The One about my “to read” pile

If you are a true Bibliophile than you know that oftentimes you buy books before you’ve finished the ones you already have. It’s really a sickness. Next to my bed I have a stool where I pile all my “to read” books. It gets higher and higher and yet I keep going to the library, and the bookstore to get more. This doesn’t even include the number of library books and books on my Kindle. I do tend to read multiple books at the same time, which some people cannot do. I tend to read different geners at the same time and this helps me from getting confused. Anyway, I knew I wanted to write something today, but I also really wanted to keep reading my book so I decided to make this one short and give you a brief overview of the books that are on my “to read” stool.

lovefiercelyLove, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance by Jean Zimmerman: In my last entry I recommended the podcast The History Chicks. Listening to their episode about Mrs. Astor, and the Gilded Age got me interested in that time period, and books about it. If you don’t know, The Gilded Age refers to the time post The Civil War up to the beginning of the twentieth century. It was a time of extreme wealth especially in New York City which became the center of the social universe in the United States. Grand parties, extravagant dresses, and enormous houses were the rage of the day. Many American women who had lots of money, but not titles, made their way over to England to marry nobleman who had titles, but no wealth to back up their vast estates. It’s a fascinating time in history. If you watch the show Downton Abbey, the mother of the family, Cora, would have grown up in the Gilded Age. This book focuses on one couple in particular during The Gilded Age; Edith Minturn (called Edie) and Isaac Newton Phelps. What makes them fascinating is the deep love they had for each other (not something that many other couples during this time had unfortunately) as well as their using their vast wealth to help New York City’s poor and helpless. I’m only a few chapters in but really enjoying it so far. I really love Edie as a strong woman in history. She knew what she wanted and went after it! Also the link I included is only for the e-book. It doesn’t appear to be in paperback yet. I got this from my library.

goodnurseThe Good Nurse by Charles Graeber: This a true crime non fiction book so if that isn’t your cup of tea, skip on to the next book. This book is about a male nurse named Charles Cullen who was arrested in 2003 and is believed to have murdered as many as 300 patients while working for decades as a nurse in various hospitals around Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Lest you think he was some sort of “Angel of Death” only killing those who were suffering and close to death themselves, he was not. He is clearly a sociopath who feels nothing for the people he killed. What is the scariest part of this book is not Charles Cullen. Rather it is the various medical institutions who say many clear and obvious warning signs and yet did nothing to stop this man’s career. The subject matter is difficult, but the style of writing makes for very easy reading. I wouldn’t say I’m enjoying this book (I’m not a weirdo), but I am finding it very interesting. This is another book only available for purchase in hardcover and e-book form, though my library had it in both.


At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson: I’ve read many other books by Billy Bryson so I’m looking forward to reading this one. The jacket of this book says that Bryson set out to write “a history of the world without leaving home”. Each chapter is labeled a different room in the typical house and goes through what is found in each room and how that relates to world history. I haven’t started it yet, but I’m sure I will love it!



America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins: I’m always interested in books about women. Women in America history holds a special fascination. This book is huge so I’m sure I’ll take awhile to work my way through it. (And read several other books at the same time to break up the intensity of this one.) Gail Collins wrote another book about the struggle for women’s rights in America that I really enjoyed, so I expect to enjoy this one as well

oldshadesThese Old Shades by Georgette Heyer: My love of Jane Austen led me to Georgette Heyer. She was an extremely prolific writer who penned books primarily set in the Regency Period of England. She is credited with starting a genre, the Regency Romance. Her books are full of exact detail about the time period. She can be hard to read at first but once you get used to her writing it’s easier and easier. I say that she’s like Jane Austen if Austen wrote from her male characters’ point of view. If you haven’t read any Heyer yet I would recommend the book Black Sheep as it’s light and an easy introduction to her style of writing. I bought this book awhile ago but still haven’t gotten around to starting it even though I know I’ll love it. Curse of the bibliophile.

howlscastleHowl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones: I saw the anime movie of the same name done by Hayao Miyazaki and loved it. I’ve heard the book is very different but also very good. This would probably be considered a young adult or children’s book, but I hate putting books in genre boxes if that means it’s going to stop people from reading them. This is on my Kindle so I’m sure I’ll get around to reading this one day when I’m on a plane to visit my sister.

wilderlifeThe Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure: I’ve read a few chapters of this memoir and loved what I read so far. After the death of her mother the author sets out on a literal and emotional journey to figure out why the Little House books meant so much to her as a child. As I said the bit I’ve read so far is lovely. Can’t wait to read the rest!

So those are just some of the books on my “to read” shelf. What are some books you’ve read lately that you would recommend? I’m always looking for more books to make the stack next to my bed bigger and bigger!


