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Why I Live in a Fantasy World

I feel like it all started in elementary school. One of my teachers used the expression “tricks up my sleeve,” and I thought she actually was hiding things in the sleeve of her Ann Taylor blouse. But in my adolescent mind, I totally thought that sleeves were where people actually hid things.

Since then, it’s all been fantasy.

I guess I’m just kind of that way. It makes life more interesting.

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Nepal Done Right

Anyone else read Three Cups of Tea?

Wasn’t it awful?

If you didn’t like that, or if you did by some stretch of the imagination, I’d recommend my most recent read to you – Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan. 

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Basically, Grennan succeeds in all the areas Greg Mortenson doesn’t. This riveting book centers on four main events: the author’s first trip to Nepal and his stint at Little Princes Home for Boys; the author’s subsequent return and establishment of his own children’s home along with Farid, another volunteer; his journey to the rural region of Humla to find the parents of the aforementioned children; and his relationship with Liz, which is truly a love story for the ages.

The book reads very quickly. I felt like I really got to know Grennan, and appreciated his acknowledgment of his flaws and missteps, from his encounters with the authorities to his failed attempt to catch a helicopter (which frustrated me to no end). He paints Nepal neither as a spiritual mountain paradise nor as a poverty stricken slum, which feels honest. There are a lot of characters to keep up with, but they all seem distinct, especially the children.

Warning: you will tear up while reading this book.

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Blogiversary + Book Reviews!

Can’t believe I forgot about my blogiversary, which was this week. So, happy blogiversary to me! I wouldn’t be here without all those who read/follow me (1,722 and counting! Tell your friends!) so a great big thank you to all of you.

I’ve been getting quite a lot of reading done this month, in between playing apps, watching Twin Peaks, and trying to avoid any and all responsibility. I’ve actually managed to finish a grand total of 17 books. Here’s the list, and the ones in bold I will post about (or already have, so stay tuned.

  1. Gisela Konopka, Courage and Love
  2. Amulya Malladi, The Mango Season
  3. Scarlett Thomas, Bright Young Things
  4. Esme Raji Codell, Sahara Special
  5. Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler
  6. Joseph Gangemi, Inamorata
  7. Catherine O’Flynn, The News Where You Are
  8. Winifred Watson, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
  9. Tom Miller, The Panama Hat Trail
  10. Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven
  11. Aatish Taseer, The Temple-Goers
  12. Conor Grennan, Little Princes
  13. Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express
  14. Gail Tsukiyama, A Hundred Flowers
  15. Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
  16. Madhur Jaffrey, Climbing the Mango Tress
  17. Prem Kutowaroo, In Search of Love

So, see you next month! (Which is in about five minutes.)

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Just Mormon Up

Today’s weather was so beautiful that I sat outside for around four hours, finished three books, and started two more. In all, I’ve finished 16 books so far this month, and I’ll recap some of them for you. One of my nonfiction choices for the month was Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer.

Under the Banner of Heaven contains two parallel through-lines: one, a history of the LDS Church and its various schisms and offshoots, and two, the story of the Ron and Dan Lafferty, two brothers who killed their sister-in-law Brenda and her baby daughter Erica at their home in American Fork, Utah, in 1984, based on a prophecy they received.

This book was eye-opening and hard to put down, even in some of the more boring stretches detailing the lives of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and the like, all of whom lived more than a hundred years before the main events of the book. I preferred the chapters which were about 20th century Mormon life, like the chapters on Debbie Palmer. The author, who is Mormon himself (but not of the FLDS or Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, those who practice polygamy), really gets into the heads of the people involved and the bystanders, painting a vivid picture of the hazy events of that fateful day in 1984. In addition, he not only illuminates the life of Brenda Lafferty, who was much more courageous and wise than her situation allowed her to be, but also the Lafferty brothers, and exactly when and how things took a turn for the dark in their lives, specifically, Dan and Ron. Though what the brothers did was reprehensible and vile, Krakauer bifurcates their stories to show the different paths that led them to that point, and how the brothers changed after the brutal murders. It is interesting to get into the minds of killers, and even though their reasons are bizarre and corrupt, it’s interesting to see everything that those around them ignored. You wonder what might have happened if one of their wives or one of their accomplices had intervened and stopped it from happening – would things have settled down, or could it have possibly led to even more deaths of innocent people? Not to trivialize Brenda and Erica, and the possibilities, or sympathize with the killers, but the fact that these two brothers remained locked away in prison with their bizarre ideas left space for the rest of their family to cope and heal. People have done a lot more without being incarcerated for any significant length of time.

