerse--or attempt to immerse--myself in the infinite universe of music, I am still knocked back on my heels in indescribable gratitude for the way music can make you feel. For the way it can make a horrific day bearable, a bad day good, a good day better. For the ability to hear what's going on inside you; for the means of experiencing something you'd never know in real life. Sometimes I find myself feeling overwhelmed by just how much music exists! (not that all of it is good, mind you: you'd still have to wade your way through the TSwifts and Schoenbergs) It can do everything! In my personal experience, there's almost nothing it can't do: it's made me cry when I needed that release; it's pumped me up when I need the encouragement; it's brought me closer to my Heavenly Father; it's made me invincible, vulnerable, ecstatic, broken-hearted; it's let me blow off steam; it's allowed me to connect with people I wouldn't care about otherwise or never will meet. And it's such a special thing, all at once being both wonderfully universal and blessedly personal. I could go on and on, but I think I've made my point clear. I feel strongly about the undeniable power of music.

I sometimes think I care too much. Not in some dramatic, teenage-romance novel kind of way. But in the way that I think I would have far fewer sleepless nights, less performance anxiety, minimal furious rants, and dry eyes during movies. It would certainly make my life easier. But better? I believe in the power of caring. I believe in the way a simple smile and sincere "good morning, how was your weekend?" can remind a child that someone loves them. I believe in the ability to accomplish great things by putting your whole heart into them. I believe that society can be changed by the simple act of caring. A little while ago, I was talking with an old college professor of mine and he asked what advice, if any, I would pass on to those seeking to enter our field of work. The question made me laugh--what could I, a second year teacher hanging on (sometimes literally) by her fingertips, possibly have to offer? He encouraged me to think about it, sleep on it, and get back to him if I felt I could. So I did. I thought about all the thousands of things I've learned, all the millions of things I've yet to learn, and then I thought about the point. What is the point? Why do I do what I do? A simplistic answer would be to say this: it's because I care. But because I am long-winded and like to see my words on page (seriously, you should know this by now) let me elaborate. The gist of what I ended up emailing to him was this: I am no great musician. I am certainly no brilliant, award-winning pedagogue. I am no great music teacher. All I can do, really, is care. I care about music; about the ins and outs of it, the mechanics that allow young potential musicians to create or find solace in what they do. And I care about my kids: I care about my sweet 6th grade boy who, one day in tears, told me his mom was fighting cancer; I care about my 8th grade girls (and sometimes boys) who get so caught up in growing up that it becomes overwhelming; I care about the little chatterbox who just wants people to like him. And because of this, because I care, I feel more useful than if I was an expert in music theory or a world-famous soloist. My students don't give a darn if I play Bach's 3rd Suite with technical perfection; they're not particularly concerned either way that I know everything about the chord progression chart. If I don't show them that I love them, that I care about their success and well-being, then anything else I say doesn't matter. I believe in the power of caring because I have seen it work pretty big changes in lives. I believe in the power of caring because I have seen and experienced its antithesis, and I know that apathy can have just as much power as caring. To say it mildly, I feel strongly about a human being's ability to care.

I talk to myself. A lot. In public, and sometimes much louder than I intended. I'm not quite sure whether this is a sign of intelligence or insanity, but I do know it's an incredibly annoying habit: like when I discover my full-blown, out loud debate about which peanut butter is better was heard, in its entirety, by the man with the shopping cart just behind me. Sometimes I think it's a sign of the crazies, because I like to talk through my problems out loud to relieve the crowd that is my brain. But it sometimes gets lonely, and I figure once you start answering yourself, it's probably time to stop. The only problem is, when your most common companions are little almost-people, and your parents' phones are dead and your friends are too busy to answer, who do you talk to? I am not knocking any religion with structured prayer systems, but I cannot describe my gratitude for the things I have been taught about prayer. It is not only a way of thanking God or asking for blessings--it's a way to communicate with an all-knowing, all-loving Father in Heaven. At any point in my day--or night--I can get on my knees and tell my worries and triumphs to a loving Heavenly Father. I have felt the weight of crippling anxiety lift from where it's settled just over my lungs, all due to the power of prayer. I have seen impossible things go right; I have recovered hopelessly lost items; I have received answers and peace; I have seen it work medical wonders. I believe in the power of prayer because I could list for you the many times I have seen this awesome and merciful power work miracles in day-to-day life. Prayer was possibly the first thing of which I had my own testimony. The scriptures were sometimes hard to read, and I didn't always find the point in primary/YW lessons on Sunday, but I had several experiences that solidified my belief in the power of prayer. To say I feel strongly about it is a ridiculously limiting understatement, and I don't imagine that I've explained it to any sort of acceptable standard, but I feel very strongly about the power of prayer.


I'm pretty sure I can count on one hand the number of times I've been to Idaho's capital. Counting occasions and not separate...