The one about Podcasts (part 2)

Since I have an hour commute to work now, my iPod is getting a work out. I don’t like listening to music on long drives all the time because it doesn’t make the time pass as quickly. So I tend instead to listen to podcasts. If you don’t know what a podcast is, it’s basically like a radio show that you download for your mp3 player. I wrote about some of my favorite podcasts once before, but I’ve added some new ones to my list and thought I would share them with you. I’ll be recommending good jumping in points for each podcast, but subscribing to all of these through iTunes is not a bad idea either.

ComedyBangBanglogoComedy Bang Bang: I first got into CCB because I heard Amy Poehler was going to be on an episode so I gave it a listen. Comedy Bang Bang is hosted by Scott Aukerman (a writer and improviser) and features long form improv. It is hysterically strange and weird. The premise of each episode is that Scott interviews a celebrity, and partway through the interview someone else drops in to interrupt. The person interrupting is a usually a comedian or writer with a background in improv. The whole show is improvised which can lead to some gut busting moments. The improvisers are not usually themselves very famous, but to long time listeners of CCB they become stars. Paul F. Tompkins is an all star guest who makes appearances as Buddy Vallesco (The Cake Boss) Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Werner Herzog to name just three. Comedy Bang Bang is really hard to explain, but trust me it’s really really funny.

Best Audience: If you like comedy and don’t mind some bad language/other not so nice language (AKA Mom this is not for you)

Check Out: Episode 245: “Poehler Ice Caps” featuring Amy Poehler, Neil Campbell, and Paul F. Tompkins as Alan Thicke. (Tompkins’ Thicke impression is hysterical!) Episode 238: “Marissa Wompler’s Birthday Pool Party” featuring Jessica St. Clair as Marissa Wompler, Lennon Parham as Marissa’s teacher Miss. Lissler, Jason Mantzoukas as Marissa’s on again off again boyfriend Eric-Gutterballs-Gutterman, Brian Husky as Marissa’s stepfather Dr. Seth Wompler, and Melissa Rauch as Marissa’s enemy Danielle Bartiromo. (I’ve gotten strange looks in public places because of how much I was laughing while listening to this episode). Episode 159: “Apickelypse featuring Alison Brie, Jason Mantzoukas, and Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman (Yes, from Breaking Bad. The riff that Alison, Jason, and Scott do on a buddy cop film has me crying tears of laughter every time I hear it!) Episode 131: “Mayor of Hollywood” featuring Jason Mantzoukas and Andy Daly as Chip Gardner. (Jason Mantzoukas is one of the all stars of this podcast. Any episode he appears in is usually a gold mine.) Episode 120: “Farts and Procreation” featuring Adam Scott, Harris Wittels, and Chelsea Peretti. (Another laugh until I cry episode.)

HISTORYCHICKSLOGO.JPGThe History Chicks: I love history. I especially love history that focuses on a subset of people generally not given as much attention as their male counterparts; women. I found this podcast through another podcast that I listen to and mention later. It is done by two women, Beckett and Susan, in their living rooms and has a real lived in feeling to it. They also have a website where they post in depth show notes as well as links to more information about their chosen topic. They’ve done real women in history as well as a study of the women in fairy tales, and Jane Austen novels. The sound mixing isn’t the best, but considering these women are not professionals, it’s pretty good! I’m slowing making my way through each episode from the earliest to the latest so I won’t have as many recommendations as the other podcasts listed.

Best Audience: Anyone who loves history and learning new things. This podcast is very clean. No bad language etc (so Mom, go ahead and listen to this one).

Check Out: Episode 2: Laura Ingalls Wilder– I learned some new things particularly about Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane.) Episode 4: Abigail Adams– Abigail Adams is my favorite Revolutionary War woman. Her admonition to her husband to “remember the ladies” when he helped form the government is just one of the many wonderful things she did. Episode 7: Helen Keller If all you know about Helen comes from the movie The Miracle Worker you have only learned the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this amazing woman. Episode 8: The Mrs. Astor– This is the woman who helped usher in the Gilded Age. I especially recommend this episode to those who are big Downton Abbey fans.

HDTGM-Logo-1024x1024How Did This Get Made?This podcast consists of 3 regular hosts (Jason Mantzoukas, Paul Scheer, and June Diane Raphael) and a different guest host who sit down each week to in their words “make sense of the movies that make no sense.” I love this podcast because it is light and easy and really funny. The outrage that Jason, Paul, and June feel about the horrible decisions made in the movies they are watching is hysterical. The live episodes in particular are great as the added energy of the crowd seems to invigorate the hosts. This is another podcast where I find myself laughing out loud to myself often. The show isn’t making fun of movies just to make fun of them. In fact, the hope is that whatever movie they watch is so bad it eventually becomes good.

Best Audience: Fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Fans of bad movies and the jokes that can be made at their expense. There are some language warnings that come with these episodes so again my mother should not listen to this podcast.