Overall, Under the Banner of Heaven is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re into true crime, religion, or American history, this book should definitely be at the top of your list. There is a quote in the book about the inability to write a fictional book about Mormons because their lives are strange in and of themselves, and this book is proof of that statement.

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If You Give An Italian A Typewriter…

I’ve been getting quite a bit of reading done over the past few days, and I’ve actually finished nine – count ’em – nine books this month. Not all of them were spectacular, and I won’t write reviews for all of them, especially since for a few of them I’ve forgotten a lot of key details, but one that I finished a few weeks ago and found particularly interesting was If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino.

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A curiously unpretentious take on pretentious literature, Calvino’s book is a postmodern story-within-a-story-within-a-story. The book is written in two styles, alternating between chapters. The first style is in second-person, detailing the reader’s journey from a bookshop, where the wrong book was purchased, leading to meeting a girl, and a professor, and on it goes. The second style, in alternating chapters, are random chapters from different books with different titles, locations, and subjects, usually not having anything to do with one another. It took me about halfway through the second chapter to realize this, and also that all the chapter titles, when read one after another, form a complete sentence (albeit long). Even though the second style got confusing, I was more attracted to the first style, seeing the reader’s journey through the book and all. It had a choose-your-own-adventure feel that is not too common in most books today. And the prose, while flowery in parts, didn’t get too flowery and usually circled back to the point within a page or two. It was a fun adventure, but the type you go on once but you’re glad you did and you got home safely.

I thought to myself, “you know, this is kind of like what David Mitchell tried to attempt with Cloud Atlas, only a lot cleaner, crisper, and better.” Ironically, when I looked up the book’s Wikipedia, the two names I see listed other than the author? David Mitchell, and…Scarlett Thomas, AKA one of my literary idols, who adores this book. So it gets some points for association, most definitely, but I did close the book feeling satisfied, so that’s the important thing.

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Staying In and Getting Real: Current Events Roundup, Part One

It seems like I’m always doing “part ones” of series. But anyway, enough about me, so how are you?

I had a pretty productive day, I guess, but instead of going out tonight (it’s a Monday, so it’s par for the course, but whatevs), I decided to stay in, watch TV, and do laundry.

And of course, what is all over the news is pretty shocking. In case you’ve been off the grid for the past few hours, there was an explosion at an Ariana Grande concert in England, with 19 people dead, most likely all teenagers or preteens. It’s shocking and troubling, and all over every news and social media platform out there.

But what a lot of people don’t realize is that this week was a gigantic victory elsewhere in the world that no one seems to be celebrating – 82 of the 200+ girls who were kidnapped while taking exams at their school in Nigeria have been found and returned to their parents. When I heard this news yesterday, I was truly elated. I can’t imagine what those families must have been feeling, and the relief that even though the girls endured much horror, they seemed to be happy and healthy to be back with their parents. I couldn’t stop clicking through YouTube videos of the happy reunions. I’ve always thought that if what had happened in Nigeria happened in the USA or Canada or England, the entire world would be up in arms, and not forget after a few days like they did when it happened 3 years ago. I’ve actually been thinking about it since it happened, I even remember where I was when I first found out about it, getting ready to embark on my first Summer Odyssey back in 2014. It was shocking then, and it’s stayed with me consistently ever since. Although I’m really happy that those 82 are back, in addition to the 50 or so others who’ve escaped/been rescued over the years, there are still around 100 unaccounted for, which is way too many people to just forget about.