Check Out: Episode 9: “Fast Five” with guest host Adam Scott. Highlight of the episode is when Adam Scott talks about how a character in the movie reveals that she is pregnant. Episode 10: “Mac and Me” with guest host Adam Pally. The gang have a great time ripping this ET rip off to shreds. Episode 24: “Superman III” live episode with guest host Damon Lindelof. This is an episode I listen to over and over again. Highlight is when Jason Mantzoukas talks about how evil Superman is just a date rapist. Episode 55: “The Devil’s Advocate” live episode with guest host Julie Klausner. Everyone gets a chance to try their best Al Pacino impression, and it is glorious! 

How_Was_Your_Week_with_Julie_Klausner_podcast_logoHow Was Your Week?: What can I say about this podcast. This is my favorite of them all. The one I would take with me to a deserted island. Julie Klausner is my spirit animal. She is funny, intelligent, and insightful. Julie usually begins the podcast by doing a monologue about the things she has been thinking about over the past week. They are funny, honest, and a little sad all at the same time. She really lets her audience into her life. She used to interview two guests a show although lately she’s be doing one guest in order to have more time for the monologue (which is fine with me!) She is a comedienne who cut her teeth at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater (an improv group that Amy Poehler co-founded) and so her comedy guests have pedigree. She also interviews authors, musicians, and documentary filmmakers. You name it she does it. She’s also great about fan interaction. I’ve written to her twice and gotten response both times. One of the times she actually responded to me on the podcast. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. It’s going to be really hard to recommend specific episodes because they are all wonderful. If you don’t subscribe to any other podcast I recommend, subscribe to this one.

Best Audience: Everyone. Seriously, everyone will love her. Even though sometimes she uses bad language my mom has laughed out loud multiple times at her monologues. (I don’t know of a better recommendation than that!)

Check Out: Again it’s hard to recommend specific episodes because what makes How Was Your Week so great has less to do with its guests and more to do with Julie herself. That being said I would check out Episode 32: “Tiny Faces” with guests Amy Poehler and Rich Fulcher. The opening monologue has a great riff about Rosie O’Donnell’s short lived talk show on Oprah’s network. Episode 55: “A Jaw That Could Open A Can of Tuna Fish” with guests Mo Rocca and Dave Cullen. Dave Cullen wrote an excellent book about the kids who committed the crime at Columbine and Julie does a great job interviewing him. Episode 90: Night Trote with guests David Rees, and Laura Benanti. Julie loves Broadway and Laura Benanti’s story about her time working with Patti LuPone is hysterical. Episode 135: Walking Ballads with guest Tom Ruprecht. This features an extra long monologue which is always wonderful, and a great interview where at one point Julie and Tom riff about how horrible Eric Clapton is. Episode 137: Houdini’s Waffles with guests Chris Elliott and Jason Woliner. The monologue has a great story about Julie losing her wallet, and the interview is also a lot of fun.

nerdistpodcastThe NerdistThis podcast is the flagship of what is quickly becoming a vast entertainment empire started by host Chris Hardwick. Along with his co-hosts Matt Mira, and Jonah Ray, The Nerdist podcast is a long interview format with creators and actors of typically nerdy endeavors. Although, now with over 400 episodes the scope of who they interview has widened. This podcast can be overwhelming to newcomers. They put out 3 episodes a week! I’ve found the best way for me to enjoy this podcast is by only listening to an interview with someone I already know that I like, and the episodes that just feature the three guys. (Called hostful episodes). Also every week The AV will make a list of the best podcasts from the last week and if they put a Nerdist episode on there I tend to download it because I trust The AV Club’s judgement. (I’ll link to that feature at the end of this post.) I like this show because the guys lets their guests guide the conversation. It’s not about promoting anything. It’s about people getting together and talking about things they enjoy.

Best Audience: Anyone! Seriously look at the episode list. Whatever type of popular culture you enjoy I guarantee you The Nerdist boys have interviewed someone connected with that area.  Lots of cursing, but not much vulgar language.

Check out: Again this one is difficult to write. The ones I am going to put I’m putting because I already enjoyed these people and wanted to hear an hour long interview with them. That being said Episode 82: Jimmy Fallon I think anyone who thinks Jimmy Fallon is wonderful will love. Episode 153: David Tennant gives you lots of Doctor Who stuff to get excited about as well as hearing David’s Scottish accent for over an hour (yum). Episode 167: Conan O’Brien gives great insight into how Conan felt about the whole late night NBC debacle. Episode 187: Rob Paulsen and Maurice LeMarche. These dudes are the voices of Pinky and The Brain! One of the most interesting episodes I ever listened to. Episode 228: LeVar Burton is funny and charming. Episode 267: Tom Hanks is everything you would want an hour and half long interview with Tom Hanks to be; funny and delightful. Finally, I would highly recommend Episode 317: Yvette Nicole Brown not just to people that enjoy the show Community, but to any Christian who is trying to make it in show business. (So basically my best friend AJ.) Yvette is a great example of how to be successful without losing who you truly are.

podcast-npr-pop-culture-happy-hourPop Culture Happy Hour: This is a podcast done by NPR. WAIT if you are politically conservative don’t just skip to the next podcast! Pop Culture Happy Hour is produced and hosted by NPR, but it is not a political show at all. The show has 4 regular hosts; Linda Holmes, Glen Weldon, Stephen Thompson, and Trey Graham. Every week the four of them sit down and discuss two topics. These topics can range from picking favorite one hit wonder songs, to discussion of the fall TV season. The episode always ends with a segment called “What is making me happy this week?” These can be books, television shows, movies, songs, or even websites. These things are always linked to the audience through NPR’s pop culture blog (edited by Linda Holmes) called MonkeySee. The podcast length is usually under 50 minutes, so it’s the perfect slice of listening.

Best Audience: anyone who likes, books, television, music, movies, and theater. The four hosts of the show all have different parts of pop culture they gravitate towards (Linda:TV, Glen: comic books/nerd culture, Trey: books, theater etc, and Stephen: music). So every type of pop culture is covered. This is a clean podcast. No bad language; nothing. Safe for all to listen!

Check Out: This is one where archives aren’t necessarily the best place to start. Most of the episodes have a topical nature to them. So I would recommend listening to the last few episodes. October 18, 2013: Pop Culture That Makes Us CryThis episode focuses on Tom Hanks’ new movie Captain Phillips, and what pieces of pop culture make the hosts cry. October 10 2013: ‘Gravity” And The Thrill Of The Fiasco features a review of the Sandra Bullock and George Clooney movie, as well other great fiasco moments in pop culture. October 3, 2013: ‘Breaking Bad’, Bad Boys, Bad Choices has a non spoilery review of the series finale of the aforementioned show, as well as a discussion about Linda’s foray into video games. 

UpYoursDownstairsBWUp Yours, Downstairs!I love Downton Abbey. I also love making fun of how ridiculous Downton Abbey can be. This podcast is run by a husband and wife duo (Kelly and Tom) who recap episodes of the hit show with plenty of snark to go along. They are hysterically funny especially when they hate a certain character. (They copyrighted the phrase “Shank Bates!” which I now yell at the screen anytime Bates’ character drives me nuts.) What’s nice about the podcast is within the episode recaps Kelly and Tom take breaks to tell their listeners about the historical background of whatever is happening in a given episode, and do a segment on fashion of the time. They watch the show when it airs on PBS (which is well after it airs in England), so during the long hiatuses, they recap other movies and mini series that have to do with the Edwardian Era.

Best Audience: anyone who loves the show Downton Abbey, but doesn’t mind having the ridiculous parts of it pointed out. This podcast is generally pretty clean. I would listen to it with my mom with not much fear. (I love how my mom has now become the barometer for this section of the post).

Check Out: I’m not going to list all the episode recaps of the actual show Downton Abbey because they are all great and if you are a fan you should go back and listen to them all. But, of their special episodes I do have a few recommendations. Look For It On The Internet In 1998This episode is about the Robert Altman movie Gosford Park. I laughed out loud many times during this episode. Jenny McCarthy I Hope You’re Paying Attention. This is a full episode of the “Tom Repeats History” and “Fashion Backwards” that are usually just segments on the regular podcast. Lot’s of pre WWI Europe is discussed as well twenties fashion. Pucker Up Billy Zane, I Know What You Did In The Summer Of 1912, and The Cheerful Charlies Ride Again are a trilogy recap of James Cameron’s Titanic that are epic in both length and humor. This Is The Worst Prom Ever recaps with disgusted glee a horrible cartoon about the sinking of the Titanic called Titanic: The Legend Goes On.

wait_waitWait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!This is a podcast version of the NPR news quiz show that airs every Saturday at 4 pm. I don’t always have time to listen to it on Saturday so I download the episode the following Monday. The host is Peter Segal and the show consists of several games listeners can play as well as a panel of celebrities who answer questions. All of the questions in the games come from the previous week’s news. There are straight question and answer quizzes, a game called “Bluff The Listener” where a caller has to guess the real news story out of three read to them, and a game called “Limerick Challenge” where a caller has to guess the rhyme in a news poem. The show also has a guest celebrity call in halfway through the show to play a game of their own. The show is witty,funny, and it makes me feel smarter when I know all the answers. I have yet to call in but I will one of these days mark my words!

Best Audience: Anyone who likes quiz shows, the news, and being proven right. My mom loves this show. I often get home from work on Saturday and hear her listening to it upstairs.

Check Out: Again, this show is very topical so going too far back is not a very good idea. Just click on the link above and download the last few episodes. Then start listening in real time on Saturday’s at 4. Or the Monday after when iTunes puts them up!