And just like the parents of the kids who died, were injured, or are MIA in Manchester right now, the parents of the Nigerian girls haven’t forgotten, despite the world seeming to do so.

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Flip the Script Friday: Isaac Bashevis Singer and Eve Friedman, Teibele And Her Demon

In honor of the triumphant return of Twin Peaks, and because I still have the book out from the library, here’s another selection from 13 Plays of the Ghosts and the Supernatural. This one reaches back into Jewish folklore: Teibele And Her Demon, by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Eve Friedman.

The playbill of this play is really awkward looking, yes, more awkward than this, so I used a picture from what seems to be a Romanian production. (http://www.teatrul-evreiesc.com.ru)

 

The Basics

Teibele And Her Demon was first performed in New York City on 16 December 1979.

Characters

  • Alchonon – a “shabby scholar”
  • Teibele – a young, attractive agunah, or woman trapped in marriage in Orthodox Judaism
  • Menasha – Alchonon’s friend, a peddler
  • Genendel – Teibele’s friend, a widoe
  • Rabbi
  • Various others

Setting/Plot

1880s, the small town of Frampol, Poland. Teibele is an agunah, or a “chained woman;” since her husband Moshe Mattis is missing and it is not certain as to whether he is alive or dead, she is still considered to be married to him without any hope of initiating a divorce and continuing on with her life. One night, Alchonon enters Teibele’s bedroom as “Hurmizah,” a demon, and the two start a relationship; however, in real life, Teibele can’t stand Alchonon. Teibele’s “demon lover” tells her to marry the man she despises, (who is, obviously, the same person), and uses Menasha’s forgery skills to get a fake death certificate to make that happen. However, when Menasha tries to pull the same stunt on Genendel, he accidentally reveals everything to everyone, including Teibele, who is in complete disbelief that the man she loves is actually the man she hates.

My Thoughts

I actually really wanted to know what would happen at the end. In the first scene with Alchonon as the demon in bed with Teibele, I thought it was some kind of sex game, but quite obviously it’s not. Other than the rabbi, all of the other characters are completely stupid; Teibele, for actually believing she has a demon lover (that’s only for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, honey); Genendel, for encouraging her; Alchonon, for screwing up so badly as the demon that he almost gets his cover blown a number of times; and Menasha, for screwing everything up because he wanted to play with everyone. Even though the idiot guys get their comeuppance at the end, it’s not as simple as that in the story.

Fifty Shades of…Okay

Why, why, why did Teibele believe it? It’s a classic Jekyll-and-Hyde, Steve-Urkel-and-Stefan-Urquelle thing, only worse because he doesn’t even really change his appearance, basically just his tone of voice and some of the things he says, which are pretty weird. At first, Teibele just seems like she just wants to get kinky, but towards the end, when she gets confused, we see that she was not the one in control all along, and being chained to her demon-lover fantasy almost kills her. Fortunately, Alchonon has two brain cells to rub together in order to, well, if not save her, than salvage a kind of messed-up situation. There’s also the whole thing with, why’d this girl just constantly do it with a stranger who snuck into her bedroom? Once you realize she’s not in control, it turns from enjoyable and almost erotic to, wow, this woman has no clue what is going on.

Overall, it’s a clean little play that goes rather far out there for being two short acts. It’s like a bite-size version of a Buffy/Fifty Shades hybrid, only with European Jewish stick people in old-timey nightwear instead of sexy lingerie. Which could also classify it as a comedy.

How I’d Flip It

Modernizing it would basically just turn it into another Fifty Shades, but researching pajamas of the era would be interesting. For some reason, I’m thinking black box, with a lot of cardboard cutouts, maybe some sneaky entrances/exits, or trapdoors. One cool think would be to have a black set in front of a curtain painted to look like fire, and window panes used as entrances (for the demon). Blacks and reds seem to be the order of the day, but of course I’m seeing Teibele in a white gown. For some reason, I’m also imagining a red/black/white plaid pattern as a motif (bed, carpet, costume accents), something most likely not used or seen in Poland, because this is crazy-land version of Poland.