*WHEW* Holy Cow that was a long entry! If you any of you are still reading by this point I would love to know your thoughts. Have you decided to try any of these podcasts? Have you tried any of them all ready and if so what did you think of them? Do you have any other podcasts you could recommend? (Remember I have 10 hrs of commuting every week so I can always use more options). Leave your thoughts in the comments!

PS: Here’s the link to the AV Club’s Podmass feature where they review the best podcast episodes of the week.

The one about doubt

For about a year now I’ve been dealing with some pretty heavy spiritual stuff. If I had to break it down to one sentence it would be as follows. I’m having a hard time believing in God’s goodness. It’s not something that I feel constantly. It’s more like something that will rear its ugly head right when I think I’ve made a breakthrough. The following story illustrates succinctly my actual issue.

Some time ago there was woman I was praying for. (To preserve her privacy I will just say she was a friend of a friend). She had gotten very discouraging news about her unborn child from her doctor. She and her husband asked those close to them to pray that God would do the miraculous and change the discouraging news. When the mutual friend told me about this so that I could also pray she said that this woman and her husband believed that God could do the miraculous. When she said this without a moments pause two thoughts went through my head:

“God absolutely can perform a miraculous healing; but he won’t.”

And that right there is the crux of my struggle. To use a very “Christianese” turn of phrase my flesh overtakes my spirit in this area quite a bit. I read the Bible and I see Jesus perform miracles and I believe they happened. I hear stories from people in my life whom I absolutely trust about modern miracles, and I believe that they happened. And yet, I can’t seem to stop my brain from assuming that while God could, he ultimately won’t.

I’ve been upset over my inability to get past this struggle. I go to church and feel so close to God during worship. I spend time in my Bible on my own time and feel myself growing in my faith. And yet, I can’t seem to get past this idea of a cruel God that holds the solution to the world’s problems in his hand and yet won’t give it to them because….well because why? What are the “pat” reasons we usually get for why?

1) We are given free will and make our own choices and those choices can sometimes lead to bad consequences: that’s all well and good if you are talking about scenarios where people make a choice that gets them in a sticky spot. But what I’m struggling with are the times when things happen that are out of our control.

2)God allows bad things to happen so that he can bring good out of them and bring glory to his name: Pardon my turn of phrase, but screw that. God could bring glory to his name in any number of ways without having to allow terrible things to happen to innocent people along the way. Even if the previous sentence wasn’t true I wouldn’t want to serve a God who uses people like his own sort of cosmic puppet show.

3) We live in a fallen world and because of that bad things happen to good people: This is the one I feel less certain about one way or the other. On the one hand I feel the same as above; screw that. It makes God seem a little “hands off” when it comes to us which doesn’t sit well with me. It also brings up the question of why then does God choose to step in sometimes and not other times? The Bible says God is no “respecter of persons” but doesn’t it seems like he is sometimes? Why do some people get healed and others don’t? One the other hand, I do believe that as human beings we are victims of a sinful world that sometimes chews us up and spits us out. And yet living in this world there have been moments where I have been so sure of God’s goodness. Of his care and his love for me. I can’t seem to come down on either side of the fence on this reason.

I know here is where I should have some of kind of wrap up paragraph about how even though I struggle with viewing God as a petty jerk I eventually have come around to see that isn’t who he is and now I’ll go wander off into the sunset. But the truth is, I still feel this way. I feel this way a lot. This past Sunday at church I heard a sermon about how sometimes God sends the angel to get us out of our situation, and other times we get the whip. (The sermon used the illustration of the apostles being thrown in jail for preaching the gospel, and angel letting them out, how they continued to preach, and instead of being thrown back in jail were whipped and let go. It was a great sermon so don’t take anything else I write as a criticism of the sermon itself)  I instantly felt my back go up at those words; not because I don’t believe they are true, but because I don’t know how to deal with a God that allows both. I believe that, like in the sermon I heard, Jesus himself went through the whip and then came through with his own angel of resurrection. I just don’t understand why sometimes I get the angel without the whip but other times I get the whip first.

The best kind of “summing up” I can say is that I haven’t given up on finding a solution. I know God isn’t petty. I know this not because the Bible tells me, or because I heard it in a sermon. I know it because I’ve felt his arms of love in some of my darkest moments. When I feel scared about my future I feel his comfort surround me. When I worship him I feel overwhelmed with a sense of joy. So in those times when I begin to see God not as benevolent but as a removed being who operates purely on a whim I remind myself of the times I have felt close to him. I think “I know this is how it feels. But my feelings are lying to me.” and I send those thoughts to the caboose of my train.

Mostly, I accept being able to say I don’t know. I don’t know the answers to the questions I’ve posed in this entry. And that’s okay. I don’t need the answers. I need to be patient with myself. Jesus is never shown as being impatient with unbelief. He gets it. He doesn’t require me to always like him or understand him. I don’t need to understand God to love him and serve him. He loves me unconditionally.

My nieces and nephew don’t understand everything I do and even if I tried to explain it all to them they still wouldn’t completely understand. It doesn’t annoy me when they ask questions. It doesn’t annoy me if they get mad at me. They’re children. Eventually they’ll reach an age where they do understand, and we’ll talk to each other as equals. I believe God is the same way. He’s not annoyed that I don’t get it. He’s not annoyed that I’m, mad at him. He knows that now I see through a glass darkly, but someday I will see him face to face. And then I’ll finally understand it all. I can’t wait.

The one about Emma

The year was 1815. Jane Austen was already a successfully published author (although she was not successful by name as all her books were credited as having been written “by a Lady” only). Her novels Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park were all hits. As she sat down to write her next novel she said to her best friend and sister, Cassandra,“I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” The heroine she spoke of was Emma Woodhouse. Emma is described in the first paragraph of the book the following way,

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich,

with a comfortable home and happy disposition,

seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence;

and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with 

very little to distress of vex her.”

Emma is the richest of Austen’s heroines. She is also the snobbiest, pushiest, and meanest of all of them. She spends most of the novel sticking her nose in other people’s business, giving people horrible advice, and being blind to her own faults to the detriment of others. And yet, she is my favorite Austen character. Yes even more so than Lizzy Bennet of Pride and Prejudice fame. I’ve  been re-reading Emma for the past few weeks and have been struck again with a deep love for this very flawed character. As I thought more about it I realized from where this love comes. I see much of myself in Emma. It’s why I find myself very upset when people talk about hating her character, or finding it hard to understand her. I understand her completely. I don’t always agree with what she does, but I see much less malevolence in her actions than other do.

Now I would not deign to call myself rich (the handsome and clever however….), but it’s more in Emma’s mistakes and strengths that I see myself. Emma has decided opinions. Her decisiveness extends not just to the world at large, but to the people she interacts with on a daily basis. If Emma sees someone in her life making a bad choice (a bad choice in her mind, to be clear) she will do everything she can to step in and prevent this mistake from occurring.  Emma will also go to great lengths to make any situation fit what she has already decided is the truth. In the overwhelming obviousness of one man being in love with her, Emma still convinces herself that all of his attentions are meant for her close friend instead; simply because she has already decided in her own mind that these two people should get married.

She ends up doing great damage to her friend’s heart and emotions because of course she is completely wrong about the situation. But where some people see a spoiled child playing with humans like they were dolls; I see a woman who steamrolls over people in an attempt to make them as happy as they can possibly be. I’m really good at deciding what the people I love should do to make themselves happier. Sometimes I find myself wondering in complete seriousness why more people won’t just listen to me! I mean, I know what I’m doing. I’m always right….right? Oh boy.

Another thing Emma does often is speak without thinking. If she thinks someone is ridiculous she says so. Out loud. To that person. And the person sitting next to her. And to the next person she runs into. And on, and on and on. Take out Emma in the first sentence of this paragraph and put Janelle, and it wouldn’t really change the sentences that follow at all. Is there anything wrong with pointing out the ridiculous in life? I don’t think so. Like most personality traits I think there are good and bad parts involved with each of them. What makes a personality like Emma’s good is that she is genuine. She’s not going to pretend to be something she isn’t, or like someone she doesn’t, or approve of something she doesn’t. She (and I) just need to apply it in moderation. Not every thought that comes into my head is worth putting to speech. In fact some thoughts are better left unsaid. Late in the novel Emma is brutally honest about a neighbor’s shortcomings. When Mr. Knightley (her true love though she doesn’t know it yet) speaks harshly to her about it he never calls the honesty of her comment into question. Miss Bates (the aforementioned neighbor) is ridiculous! What Emma said is 100% true! But, she should not have said it. Her neighbor is a poor old woman undeserving of Emma’s jokes and sarcasm. As Mr. Knightley says it was “badly done!”

The final way I see myself in Emma is in her inability to just admit when she is wrong. At one point she and Mr. Knightley fight over an issue which the end of the novel tells us she was clearly incorrect about. And yet, when they “make up” as it were she is quick to say

“As far as good intentions went, we were both right.

and I must say that no effects on my side of the argument

have yet proved wrong.”

Newsflash in case you have not read the book. They are NOT both right. Emma is wrong and the “effects” on her side will prove to be very wrong indeed. And yet Emma, even while apologizing cannot fully admit she is incorrect. All of this sound uncomfortably familiar. The words “I’m wrong. I’m sorry” have a really hard time coming out of my mouth without a million caveats attached to them. I think the reason for this is, like Emma, I’m still a little convinced that with time I will be proven right. So why apologize now when later all will see how correct I really was?

So what’s the upside of all this self flagellation I’m doing today? Well, Emma does not end the novel mired in the same problems with which she started it. She has a moment of real self reflection when all that she knows about herself blows up in her face. She admits herself “universally mistaken” about all she thought before. She vows to be better than she has been. The novel ends happily of course. Not just because Emma finds love, but because Emma find her true self. She doesn’t throw away the very things that make her who she is. I can imagine even after the novel closes that Emma will always have decided opinions and express them accordingly. But, she’s learned how to take a breath and listen to the counsel of others. She’s learned she is not infallible.

That is truly why Emma is my favorite literary character. She changes her actions without changing her core. There is nothing wrong with being opinionated, honest, and sure of oneself. But there is also nothing wrong with being open to other’s thoughts, keeping quiet, and being willing to change. Emma may be flawed, but that’s what makes her so real. She seems to jump off the page fully alive. I think this is why Emma lends itself to modern adaptation so much more than any other Austen novel. Clueless is not just a great movie, it is in my opinion the best adaption of an Austen novel.

When Jane Austen wrote that nobody would like the heroine of her next book except herself, I think she was being a little facetious. I think she knew her readers would identify so much with Emma, that they would be more harsh on her than any other heroine. After all, everyone wants to be Lizzy Bennet, but more of us are like Emma than we would care to admit.

What about you? Do you have a favorite Austen heroine? How about any character in pop culture you closely identify with?

The one about fall

After some abnormally hot weather this past week (to be politically incorrect one could call it an Indian Summer), the weather in NJ/PA is finally more fall like. I have a deep love for all 4 season for different reasons. One of my favorite parts of living where I live is that I get to experience 4 distinct seasons. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite, but inevitably whichever season I’m in becomes my favorite. So since it’s fall I thought I’d a make a little list of all the things I love about fall.

1) The weather: seriously is there anything more lovely than fall weather? I’m not a fan of extremes so as much as I love summer, I hate the sweating that comes with it. The same goes for winter and its extreme cold. But fall weather is the perfect in between. I can wear sweaters, but not have to put on a winter coat. I can sit out on the front porch swing and read without being eaten alive by mosquitoes. At night I can curl up with blankets, and still have my window open.

2) The food: I don’t like pumpkin pie (I know insert a gasp here), but I love pretty much anything else pumpkin. Especially pumpkin baked goods. I also love being able to eat soup without feeling like a weirdo. I eat soup all year, but the fall is when it starts to make the most sense weather wise. But the best food of the fall? Apple cider doughnuts. When I was in college, every fall my mom and dad would send me a box full of those delicious things. Subsequently, due to my sharing of the wealth with my friends there are now people scattered across the country who become extremely jealous every time I post about eating apple cider doughnuts on Facebook. If you’ve never had an apple cider doughnut before and you are in the New Jersey area you need to immediately go to Johnson’s Corner Farm in Medford and buy half a dozen NOW. I don’t have a very big sweet tooth so these are the perfect treat; a cakey doughnut covered with grains of sugar. Just writing about them is making me hungry. I think I’ll be making a trip to pick some up tomorrow morning.

3) The colors: The warm tones you find in fall are another reason I love this season. I am a very pale person. Seriously the tannest I get is when all of my many freckles join slightly together around July. Because of this, pastel colors are generally not a favorite of mine; they wash me out. I know talking about color and skin tones is a snooze so I’ll just say this. Oranges, browns, and russet reds work very well with a very pale complexion. They also look lovely in all the decorations that come out this time of year.

4)The skies: the sunsets during the fall are breathtakingly beautiful. I’m sure there is some scientific reason for why the sky looks the way it looks at this time of year, but all I know is that it looks wonderful. The wispy clouds combined with purple/pink/orange skies is full of “scope for the imagination” as Anne Shirley would say.

5) The sense of new beginnings: I know for most people the end of December and beginning of January are the time for new beginnings, but for me it’s always been the fall. This is probably because up until very recently the fall was always when I began school again, and even now both of my parents are still on a school schedule so living with them still gives me this sense even though I’m out of school. Fall is new pencils and notebooks. New teachers, and new books. New classes, and new activities. Even though none of those things are true for me anymore, my spirit seems to still experience newness in the fall. A new sense of direction, a new sense of purpose. A new set of goals, a new set of habits. When I want to start something new, fall seems like the best time to do it.

These are just a few reasons why I love the fall, and I’m sure I could write many many more. What is your favorite season, and what do you think that says about you? I’ll close with another quote from the lovely (and fictional) Anne Shirley.

 “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible

if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?”

Yes it would Anne. Yes it certainly would.

The one about underdogs

We are doing a series at my church called God of the Underdogs based on the book with the same title by Matthew Keller. It’s been a really great series and the book is excellent too! While I was reading the book I found myself thinking about some other underdogs from the Bible not mentioned in the book. At the same time, a friend of mine on Facebook recommended I like a page called The Junia Project and BOOM. I found the underdog I wanted to write about.

I first became aware of Junia the Apostle when I read Rachel Held Evans book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. The book is equal parts serious and tongue in cheek. Evans doesn’t cut her hair for a year and lives in a tent in her back yard during her period. But, she also talks to different denominations of Christian Women to find out how they define Biblical womanhood. At the beginning of each chapter she highlights a different woman of the Bible and the things they can teach us. It is an amazing book and I highly recommend it.

Anyway, Rachel starts her story about Junia by saying, “Although her name appears just once in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, Junia the Apostle is perhaps the most silenced woman of the Bible.” Junia is mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:7

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews

who have been in prison with me. They are

outstanding among the apostles,

and they were in Christ before I was.”

When we think about the apostles we tend to think of the “greatest hits” like the original twelve, Paul, Timothy, Silas, and Barnabas. But here sitting in the book of Romans is a woman apostle specifically mentioned by Paul. Not just mentioned, but called outstanding among ALL the apostles. Like, all those dudes just mentioned? Junia is called outstanding among them! Amazing!

So how does this make Junia an underdog? Two ways. One is that being a woman in first century Israel was no walk in the park. It is amazing that at a time where a woman’s testimony didn’t even matter in a court of law, a woman was considered an outstanding leader in the early church! Look at how many women are specifically mentioned in the New and Old Testament and you can pretty much give them all the title of underdog because just to be a woman in this time period meant you were one. And yet Jesus continually chose and used underdogs including women. I love when Jesus knocks down a barrier.

The second way Junia is an underdog comes well after the time she lived. You see the early church fathers were not too stoked about a woman being given such high praise on the same level as the likes of Peter and Paul. I’ll quote Evan’s book here. “But as time went on, the mention of a female apostle became inconvenient for the increasingly hierarchical Church, so a medieval theologian found a creative solution to the problem: he turned Junia into a man. Andronicus and Junia became Andronicus and Junias.”

I know! It’s crazy! Junia moves from underdog to “outstanding among the apostles” and then gets erased completely from Biblical existence for centuries! In case you are doubting the veracity of this story (ie translation issues etc) I’ll let Evans explain further. “This was no small error. The masculine name Junias does not occur in a single inscription, letterhead, work of literature, or epitaph in the Grec0-Roman world, while the feminine name Junia is everywhere.” (emphasis mine)

She continues that early Christian theologians all identified the apostle Junia as woman, but “…the myth caught on, especially after Martin Luther used Junias, rather than Junia, in his German translation. ” 

Even today some translations still identify Junia as a man. How does something like this happen? I know I’ve been quoting a lot but professor Lynn Cohick of Wheaton College had an answer for Evans in her book. “The answer lies in the translation committees’ convictions that a female apostle was unlikely, and so the name Junias-unknown throughout the Greco-Roman world-was created ex nihilo to match their presuppositions.” 

So, now that there is mounting evidence proving that Junia is a woman the problem is over right? She’s back on top! Wrong.  Evans tells us that even today “some contemporary theologians now argue that since Junia is a woman, the phrase ‘outstanding among the apostles’ should instead be read as ‘esteemed by the apostles,’ thus allowing Junia to be female so long as she is not actually an apostle.” (emphasis mine)

What do I take away from this? One thing is that some people will go to any length to try and silence a strong woman. But more importantly, what I learn from Junia is that I won’t necessarily stop being an underdog. Junia seemed to have overcome her label as lesser than. She lived in a time that was way harder on her than my own time is now, but in some ways she’s still as much of an underdog as she ever was. There will be moments where I will feel like the odds are stacked against me. Then, with God’s help, I will rise to the occasion and accomplish something I never imagined I could. The trick is to hold onto the moment and lock it away in my memory. That way when I wake up to a fresh set of obstacles that threaten to overwhelm me, I’ll remember who I am. I am an underdog who God has chosen to use in mighty and powerful ways. Life may try to tell me I am less than I am. But the truth of who I am is in the One who called me. And he says I am more than a conqueror. I’m going to keep moving so that one day I too will get the honor of being called “outstanding among the apostles.”

What about you? Do you ever feel like an underdog? How do you get past that feeling? What do you think of Junia’s story? Do you ever feel like Junia? Underestimated and forgotten?

For further reading:

A Year of Biblical Womanhood 

The Junia Project

The one about art

There’s a general idea about artists and pain. Well, I should say there is a general idea about REVERED artists and pain. The books we study in school, the music that gets the best reviews, the movies that win all the awards; they tend to come from a place of great pain. We read Charlotte Bronte and lament how a woman who wrote about passionate love didn’t experience that type of love herself. We listen to Adele sing “Someone Like You” and we feel that intense pain of knowing a person we really loved has moved on most likely permanently. We see the movie Schindler’s List and know that it’s going to win a bunch of Oscars. There is this idea that the tortured artist produces the most worthy art, and that the art produced is as dark as the artist herself is. I wanted to write today about someone who experienced immense pain all of her life, and yet chose in her art to write about the happiness she had such a hard time experiencing. This woman is the author Lucy Maud Montgomery. Continue reading